Originally posted by Daphne Strassmann

Like most people these days, I willingly deposit bits of myself online every day, through shopping, commenting on friends’ photos, posting pithy quips, and engaging in my newly found hobby of reviewing recent purchases. Isolated, these activities are disconnected material; woven together, they make me part of a new, vast community of casual storytellers. Despite their careless, seemingly ephemeral character, however, these stories have a new flavor of permanence, and material has never been so easily accessible to writers. Sites like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram remind us and our followers where and how we have been, all the while creating parallel universes through our daily posts. The vast and specific nature of our online information has the capacity to behave as a spontaneous external hard drive to our own memories. We can have—increasingly, can’t escape having—instant access to our past, seemingly bypassing the natural remembering process. Our hippocampus, it seems, can live on the web.

Of course, future accessibility to the information we etch online, especially on social media, will vary depending upon who does the archiving. Yet as data storage becomes less expensive, the capacity capabilities grow and so does the amount of information held online. After all, in order to serve our needs, the web must have infallible and non-perishable memory.

Certainly, this trove of online information will be a tantalizing and highly useful resource for future biographers and narrative nonfiction writers. And yet, for the memoirist, a source of indelible online information could be problematic.

Digital omnipresence shortens and stunts the distance to remembering—the crucial engine for memoir. Molded in the narrative nonfiction writer’s hands, memory creates stories and feeds a compulsion to reflect on, understand, and validate personal experiences. The organic experience of remembering is still enveloped in mystery. Memoirists have a soft spot for that mystery, but we should concede that digital content will make the past, in some ways, less mysterious.

Some, like Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, author of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, see the infallible memory of the web as a big problem: “Because of digital technology, society’s ability to forget has become suspended, replaced by perfect memory.” Alas, memoir informed by perfect memory would, I fear, lose its sensory appeal. Web memories might alter the memoirist’s process, not only by providing infallible instant memory but also by usurping our own natural recollection processes.

Mayer-Schönberger also argues that that our online interactions make us feel watched and that, even if we are not in fact under surveillance, the sensation of being watched leads us to self-censor. In fact, writers online are often being watched—or, at least, seen—by readers. This, too, is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, social media, in particular, can help writers find a wider audience—that “platform” publishers are always talking about. Ideally, this audience will be invested in the work—but it could also be dissonant from it. For better and worse, the web arms us with accidental connections.

Of course, if you’re writing about your contemporaries, odds are good they’re hanging around online, too, and maybe also watching you. Those characters—who in an earlier time might have been lost to us—travel across oceans and different decades to engage passively with our own recollections. They can disagree with our memories, question them, and, over time, even change them. They are unwelcome guests on e-mail, Facebook, or through the dream-like images of Instagram. We know what our college roommates, from thirty years ago, ate for breakfast this morning, and it can be difficult to gain distance from a character when she is still right there, hoping you’ll “like” her handmade inspirational posters. These people, our characters, are persistently with us—and not just in our memories.

And, of course, they all have their versions of stories. That’s always been true, but now the bar for commenting has been lowered significantly. That story you’re telling about your halcyon days can become distorted or commandeered—tainted, even—as it passes through what we might call “the Facebook fact-check.”

As it happens, I have some experience with this. I have an unpublished cultural memoir set in the Dominican Republic and Texas, concerning events that happened in the 1970s and ’80s. In it, I piece together, much in the way my memory works, vignettes that touch on both the traumatic and the mundane. In great detail, I describe my aunt’s palpable grief—she went from catatonic to howling in pain—on the afternoon we learned that my father had died piloting an air force plane. I mention how an uncharacteristically blonde, blue-eyed Dominican classmate derided some earrings my mother had brought back from a trip to Venezuela. If I had published this book in the early days of the web, and especially before Facebook, and if, through a freak act of nature, a copy made it back to the Dominican Republic, someone might have quibbled about the narrative, recognized him- or herself in the story and related to or separated themselves from it. Maybe I would have received an e-mail or two with pointed questions: “Hey, did I really hurt your feelings when I said your earrings should be worn only by classless maids?” Or “Why would you write about your aunt crying like that?” By contrast, that same interaction on Facebook or any other social media platform would be instantaneous and, for me, a huge distraction from my work. The mirror social media holds up to my work, so far, has intimidated me enough to keep me from publishing. Not because I have startling revelations that cast people in my life negatively, but because in my writer’s mind, my past has its own past. I can’t get lost in the reverie of recalling that past when so much of it is so present every time I update my Facebook status.

And yet, perhaps there’s hope. I take heart in knowing that although social media supplies us with instant memory on steroids, the content itself can be ephemeral. The moment a corporate institution goes down, so does the content and so do your memories. Our data could be one hack or natural disaster or bankruptcy away from exposure or deletion. In many ways, the steady storytelling we’re imprinting on the web is no different than jotting an idea on the back of a napkin and misplacing it.

