Of all the abilities and mechanisms possessed by the supercomputer we call the brain, one of my favorites is sense memory.
The ability to recall physical feelings that relate to emotionally charged events we’ve experienced, sense memory can trigger recollections long buried in the layered sediment of our minds. Sense memory is powerful and often unexpected, and it can bowl you over with a flood of sensations, positive and/or negative.
Positive example: When I was a kid, my mom, grandmother, little sister, and I would go to this tiny bakery in Hyde Park, VT. It was built off the side of the house the owners lived in, and it always smelled amazing. We often bought chocolate chip cookies there, and they were the best I ever had. Just a hint of a crunch on the outside, soft and chewy inside. Never had a better one in the decades since the bakery closed.
Once in a while, I’ll smell chocolate chip cookies baking, and I’m standing back in that bakery, seven or eight years old, barely able to see over the counter. And I hope against hope that the taste and texture of the cookies being baked will match the smell. It never happens, but it’s nice to have that positive association.
Negative example: Looking at school lunch box displays in stores at the end of summer makes me weepy. I wasn’t socially or emotionally ready for school when first grade rolled around. Kindergarten wasn’t a requirement when I was old enough to go, so I was kept home. When it was time for my first day of school, I was entering a building full of strangers, and I freaked out. Spent most of the first couple weeks crying, just wanting to go home.
I remember sitting at lunch, weeping and staring at my plastic, yellow, Hanna Barbera lunch box that came with stickers for decorating. I felt so alone and confused, and when I see shelves filled with lunchboxes now, I get that lump in my throat for a couple seconds, and my eyes well up.
Sense memory is powerful stuff.
And there’s a ton of stuff I enjoy that is heavily tied to sense memory. Music. Reading. Cooking and baking. And I could go on and on, but the one thing that has a stronger connection to my sense memory than anything else is comic books.
I’ve been a devoted comic book reader for over 25 years. I read them very sporadically as a kid, and it remained a casual interest through high school. It wasn’t until the second semester of my freshman year of college, though, that the medium became a focal point for me.
Up in my attic, I’ve got boxes and boxes of comics. Alphabetized by company. Alphabetized by title within each company. Organized by date within each title within each company. The boxes are 8.25 inches wide by 11.5 inches high by 28.5 inches long. They’re referred to, appropriately enough, as long boxes. Each long box holds 250-300 comics, depending on whether you’re storing them in mylar bags with backing boards or not.
I could go upstairs right now, pull out a random issue from a random box, and very likely tell you something about my life at the time I got the comic. A life event, something going on in the world at the time, maybe even the weather on the day I got it.
For whatever reason, my mind ties life to comic books.
So I decided I’m going to do just that. Hopefully weekly, I’ll pick a comic to use as a jumping-off point for personal storytelling. Un-chronological autobiography by way of graphic storytelling. I think it’ll be a fun project.
I’ve got a long box full of memories, and I’m looking forward to opening it. I hope you like it too.