In March, 2011, when I broke my leg (severely!), I had just finished reading Henry Petroski’s book To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design (1985). It was a fabulous read, one of those books that is so good you want to keep it all to yourself and not tell anyone about its existence. Having to suffer trauma and then re-learn how to walk again could not have been preceded by better reading material.
On a similar note, while I was in the hospital, I orchestrated a physical move (of physical address). What do you suspect awaited me the day I got out of the hospital and arrived at my new abode? Flooding in the basement had destroyed half of my personal archives, half of everything, half my books, etc., and Petroski’s books happened to be one of the priceless books in my collection that was so damaged I had to physically throw it into the garbage can.
That’s okay. It allowed me to go full circle with Petroski analysis of failure. What was lost in what I call the Archives was unbelievably tragic, hundreds of pages of manuscripts typed by hand on old type-writers, 30-40 notebooks tracking the exact pattern of my thoughts over the course of 20+ years. I literally had to start back from the very beginning, but to me it has not only become normal, it has become second-nature, and even amusing at times.
That’s because prior to the accident, I was already 2 years into doing the same thing, engaged in the arduous and systematic process of putting things back together after tragic loss, terrible traumatic accidents, and so forth. What’s amusing in is that before the accident I was already engaged in a similar reconstruction process, and before that also, and so on and so forth.
That pattern goes back to shortly after I was born, when I was mauled in the face by a small dog. Having to continuously recreate myself and my experience after something or something hits the RESET button is the only thing I have ever known. Something happened when the dog bit me in the head – which happened twice, separated by several months, give or take. Yes, two traumatic dog-mauling experiences in as many months at around the time that a child really starts forming long-term memories, and at least one concussion-like experience before that, of falling down a flight of stairs and landing on my face on a concrete basement floor. But, to do justice to the experience and to what actually happened, it turns out that I was miraculously not all that injured in each of the cases mentioned, just as losing all that material in my personal archives and breaking my leg was not actually all that tragic. What is truly tragic in life, that’s another story for another time.
The thing is, I believe that all of this has given my memory super-powers, forced to constantly be engaged in a massive effort of reconstruction. I remember my entire existence up to the very first memory I ever formed in my mind. The loss of my ability to move, the loss of chunks of my Archives and so forth, the notebooks especially, forced me to realize that **this is the Real Archive**! If there is an archive, or if there is to be an Archive I might ever want to preserve, then this is it, the record of my Experience, and not the physical materials I’ve accumulated. I remember everything. But as I will point out in the next article, remembering is only half the battle. In and of itself, remembering or storing something technically has no intrinsic value, at least not in and of itself as we say, a.k.a. the value is not to be found in remembering per se. The value, if there is on, is in the Experience and the Experiencing, which is always fleeting and can never be fully reconstructed in the first place. I call it Vanitas; Or, Memento Mori, the reminder of death. Again, another story for another time.