Emotional Memory

Original Post: 08/05/2012

That hit song, that familiar scent, that childhood friend, that comforting dish, that favourite clothing piece, that specific place, that humorous phrase, that heavy weather, that family occasion, that certain time of year. These are all nostalgic things that trigger an emotional memory.

An emotional memory; what is the difference between that and just a plain old memory? It is an idea that I have been toying around with for a while and still struggle to find the right words to describe it. It is more than just remembering some thing, some one, some time or some place, it is experiencing them all over again. No, not just experiencing them; letting them flow through you. Letting yourself be overthrown by the emotion, smell all the aromas, see all the sights, hear all the sounds, react to the people, process the thoughts and then having it mix in with reality. There are a lot of long lists in this post but I want you to read them slowly again and chew over them in your mind.

I am going to go through a few of the triggers one by one, starting with the three that have been surprisingly the strongest to me lately.

Smell, probably the most underestimated of the senses but for me, one of the strongest ways of experiencing the world and remembering the past. Smell in a way encompasses all the other triggers: people normally have a certain smell, some places can have a very distinct smell, certain weather and seasons’ smell is very memorable. But it is the personal aromas that trigger my memory. I have what may seem a very peculiar habit of smelling people when I am near them. Subtly of course, I do not just stick my nose at them and take a nice big nose full; that would just be creepy. But with the amount of perfumes, soaps and deodorants around these days, especially those heavily applied ones in teenage circles, make it very easy for someone to develop a distinct personal smell. I find that when I smell a certain deodorant or perfume, I always associate it with someone which then in turn triggers the memories surrounding that person. I tend to jump from deodorant to deodorant; being a sports person I have quite a collection. I recently have switched back to a deodorant that I used for basketball in winter last year which triggered all the memories from then.

Time of year and weather may seem a very strange trigger to some, as it was to me when I first discovered it. But the more I thought about it, the more obvious it became, we often focus on the weather for memories. “I remember another day like this when…” Ring a bell? Recently, with the change in the weather, past wintery memories have come flooding back to my mind. Days when my thoughts would wander out into the winter, get caught up in a gust of wind and only come back to me when the weather calms. I find that it is annually, during the autumn and winter seasons that my imagination become overactive as the rest of me freezes. In summer and spring, the hot days bring back joyous memories. This trigger relates back rather strongly to my previous post on Heart Seasons as I find that as the weather goes, as does my emotions; just sometimes the other way around – I am my happiest in winter and rather bored in the summer. Time of year and weather cover most of the other triggers as often you will use things in certain seasons or at certain occasions that may trigger a memory.

Songs are a very obvious one. We’ve all had that one song that we’ve spent hours singing and dancing to with friends or family or that song that played at a very monumental occasion that now carry the emotions of that time(s). And sometimes the lyrics of the songs, I have found, relate perfectly to the memory – I am a word person (as you may have gathered…) so the lyrics of songs really stand out to me. For example, a few years ago I went back to South Africa for my cousin’s wedding. We spent the week on a game farm and I had the time of my life with my sister and cousin – we got up to all sorts of mischief. At the actual wedding, which was the final event for the week, the song ‘Dota’ played about six times so as you can imagine that song now carries a very strong emotional memory for me. Every time I hear it I think back to that time, what was bubbling through me and consequently all the other mischievous things that I have done with my cousins… My biggest emotional memory attached to a song though is by a mile ‘Firework” by Katy Perry. I am by no means a fan of hers but that song was my netball team’s song by mistake last year, it gained dance moves and was performed all over the North Island – at UNISS, a random BP station in the middle of nowhere, Sports Prizegiving and my team even flash mobbed me with it at our yr10 conference. Since then, hearing it at my new school in drama, it brought back that hoard of emotions and I was obliged to tell the story. We consequently flash mobbed our Easter Service with the song and if I have to say so myself, it was amazing.

Friends, places, occasions and phrases – such as a movie quote or inside joke – are very obvious triggers; they are the ones that often send us down a

Memory Lane

trip to be cliché and more often than not, leave us in painful hysterical laughter. They are so extremely obvious that I am not going to bother going into them. If you are not sure of them – leave me a comment below.

Food dishes; they are probably one of my more radical ideas if I am to be perfectly honest. Most of us will have that meal that is our mother’s fall back option of busy days, the other meal that is devoured by our family before we can think of having some and that very traditional or cultural meal. Maybe it is that one that we always have at a birthday or Christmas or one that is tied to your ethnicity. They might all be connected to another trigger – time of year, weather, place or occasion. But all hold a definite emotional memory. Think of your favourite dish – when do you most often eat it? What affect does it have on those around you? What do you feel when you’ve eaten it – other that satisfied of course? Bam, you have yourself the most delicious emotional memory ever.

Clothes are another one of my strange ideas but I have found that they definitely carry an emotional memory. As I have already mentioned, it is now nearing winter time here in lil’ ol’ God’s Own and that means that the time has come to don the kilt, long sleeved blouse, tie and blazer. Last winter I got my first blazer and it was during quite an emotional time of my life so when I walked onto campus at my new school this year I was almost expecting to walk into a rainy Auckland day at my old school and I could even imagine the conversations that I was about to have, who I wanted to go see, who I wanted to get a hug from, who I wanted to tell about my holiday and who would be waiting for me to go to class. So you can just imagine the disappointment that I faced in not finding who I was looking for and it being a sunny day. But every time that I adorn myself – wow, reading Pride and Prejudice really has increased my vocabulary – with my blazer I get assaulted by all of the emotions that I faced last winter, the triumphs and the defeats of my soul and the thoughts that passed through my head. But I have noticed that as the term has progressed, new emotions are linked to my blazer, new memories founded with new friends. It has been amazing to me, the emotional memory that is carried by a piece of clothing. Just now thinking through some of wardrobe, I am taken back to many different days filled with many varying emotions presented to me by the different items in my closet.

Before, a memory to me was merely just that but have a newfound love for the experience of the memory. Reliving them, pushing yourself through them once again and coming out the other side warm and fuzzy or chilled to the bone. I am not too fond of recalling the ones that chill me but I find it fascinating the effect that a song, a scent, a person, a dish, a piece of clothing, a place, a phrase, a weather pattern, an occasion and a time of year can have on my heart. Take some time, I challenge you, to fish through the pond of triggers and push yourself through your memories properly, feeling them once more.

I feel so much better now that this has been posted! 🙂

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