And perhaps that’s for the best. We shouldn’t rely too heavily on external digital memory. The noisy interactions on social media distract at every level, and the illusion of perfect recall is a siren’s call. It’s hard to resist since it’s omnipresent in daily life, and so usable, but even the most assiduous curation of interactions on social media has a cost. If our postings on social media and the web keep giving us perfect recall, then the story is authored for us; we become transcribers rather than storytellers. As writers, we delight in that moment when memory becomes story. We need to forget in order to engage in the essence of remembering.

– See more at: https://www.creativenonfiction.org/online-reading/perils-perfect-memory#comment-45317

      I spent some time this weekend with a friend. She is deep in mourning, and her home is filled with all the remnants of charity. Cookies, candies, and cards litter the rooms.The air is still heavy with sadness. She looks exhausted, although she has slept most of the day. She shuffles her feet through misty random thoughts that are attached to anger and disappointment. I have been in that place, so I can recognize her body language and understand why she thinks she is losing her mind. She is now among women who have had to bury one of their children. This we now share, and I wish we didn’t have this in common. I went to sit with her. I wanted her to see it was possible to walk with grief without it squeezing you from the inside out. I told her there will be a day when she will wake up, and it will not be the first thing she thinks about. She couldn’t believe that, and I understand why. How does a mother bury her child and keep going? How do you prove that time has stopped when you see the second hand defiantly moving and experience one day turn into the next? I don’t have the answers.
          It has been a challenge for me to understand that illnesses can seemingly come out of nowhere and that healthy people that you love can die. It is hard for people to measure how long it will take to accept that  life as they knew it has ended. I am still working to accept loss. Last month, when it was time to say goodbye to my father, I wasn’t ready. People asked how old he was and if he was sick.  They wanted to help make sense of it. “Was it sudden?”  They asked. “No,” I said, but it didn’t matter.  You can never be ready to say goodbye, no  matter how prepared you or others think you should be. In ten years, I have said goodbye to a four-year-old daughter, a student who sat in the front row of my sixth grade class, three uncles,  two sets of granparents, a cousin, a friend, my father, and  a cat I tried not to love. Now, I am fearful that I may have to say goodbye to one of my oldest and dearest friends. Yes, she is sick and her death from this illness seems eminent, but I can’t accept the idea of saying goodbye to this forty-one-year-old woman. I am  numb from goodbyes, and I wish I could call a “time out”, but all of it is out of my control. So, it is a challenge to comfort this friend when I still feel raw with grief  of my  own. It is also a challenge not to tell her the truth: You will recover, but there will be other things you will have to get through, overcome, manage, and hold up under. Ready or not, those things will come.
        Things happen that are outside our control and we are forced to deal with it. In her book, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, Rhonda Janzen writes about all the challenges she had to overcome after her husband decides he no longer loves her and leaves. She writes, “What I want to measure, what I can control, is my response to life’s challenges. ”   These words suit my present position. I cannot control what happens to those I love or spare them pain or sorrow.  I cannot measure how long it will take for someone to move past his or her grief. I can only measure myself against what I have overcome.  I’m still standing, living, working, and laughing even without the understanding of how and why things happen the way they do. I hope this gives my dear friend some hope. 

Faith is a knowing that “it”, whatever “it” is, will be. Sometimes faith can be shaky, but when you hit that beam of light in your heart and mind; it’s unshakeable.  For the past week, I have been on Facebook working to gain support for my self-publishing project. It is a big challenge to raise 10,000 dollars in forty days, but not impossible. I am grateful for friends and family who have already backed me because they love me and believe in my project. Yet, before my husband hit that launch button on the Kickstarter site, I believed it would happen, even though the thought that it might not, terrified me. In life, a little terror is unavoidable, and it has always been unavoidable for me. Terror has been a part of everything new I’ve ever attempted because I want to succeed. So this project is a little scary, but so is every leap of faith. You leap not knowing for sure where you will land, with your heart racing, and your soul  focused on that beam of light. If you can just stay in the light, it will happen. Yes, it’s cheesy, but I really believe it. I believe in the words of the old king in Paolo Coehl’s book, The Alchemist when he says to Santiago, “When you want something bad enough, the whole universe conspires to give it to you.”  For the next thirty-three days and beyond, I plan to keep stepping out on faith, and  I’m excited to see how far it takes me. 

