Memory Makes Us

One of the things that has helped me replant my feet on the ground is Memory Makes Us, a project put together by if:book Australia. Over the past couple of months, people contributed long-term memories, anonymously, some of them with photos, some of them just text. This served as the foundation for a very audacious live-writing event in which Kate Pullinger, in full view of the public at the State Library of Queensland, composed a story of “lots of middles” for six hours.

For those who were at the library, three typewriters were available for the contribution of more long-term memories which got delivered right after completion to her table as she wrote. For those unable to visit the library for the event, she composed on a GoogleDoc, where anyone in the world could drop by the web page and watch the cursor reveal letter after letter, word after word, picture after picture. And these users could tweet directly to her with inspired moments, or in response to specific requests she tweeted herself throughout the day. It was an extraordinary thing, author and audience engaging directly and immediately.

Some of the words and pictures that fed her work came from a team of volunteers, including me, who went out into Brisbane to snap photos and transcribe snippets of overheard conversation and report them back through Twitter using a dedicated hashtag. We represented short term memory.

Memory and identity are really central to how I see the world. When I was younger I watched my paternal grandfather succumb to Alzheimer’s and dementia, seeing his own history unravel and vaporize. We are the things we’ve been through. What happens when you can’t remember them? Or, what happens when you take events, generously shared, and remix them through another person with her own things and events? What stands out, and why? What’s too painful to take on? What resonates with truth and compassion?

I highly encourage you to take a look through the links above — there are some really moving, funny, witty and profound things being shared, and it’s enormously valuable to take a moment and try someone else’s memories on, even for a brief while.

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