MANICHEAN MEMORY MACHINE

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Memory is a funny thing. Certain periods of your life are remembered as all good and others are recalled as all bad. In reminiscence, college years, for example, seem a golden age whereas a marriage is thought, at best, iron. You know that in school, you were a teenager dealing with new freedoms and their consequences, so it couldn’t have been all good. And you know that you wouldn’t have gotten married unless you thought it was going to be worth the effort.

Your memories are not bits of life recorded, date/time stamped and stored waiting to be recalled in order and unaltered. You only recall the bits of the past that fit into your present. Your recollections are less a memoir and more like an unfinished novel with an outlined plot, a sketched protagonist and roughly visualized settings. Only the memories that fit into this scheme are allowed to be conscious.

Reminiscing about your career is different. It, unlike your college years or marriage, might still be ongoing. If it is, you will still need to hold multiple contradictory opinions of it if you are going to be able to react to it in a successful manner. You can idealize a past epoch of your career as a golden age while still being cognizant of currently living in an iron one. But once you career is history, it will be remembered as either gold or iron and all contradictory memories will disappear.

Impossible goals of youth have been abandoned and replaced by goals of middle age that at that time seemed possible, but even those have failed to materialize. So it’s time to enter vanaprastha, the Hindu stage of life when you have gray hair, grandchildren and you retreat to the forest. The American version subs an over-55 condo for the forest and if you are lucky includes a pension. This is the time for you to work on exchanging adventure for consistency and comfort, for mentoring if anyone will listen, and trying to fight the Manichean memory machine to get as true a sense of what you were, are, and will be as you can.

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