Map this memory

You know how the olfactory sense is said to be the most powerful of the senses when it comes to evoking memory? I think most of us wouldn’t argue with that, but you know what I’ve discovered is also good at evoking memory? Google Maps.

Huh, you’re thinking; that is the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard. But try this little experiment: go on  Google Maps, or Google Earth, and type in the address of the home you lived in when you were 11. Or that of your grandparents. When you get there, click on Street View, and look at the house (assuming there is one). Now, notice the memories that start flooding back?

I use Google Maps all the time for memory jogging. I use other things too; this is because I live in constant fear of forgetting. What was that cop drama on TV recently about a woman who wasn’t able to forget anything that had happened to her, ever? Oh, yeah: Unforgettable. (Funny how I forgot that — ha ha.) Anyway, I don’t have that particular gift or superpower — curse is probably more like it — but I often wish I did. Losing one’s memories just seems more tragic to me than losing one’s sight or hearing or arms or legs.

Just after Christmas I received a long let-me-get-you-all-caught-up letter from a friend who had recently moved from the Midwest to St. Augustine, Florida. It so happens I have been to St. Augustine, exactly once, 19 years ago. So I took my friend’s address and plugged it into Google Maps, and boom: there came all the memories. Memories of streets and buildings and weather; even certain people’s names and faces, which I hadn’t heard or seen in all those years since then.

This morning I got Google Maps to show me the address of a house I once lived in, in California. When I looked at the front door of that house, the memories were so strong I almost couldn’t bear it; I had to get up from the computer and go do something else. So, most of the time I like using Google Maps to jog my memory; sometimes it’s not such a positive experience.

Mostly I need all the help I can get remembering and keeping my fear of forgetting at bay. So I’ve got these tools. One of my resolutions for 2013 is to really get started writing the memoir that’s been floating around in my head as a mere idea for several years. Like many such projects, the hardest part of it is just … starting. But now I know I can open Google Maps, give my memory a little nudge, and off we’ll go.

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