“She appeared to be intelligent but she just had a very retentive memory”

Posted: November 4, 2014 by Mo Crow in It's Crow Time

“She appeared to be intelligent but she just had a very retentive memory”
a great line from an acid tongued friend at a party earlier in the year talking about a woman he shared a house with when he was 20, I thought to myself at the time (without saying anything of course) “oh my gosh, that’s me!”
I am not very good at problem solving but do have a photographic memory for images and poetic lines that catch my attention. This was very handy when cramming for exams at high school & then much later for memorizing botanical names whilst studying horticulture. My childhood memories are packed into the 11 reels of slides my father took as we were growing up  that we saw repeatedly over the first 18 years of my life. I still remember so many of those individual photographs clear as day like this one of my Uncle Johnny letting me sit on a horse for the first time with my brothers Mike Ralph & Charlie
1963 must have been around 1963 as Paul isn’t in the picture yet. The memory is of this photograph, not the time and place, I don’t recall the feeling of sitting up so high on this horse or the smell of summer in Quebec. I can only imagine what that felt like and only have a faint recollection of this moment being a stepping stone in the dream of one day owning a horse coming true at last.
Stormy1973webStormy & me in 1973
All my brothers tell me my memories have nothing to do with their collective version of reality and as there is 4 of them & only one of me, I must have embroidered the photographs with dreams over time!
taking this thought of distorted memory further
Polanski-still-from-the-tenanta still from Roman Polanski’s The Tenant
(photo taken from a video on hold with a throw away camera before the days of computers in 1995)
curiously this scene lasted app 3 seconds in the film… I had remembered it as much more significant
these mysterious hieroglyphs haunted me from 1976 when I saw the film in Adelaide til 1998 when I studied Egyptian hieroglyphs at Sydney University’s continuing education program for a year
their meaning in the context of the film became insignificant to me once I had deciphered the memory but they have influenced much of my art and helped bring Ariel the Abyssinan cat of my dreams into our lives
BCHhomepicBlue Cat Heaven

Reading Brain Pickings last week about mind, memory and creativity she quotes from “Notebooks of the Mind: Explorations of Thinking”  by Vera John-Steiner ;
“…  the English poet Stephen Spender, who captured this beautifully: “Memory is not exactly memory. It is more like a prong, upon which a calendar of similar experiences happening throughout the years, collect. A memory once clearly stated ceases to be a memory, it becomes perpetually present, because every time we experience something which recalls it, the clear and lucid original experience imposes its formal beauty on the new experiences. It is thus no longer memory but an experience lived through again and again.”

as Jude Hill’s dad said so wisely about memory 
“remember in order to understand… and quietly go on.  Appreciate the beauty in that.”
a very wise man!

Here’s another example of memory influencing my work & how my dreams change the story over time,  for  many years (usually when procrastinating about starting a new project) I tried to track down the vague memory of a book I had read over 30 years ago. I couldn’t remember the author or the title but the story was about a young artist who painted pictures of moggies (English slang for cats) to make money, knowing he could do great work one day if he only had more time & money. He lived with his on & off girlfriend and suggested in passing that she should marry a rich man and he could be their butler … and so the twisted tale played itself out… but only in my dreams! 4 years ago I finally tracked the book down, I thought I had reread all of Iris Murdoch’s work over the years in the hunting of that lost memory, along with all of the works of Aldous Huxley, Sartre, John Fowles & many other sardonic male writers along the way but somehow had missed Iris M’s “Nuns & Soldiers”!
received an e-mail from Abe Books with pictures of 50 iconic book covers and this one caught my eye
Under the Netread this in the synopsis –
“He goes with his suitcase to the cat-filled corner shop… ”
that cat line twigged a memory & typing in “Iris Murdoch & moggies” in Google took me to the book “Nuns & Soldiers” online-
Iris-Murdoch-Nuns-&-Soldiers-page-92it was the memory of this page that had conjured a whole different story, I reread the book and don’t need to read it again (the misremembered book I had embroidered in my imagination was much more interesting!)
but that idea of making a living painting pictures of cats was one of the big influences for An illuminated Book of Cats!
dedication page from An illuminated Book of Cats
Funny how life goes…
when I was a  fan of Roderick’s band “Sourpuss” back in 1977
rod-at-the-George-1978rod-at-the-George-b-1978I dreamt of illustrating his song A Life of Crime way back then and now that I have finished illustrating them all it’ll be time to start editing very soon…
NB I have been trying to make some sort of sense with this post for ages
many thanks to Julie Stockler of Threading the Dog with her post this week about disclosure

  1. Jane B (epocktextiles) says:

    oh my gosh, there is an intelligent line of thought running through there. I love reading books where the narrators are different, so you get the different perspectives on the same events. So not only does ones own memory change over time with the amount of exposure it gets (internally and externally), but it also changes with your own personal view at the time. Dont let those boys boss your memories around!

    • Mo Crow says:

      No worries Jane, my dreams have always been as important as the daytime world (sometimes more so) & besides all my brothers they live in the US & we probably won’t see each other again in this lifetime!

      • Mike says:

        Now, now…

        I’d sort of thought about bringing the twins out for a visit to Oz one day.

