My Mind’s Library
It’s a funny thing, your mind. You have to search within it for your own memories, and even though they’re yours, you can’t always find what you’re looking for.
Sure, there are those that you can call forth readily, and if you’re lucky, they appear in vivid color. You can smell and taste them exactly as they were. Get lost in them, even.
Other times it takes a while, requiring the kind of serious concentration that calls for a quiet room and closed eyes. And when you finally discover them, it’s as if you’re seeing them through a dirty window or a black and white TV set with the volumed turned low. You’re outside, looking in.
Still, those are better than nothing at all - the moments seemingly lost to you forever. How maddening it is to know that while you’re the captain of your own mind, you can still fail miserably at navigating it. In fact, you might never come to know it fully, to be able to traverse it with ease, so the best you can do is try to map it out a little more each day. Maybe you come up with tricks to help you remember things, or find a method that puts you in just the right headspace to travel safely through the crevices of your brain, where your most precious memories are tucked away. How well you employ these tactics, however, can depend on a lot of things, like the quality of your therapist or a mastery of meditation.
As for me, I think my own mind less like a world to be traveled and more like a library. At one time, it existed with just a single card catalog drawer hundreds of miles long. And instead of being organized alphabetically, the catalog order was ever changing - determined by things like my mood, predispotions and afflictions. This often made my mind’s dewey decimal system far from intuitive.
Take the current task of recalling my most joyful memory. If I were asked to do this exercise in the past, the process and outcome would be much different from today. Years of struggling with anxiety (and sometimes its morose best friend, depression) arranged my card catolog in such a way that made remembering happy moments quite difficult, even though I’ve had many and know they are in there, somewhere. It’s just that they were woven so deeply, not only into my mind but into the very muscle fibers of my overworked heart, that they were hard to see.
Back then, if I were to look up the word “joy” in the catalog of my mind, I’d quickly pull a card with a typed message that would read something like this:
“Joy rhymes with Boy. See boys’ whose names begin with D, S, K and M, to start.”
I’d then head to the Romance section of my mind’s library, which looks exactly like Trinity College Library in Dublin, complete with grand rolling ladders to help you reach the books on the top shelves and regal stone busts at the end of each one. Though unlike Trinity, my busts are all of amazing women, like Joan of Arc and Marie Curie and Maya Angelou and bell hooks.
The bust in Romance is Jane Austen, of course, and the shelves are quite cluttered. But thanks to my card catalog, I’d easily find the boys’ worn books and flip through their pages, recalling all the times they’d hurt me - called me names or lied to me or made me feel small - which, as you might easily note, is the very opposite of joy. This would happen because my anxiety organized the drawer with all the wrong cards up front. They’d never help me find what I was really looking for, but were much easier to thumb through than the cards stuck far in the back. Those required time and strength to get to and often came with a high risk of paper cuts.
Those days, if I found my mind wandering in such a way, I’d simply close the drawer, take a deep breath and try again. This time, I’d try to start further back and would be sure to announce my request with authority - I AM LOOKING FOR MY MOST JOYFUL MEMORY - because, well, I’m also the librarian here. Then one card or another would wiggle free and stick up just above the rest so I could see which to pull. Usually, if this was my second or third try, the card would be a bit closer to what I was looking for, but almost always end up leading me astray once more. Sometimes the path became long and dark.
Card One: “A name that is close to Joy is Jay. And it was a fitting name, indeed. See entry for Jay.”
Card Two: “Jay had a lot of joy in his life, didn’t he? He was a good person to the core. See Book of Jay and supplementary volumes on Youth, Hope, Failure and Death.”
I’d pull the suggested works and turn their tattered pages with care.
“Jay was genuinely kind to everyone. He had so many friends and you were lucky to be one of them for so long. You could tell he was loved because the church at his funeral was packed. People filled the pews like bleachers at a rock concert; there was even standing room only in the back. How sad for your childhood friend to die so young, when he was so good and you are not. So much joy he gave to others, so much left in the world for him to have, if only he’d been able to stay. I wonder if I’m making the most of my life. What if I die tomorrow? Have I even done anything worth while? I haven’t written a book. Haven’t been published. What’s the point of me being here if I don’t leave anything behind? If I don’t change anything for the better? And what if I die alone?”
