Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: “Starting here, what do you want to remember?”

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

“Starting here, what do you want to remember?”

Monday, September 14, 2009

I thought this morning of that opening line from William Stafford’s beautiful poem, “You Reading This, Be Ready.” I was listening to an NPR interview with two Microsoft researchers, one of them the first user of “MyLifeBits” which essentially makes a record of his entire life--where he goes, what he does, the phone conversations he has, the tv programs he watches, the meals he eats. Every moment of his life is being archived for...well, for whatever--anything from convenient recall to resource for distant posterity. At last, a way to remedy the famously flawed human memory: just record everything.

And I thought how making every minute of every day one to remember means that no minute and no day is memorable.

If, as we used to say in the ‘60s, “everything is beautiful” or, as Garrison Keillor (good health to him!) says now, “the children are all above average,” then what is good? What is excellent? What is memorable?

The Jewish prayers that accompany the beginning and ending of the sabbath speak of separation and distinction, one day marked as different from others. I thought of my recent wedding ceremony where, again, mention was made of separation--in this case two people set aside for each other. Who would we be without making some kind of order among those moments and people and things in our lives, without making distinctions, assigning values?

We can respect the minutes and the minute details that add up to our days and years. Time is, of course, our only real possession. And forgetting can be inconvenient or worse. But don’t some things deserve to be forgotten? Can we truly honor our time without making a distinction between the minutes of driving to the dentist or paying bills and those of seeing a friend or reading a book or one of the other small fortunate events that add up to what our lives are?

I think what we should be concentrating on is not recording but noticing. Every day things happen that would amaze us if we took the time to notice them. Not everything, but some things.

Every day people are in our lives in ways that sustain us. Not every person, but some people.

Starting here, what can you live with forgetting?

What do you want to notice?

What do you want to remember?

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Anonymous JJ said...

What a wonderful thought: it is not about recording, but it is about noticing. Thank you.

September 14, 2009 at 1:35 PM  
Blogger Mim said...

If everything were like everything else, I'd never write another poem--or really live.

September 14, 2009 at 3:35 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

ellen, this is such a beautiful and wise statement.

I think of the line from the song in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers, "If everybody's somebody/ then no one's anybody!"

September 16, 2009 at 8:02 AM  
Blogger Ellen Steinbaum said...

I am so happy to have a comment quoting Gilbert and Sullivan!

September 16, 2009 at 4:55 PM  
Anonymous Sandra said...

A lovely piece, Ellen. It connects for me to the Buddhist ideal of mindfulness.

September 17, 2009 at 8:45 AM  

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