        And I’m not bossy, either

        • Mo Crow says:

          hehe! well Mike you being the second eldest have memories that would mesh more closely with mine… was it all just a dream? and what about both you & Debbie bringing the twins out to Australia, it’s been a long time since you’ve been across the wide blue!

          • Mike says:

            Well, unfortunately, I’m neither intelligent nor do I have a good memory…so not much to mesh (although plenty of mush)!

            I wasn’t counting on getting to Oz because of what I thought would be an imminent retirement and the resulting dry-catfood-for-dinner retirement lifestyle.

            But, as it may turn out, just when I thought the show was over and was expecting to get canned….my boss said he was thinking about kicking me up a notch. Guess that means I’ll have to start working on a new high-three years of pay…which would coincide with the twins getting out of high school. Maybe a trip across the ocean would be good for their worldview before engaging in further pursuits at that point.

            You never know!

            • Mo Crow says:

              hmmm Mike well I’ll beg to differ on the level of intelligence, all you guys are frighteningly bright & re memory… well the 70’s had a lot to do with questioning reality! & hey that sounds like good timing, 3 years from now we might be ready to do the big road trip to the far northwest of Western Australia to see the wild Boab trees in flower!

              • Mike says:

                That would be good! I never made it to the north or northwest of Oz. And since the trip would probably happen in your winter, that would be a good time to do it, eh? You’d be taking your winter break, and the temperatures wouldn’t be catastrophically hot. But then, do the Boab trees flower in winter? Probably not….

                • Mo Crow says:

                  the best time to go to the tropical savannah of The Kimberley is winter from June-August, then drive down the coast to see the wildflowers of the SouthWest in September & back up in October to see the Boab trees in flower and then get out of there because it will be Hot!

  2. dinahmow says:

    Well, that pushed a few buttons in my top storey… Love the Stephen Spender lines. Well, all of it, actually, but now I have some old friends to see.Just down Memory Lane…not far…

  3. Bronwyn says:

    Great post Mo, thanks! lots to think about.

  4. roz says:

    ahh disclosure. so much to be gained from the freedom of doing. some setting free always for me.

  5. memories are mysterious things….also thinking about becoming old and first in latest out!

    • Mo Crow says:

      perhaps that’s what is so important about making art & music and poetry & film, they highlight the exquisite points in the mystery and help us perceive them

  6. grace says:

    how thickly WOVEn this post is, how i leaned into the screen, word unto word, image unto image
    I LOVE this because of where it took me WITH YOU but also because of what it lets loose
    inside my own hall of memory. Beauty FULL post. Just GRAND. very

  7. Dana says:

    Grace is right…this post is thickly woven. My memories are also astir like wasps in a bottle. I too was a voracious reader, a horse girl, a dream girl, a memory filer and fact spewer. I was secretly afraid that I was stupid, or maybe it was just growing up female in the ’50s and ’60’s. For a long time I strove for clarity, but now I’m more interested in mystery.
    Do you really think you will never see your brothers again?

    • Mo Crow says:

      Being on the cusp of turning 60 next March, there’s a freedom in this stage of the game, the letting go of the material ambitions and focusing into the work of being present, savouring what’s left of the Here & Now & yes, diving into the deep mystery of it all- the awareness of cycles in seeing out all the decades, observing the pendulum swinging… and hmmm… re seeing my family again, there was an unsaid agreement that we probably won’t see each other again, it felt like my last trip to the USA but you never know what’s ’round the corner!

  8. ah. your horses mo ! love those pics especially, as i have had horses on my mind
    well put disclosure of many things in this post

  9. Carol says:

    I think I like Jude Hill’s dad!

  10. julie banks says:

    Wonderful post, Mo- you make such a positive contribution to life. Memories are such strange things, I too have a retentive memory and it can be both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I wonder if some of my memories from childhood are real or just figments of my overactive imagination!

    • Mo Crow says:

      my brothers reassured me back in August that all my memories are just figments of my wild imagination & fragments of dreams but they’re what I have left to work with! My brother Charlie, the aeronautical engineer wrote this reply a few years back when I asked everyone I knew whether they believed in miracles-

      "I'm not sure you ever asked me about miracles directly, if you did it might have gone over my head. But in light of the "Degrees of Cool" gambit I'll tell you what I know about miracles. Since you're the first one to ask, you're the first one to hear. If it seems to be an overly lengthy discourse it's because I've thought a lot about it over the years.

      miracle: an extraordinary event taken to manifest a supernatural work of God

      So when one discusses whether miracles happen, it's really a discussion of whether God exists.

      Miracle 1 – Tulsa

      So when I was a lad, probably in first grade or so, we were walking back home from town (or whatever you want to call the area with the Woolworth's and the school) as a family. It was dark, and most probably winter. On our street I looked up into a tree, and within the branches I saw a bright, concentrated light which I knew to be an angel. I may have attempted to point it out to everyone else, but if I did I was ignored.

      So that event has always stuck in my mind for some reason. As a rational adult I can look back and say "hey you stupid kid. You were young, impressionable, being indoctrinated into the Catholic church, primed to see what wasn't there. That was no angel, that was a street lamp". Well maybe so, "probably" so. But it's also an example of child-like faith which, if we could only hold onto, would make out lives a lot easier.