Simply searching for my own memories was a kind of torture until one day, I’d simply had enough. After years of going on like this, I decided that if I were to keep on living - and I mean really living - I needed to convert my catalog entries over to digital. I needed more guidance, more speed and less room for human error if I was going to be able to access the right books of my life when I needed them most, and maybe, it would even help me rewrite their endings or create sequels. However it worked, I just hoped for a better system. So eventually, I slammed the old card catalog drawer closed for the last time.
The transition was hard. I had to do most of the work myself. So I booked another therapist appointment. You see, I tried to talk to someone three times before, and each time they never worked out. I always stopped going after a couple of sessions. And I can’t say for sure if it was them or me - I wasn’t ready or they were quacks or maybe a little bit of both - but it made my final attempt all the more difficult. It was yet another time I was forced to be emotionally naked, to simply spill myself at the feet of a complete stranger in the hopes that I might finally gain clarity and get that upgraded filing system for my mind, once and for all.
The process was exhausting, embarrassing and uncomfortable, until it wasn’t. Until it was relief, freedom and a deep sense of knowing myself - so much so that now, not only can I easily see my brain’s connection to high speed Internet (a jack had been there all along, hidden behind the main circulation desk) but most days, I can plug right in and have nearly all my joyful memories shown to me in HD. When I say, “I AM LOOKING FOR MY MOST JOYFUL MEMORY,” it goes a little something more like this:
I look upon the vast shelves of the libary of my mind, when a single light shines upon a particular bust on the left side of the room. I make my way forward to see that the bust of St. Brigid is gleaming before me, as if she was donning a halo. And it’s then that I feel a sudden breeze move my hair. With a quickness, a thick book with gilded pages floats in the air before me. I raise my hands and it gently lays itself open in my waiting palms.
From its pages, I do not simply read words, but live them. My senses come alive, and the air smells of burning peat that warms the center of my body and radiates to my finger tips and toes. My spirit shines from the glow of it, and I hear fiddle and tin whistle and harp as they fill the room. Women sing in Gaelic, and I am reminded of my deep connection not just to nature, but to this land in particular. I’ve never seen grass so green, winding mountain roads so narrow, as I wander past fairy mounds and cheerful shaggy sheep. I never cared much for gray weather before, but the mist of rain on my face makes me cleansed and I am whole. How strange it is, to visit a place you’ve never been, and somehow feel like you are finally home. So much so, that you can’t help but cry. It is a reunion a long time coming.
This is Ireland to me.
I visit the places where my great grandparents once lived and rest under the trees where I hope they sat before me. I eat coddle in Glasnevin and somehow feel blissful walking through an ancient graveyard on a wet day. I climb steep steps to the top of St. Anne’s Church and ring the Shandon Bells loudly for the whole city of Cork to hear. I look down upon the colorful buildings that blanket the rolling hills and think that this must be what a rainbow looks like when it’s fallen to Earth.
I have my first pint of Guinness at 11 AM and it feels like velvet and tastes like heaven in a glass. I dine in a castle and meet sweet old women who can tell where I’m from just by the shade of my red hair. A local choral group sings Danny Boy and I weep gratefully. My husband and I make friends with an Irish couple who hear our American accents and buy us their favorite drinks. They take us to the pubs with the best craic, with snugs and fireplaces and trad music and dancing and so much laughter. We stay out until the wee hours and I still feel the warm hugs and cheek kisses from our new found friends as we wander dizzily down the street, toward our warm bed.
I spy fairy doors and lucky trinkets in the bramble as we make our way through the grounds that lead to Blarney Castle. We trek up steep stone steps once again and beyond all reason, I am delighted to have a stranger dangle me from my ankles on the roof as I lean backwards to kiss the Blarney Stone, slick with rain. It’s supposed to give you the gift of gab, and I pray that for me that it translates to the page.
My first visit to Ireland is and will always be one of the most joyful memories of my life. And now, I can easily relive it any time I like.
My mind is at ease, its library forever open to me.