Memory and Pumpkin Spice Lattes

Yesterday was Pay Day. Today is Friday. Most days, I drink kitchen coffee. Today, I wanted a treat. I hadn’t been to Starbucks in a very long while despite the fact it resides on the first floor of my office building. I convinced a couple of coworkers to join me and off we went. I am ashamed to admit this, but as soon as I walked in the door, I smelled it and knew that the Pumpkin Spice Latte was back! It only took one glance up at the center of the menu board to see the swirly, pastel chalk letters validating my glee.

The smell brought back the memory of the taste. The memory of consumption coupled with the chilled feeling as we strolled back to the office brought back the sense of the season. In a flash, last fall unfolded in my mind. I recalled which friends  heralded the arrival of  these drinks in their blogs last year. Then I was remembering more details I associate with them. My mind shifted again, and I thought of other times I had enjoyed the drink with my husband and reflected on the intensity of our shared coffee joy.

I was drawn out of my thoughts as one of my coworkers began talking about her appointment today. As I sipped my latte while going up the lift, I remembered Halloween and Thanksgiving, specifically mom’s special pumpkin pie with cream cheese in the filling. They were only brief thoughts, flickers of memory not yet organized into a full bouquet. When we parted, my memories rushed back until I cleared them and focused again on today’s next task.

Ok now let me toss in some terms that might be at play here. Context-dependent memory is recall improved by the fact that context present when a memory is formed or an episode is experienced, encoding,  is present or presented to aid that recall. Autoassociative memory allows your neural network to retrieve larger memories from minute pieces of data. Heterassociative memories can take a bit of information related to one topic and access another. There’s autobiographical memory that consists of your life experiences.  This is often where emotion and memory intersect.

The above is an exercise to demonstrate how entangled memory is in the fabric of our lives. Memory is my new series focus.  I became interested in this topic earlier in the year when Kimberly Wade (wrong friend apparently) recommended Moonwalking with Einstein. The art of memory has long held much fascination for me. 

I am also interested in memory and how it relates to other things. I am bipolar and want to examine the relationship the mood swings have with memory. My son has been dealing with a chronic pain as a symptom for the last three years. I want to understand the consequences in terms of his memory. He was recently put on medicine that will diminish his pain over time and has already made great progress in that direction. His energy level has returned as has his active imagination and desire to learn. Alzheimers belongs in this discussion as well. I lost someone I cared about to the disease this year. I also intend to do a post on brain injuries this year in honor of a friend of mine. It would be interesting to explore the relationship brain injuries have with memory.

I will leave you with two examples of my own. When Brandon was younger, we enjoyed watching SpongeBob SquarePants together. In one of the episodes, SpongeBob volunteered to help Squidward impress his old rival. Squidward wanted to make it appear the Crusty Crab was a fine dining establishment. He instructed SpongeBob to forget everything but “fine dining and breathing.” Cue the long segment of dozens of inner SpongeBobs emptying the filing cabinets of SpongeBob’s brain. The papers symbolizing his entire body of knowledge, all of his memories, were tossed or distroyed. When the rival inquires what SpongeBob’s name is at the end, this proves the undoing of the entire scheme as he’d lost it in the shuffle. It may seem silly to you, but I’ve often thought about that sequence in relation to memory and thinking in general.

Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher spends sometime in the headspace of one of the main characters. During that time the reader is taken into the warehouse that stores the character’s memories. Some of those memories reference pop culture, professional knowledge, and markers for time and place. Still more represent all of his experiences with his family and friends. Some are broken down by people and still others by shared events in their lives. They are stored in files just like SpongeBob’s were. The book was made into a movie by the same name in 2003.  The visual depiction of this storage space is breathtaking. It adds texture to the metaphor in marvelous ways. Things appeared less orgainized but at the same time more readily accessible than the warehouse I’d built in my mind while reading. One scene even shows the character pitching certain memories into the fire to make room for others. While watching, I remembered the cartoon. I wondered at the grownup version of the same thought.

In preparation for today’s post, I asked some of my friends what topics they would like to see discussed in terms of memory with a view to fiction. My amazing editor, Kay Holt, gave me several: Memory and mood, brain injury, gender, bias, learning, and neuroplasticity (Yeah, I will be hitting the books for that one).  She also suggested I discuss age differences and memory. My other friends would like to see me cover memory’s fallibility and loss, the treatment of memory disorders in the media, and amnesia. They were also kind enough to offer items for a suggested reading list. I am going to ask them to hop over and share with the rest of our readers. Now I want to ask you:

What memory topics would you like to read about here?

Do you have a suggestion for recommended reading/viewing  in either non-fiction or fiction that involves a topic related to memory?

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