        I have been off of spring break now for four days and with each day that passes, I come home to find  a new pile. They are showing up all over the house. They don’t care that I am tired and desperately wishing they will disappear. They wait for me. I have piles of colored-coded clothes waiting to be washed, piles of papers waiting to be filed or filled out, piles of coupons waiting to be chucked or clipped, and small piles of folded scarves or sweaters waiting to be hung. I came home after work last night, walked past all the piles with a sigh and went to my closest to choose the least wrinkled shirt to iron for work.  I had dinner, talked on the phone, and made more piles of papers. This time to-do lists that would need to be consolidated and check marked. Then I sat and planned a pile elimination plan. The pile elimination plan seemed impossible, so I took a walk. I walked to the end of my street to clear my head.  Instead of hearing, “Take one step at a time,” I heard, “Bird by Bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” This is what Anne Lamont shares as advice for her writing students and her readers in her book, Bird by Bird. I liked the bird analogy because it helped me to imagine each of the piles as a little bird flying away.  A little bit of stress would fly away  too. I would feel lighter and become encouraged to set free another pile, and then another, until all the piles fly south for winter. But it’s spring, and the piles aren’t going anywhere.

I sent my mom tulips for her birthday.  I had never sent her flowers before, and I probably would have counted that gift a waste of hard-earned money had I not fallen in love with flowers a year ago. I used to wonder why people gave them as gifts since they usually  didn’t last longer than a week.  Now,  I fall in love with a bouquet in the store and take them home to be reminded of the beauty, fragility and brevity of life. I did not become preoccupied with flowers or their symbolism naturally. It started  after I read The Florist Daughter, by Patricia Hampl. In the book Hampl writes,”Love and flowers, death and flowers. But flowers, flowers, always flowers, the insignia of  death, the hope of resurrection. ”
I place my flowers  on a coffee table where there are framed pictures of dead  relatives. I do this in remembrance of them.  In the center of the table I place the clear vase  with the prettiest flowers that I could  find that week in the grocery store. When there were just pictures,  I would walk by that coffee table every day without a glance to the frames that needed dusting. I didn’t pause to look at how strong my great grandmother looked or how handsome my grandfather was even as an older man. If I took the time, I could remember what he used to sound like, but I am always buzzing by that table to get to the next task.  The fresh flowers remind me to take pause. I know their life is short. I have to enjoy them before they wilt and die.  I know my mother will do the same with her tulips. She will smile at them and remember their beauty even when they’re gone. And, I will stop to smile at the beauty around me while I am still here. I will smell my flowers and remember to notice the beauty in the faces closed in their frames,  frozen in their time, and far from their hour of bloom.

 It is advisable not to do any walking outside between the hours of ten and two because the ultra violet rays are too strong. But what if you wake up at 9 a.m., don’t have a car, and need to mail a cashier’s check before noon? Exactly. So, I put on sunblock, and a white long-sleeve sheer blouse, grabbed a book and headed to the bank. The bank is a 15 minute walk from my house, but with the heat I felt like I was on a pilgrimage across the Sahara.    One of the best books I have read while getting my MFA was Don’t Let’s Go to  the Dog’s Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller. Her story is set in Africa. She learns from her mother, “If you drink a cup of tea and eat something salty in the middle of the afternoon, you won’t get heat exhaustion.” But, what do you drink in the morning before noon? I tried water and eventually some creative thinking.  I tried not to focus on the heat or the thoughts begging me to turn back. I listened instead to the birds chirping as their wings flapped above me. I listened to the dry leaves being pushed by the wind behind me. I thought  about lines from my favorite books. I focused on my breathing instead of the heat, and I reached my destination faster than usual.  On my walk back home, however, it felt hotter. I didn’t think of any lines from any book, I  didn’t think of tea or of birds. All I could think about was a new car and the feel of air conditioning blowing on my face.

I think it started ten years ago after my daughter died. People said I should “stay busy,”  to help keep my mind off grief. I definitely took that advice. I went from project to project and now I have become comfortable operating in overdrive. I have been working to learn how to relax and practice the art of “not doing” because my mental and physical health depend on it. Doing nothing, keeping my mind free of to-do  and should-do lists has been  extremely difficult for me. In  the last two years I have been teaching, managing and editing a school magazine, moderating a service club, trying to get a children’s book published, completing requirements to earn a MFA, and writing a memoir while keeping up with all the deadlines for home, work, and Converse College.  Obviously, no human can keep this up without losing sleep, patience, and her hair. I have lost a lot of all three. And  my allergies, skin eruptions, and asthma  have all intensified. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to stop myself. I have forgotten how to  live any other way. Two weeks ago, I went to the allergist and had a full and pleasant conversation about how I had been improving after a month  on the allergy shots. I told him I felt great. Ten minutes later, I took a breathing test and found my lung capacity was working at less than  60%. I didn’t even notice. I read this book called, Heal Your Body by Louise L. Hay where Hay gives an affirmation for each medical condition. For my rashes and itching skin, she recommends the affirmation: “Harmony and peace, love and joy surround me and indwell in me. I am safe and secure.” I will be working with this affirmation and others because more than anything, I want to be at peace.  I want it to  surround me and fill my heart and lungs. I want to feel safe when still. I want to live and breathe at 100%.