Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Memory and reality pegs

The other night, as usual, I was reading a novel in bed. In the middle of the page, I read a direct speech that said, "They used him as bait." As it didn't make any sense in the context of the story, I went back a few lines. But when I got to the same spot, I read again, "They used him as bait". And that's when I decided it was time to turn off the light and go to sleep. I knew that that sentence was not in the book, that it was a creation of Mr Sandman, that it was time to abandon reality and go somewhere else. But how did I know? People affected with dementia don't know the difference between reality and imagination. How do we know the difference? I am always so aware of the difference that I don't even have nightmares. In fact, I love scary dreams, because I know they are dreams, so it's just like watching a movie on tv. Only better. But I don't know how I know. Because, when you think about it, it's an extremely fine line. I don't know anything about insanity or mental illness from a medical point of view, but I cannot stop thinking that reality is both strong and fragile. How interconnected are reality, sanity and memory? Is loss of memory the cause or the effect in dementia? It seems like real memories are replaced by invented ones. But the invented ones are pretty consistent. I thought that lack of continuity was the clue that we are dreaming instead of being awake. But if continuity is not lacking, does that make us sane? I have more questions than answers on this subject. So, I'll tell you more episodes of my life and my idea of reality pegs. It seems to me that a certain amount of effort is made by everyone to stay grounded in what we call reality and that we are scared of things that somewhat disorient us, because we don't know what might happen to our sense of reality, hence to our sanity. I was a smoker in my twenties, a dedicated smoker, with so many rituals about brands, ashtrays, lighters. I tried to quit once. After a day without cigarettes, I was running a bath, and I saw myself entering the bathtub as a different me. A non-smoker. A different person. I felt that the bond with Me would be so loose, that I might not remain attached to Me and fly away, I don't know where. So I didn't quit. I eventually did, about five years later when smoking was not one of my identity pegs anymore. I have this strange image that we build reality and sanity and perhaps memory itself by hammering tent pegs along the way, reference points. And that when we lose some of these pegs, we don't just feel disoriented but also a bit less real, a bit less grounded, less rooted in solidity. I especially find that with flying. I am here within the solid walls of my flat, looking at a familiar view out of the window, and I definitely know that I am me, and awake, and living this particular life that I am living, as a solid entity called Francesca. If I am flying somewhere, in a couple of hours time, I could be catapulted into a different flat with a different view, where I have to resume a previous life. I can do it, unharmed, but I need to imagine it, and to imagine it I need to remember it, and to remember it I need pegs, I need to rehearse in my head the whole journey. Last year we were driving around California, it was evening, dark, and we got lost (yes, we had gps), we couldn't recognise anything, and because we had hammered no pegs, we could not judge if we were in a safe place or not. The area was deserted and there was only one restaurant open. It looked weird, the people, the furniture, the pictures on the walls. We had no reference point, like floating in space. Everything turned out ok, the food was reasonably good and the waiters reasonably friendly, but the feeling of unreality stayed with us for a long time, it had been like falling out of a net. A net that you don't think it's there, because you take it for granted.

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