      Miracle 2 – The Back Surgery

      Forward ahead to late 2002, and about 5 weeks from crippling back pain to hospital dismissal. Again, a rational person could look back and say that the combination of pain killers and morphine associated a set of random signs and events into a belief that there is a God watching over us. And I'd say that was "probably" true, but that the whole episode started and ended with events wherein I was drug-free and lucid.

      Specifically, the day it all started I was at work, late in the evening, having covered an important engine test. My discs had already herniated by then, but I was just starting the downhill incapacitation. Anyway, as I was walking back to my office, an elderly black man, an hourly worker, in a golf cart, pulled up beside me and asked if I wanted a ride. I declined since I didn't have far to go, but never in my life at GE, before or since, has anyone ever offered me a ride.

      Fast-forward 5 weeks and I'm recovering in the hospital, my last day. All the strange connections and coincidences over the 5 weeks I'm willing to put down to pain-killers, but now I'm clear headed and soon to be discharged. I have a private room. For several hours that afternoon, a middle-aged student nurse has been hanging around my bedside. This is quite peculiar to me since presumably you would think she has more to do than just hang around my bedside all afternoon. Anyway, we talked a lot and she reminded me a lot of you, since she kept horses and such. And towards the end she said she was waiting for her instructor to come by and evaluate her abilities to take vital signs. And after some more conversation it came out that her instructor was a bit mean, and in fact an ex-nun.

      So what's my point? Where's the miracle? It's this. That you can take any one event and rationalize it away. But when you start stringing together a series of improbable events then you have something that is either highly improbable, or, by definition, a miracle.

      Miracle 3 – Doors

      Fast forward another few years, maybe 2007 or 2008. I'm at work, it's lunchtime, and I'm down in the parking garage and staring out at the rain making ripples in puddles outside. Too wet to take my normal walk. I'm really unhappy at work at the moment, and I really don't feel like going back inside. I'd rather just get in my car and go home. But then the door to the building opens up, by itself, but no one comes out. Now understand that this door has a motor on it, and it opens itself up when you swipe your security badge from the outside or push a button from the inside. So anyway, I'm outside in the garage, and this door is opening and closing, all by itself, as if to beckon me in. So finally I go in. There's nobody there on the inside of course, and I had never seen the door behave that way again, before or since. Random electrical malfunction? Possibly.

      Inside the building you're in the basement. There's a lobby with vending machines and three elevators. I work on the fourth floor, and usually I take the stairs, but sometimes I take the elevator. Now I know these elevators are programmed to return to the basement when not in use. So I really shouldn't be surprised that whenever I go to the vending machine and turn around, more often than not a light will ping and an elevator door will open without my having called it. But yet I am surprised that it seems to happen more often than it probablistically should.

      Fast forward to a month ago. I've moved back to the main plant, and during lunchtime I still try to take a walk. Given the weather is cold and snowy, I walk outside to a manufacturing building, and then go down to the basement there where I can walk thru some underground tunnels for a long walk while being protected from the elements.

      Anyway, to get into the basement from the outside, there's a bank of about 12 exterior doors which take you down a flight of stairs to the basement . So as I'm walking towards these doors, one of them opens, all by itself, and I had to laugh out loud as God or one of his minions continues to toy with me. Now mind you this door has no motor, there's absolutely no reason why it should open by itself. Given my rational nature I do attempt to explain it away but I can't. The nearest I can come is that down in the stairwell there's a big heater to keep out the cold, and perhaps the heater was overpressurizing the air in the stairwell and the door came open. But I checked the door, it's return spring was working, so really, there's no easy reason to explain it. So given my experience with the other door, I can only put it down to a) God havng fun w/ me, or b) God trying to get my attention for some reason for which I have no clue.

      So that is my experience with miracles, at least the ones that have left a strong impression on me. So yes, I would have to say that I do believe in miracles, and by extension, God.


      PS Charlie is straight as a die with the most wicked sense of humour and the best chicken dancer in the world, he makes me laugh a lot & I really wish I had stopped with him all those years ago to see that angel shining so bright in the tree

  11. jstockler says:

    Exquisite, Mo…I had the same experience with horses and it makes me wonder what else of me is from evolution of memory rather than chance. And that quote!

    Wondering if this was a post in your draft folder you finally got to?

    • Mo Crow says:

      this post had been building in my head & then in the draft folder all year since hearing that line about retentive memory but it was that quote from brain pickings a few weeks back & then your post on walking the tightrope of disclosure that helped pull these thoughts together into something reasonably coherent, the one that has been sitting there in the draft folder even longer waiting to see the light of day (if ever) is about the attraction and repulsion of anathema in art… aka looking at how we are drawn to what we fear… but the more I look at it the more I realize that this was how I pushed my art into the wilds when I was younger, it seems irrelevant now in this wired 21st C world where there is so much information…

  12. The weave and the weaver so present
    The gift and the giver so prescient

    Mo, you are the multifaceted diamond of your years…and yes, age seems to loosen the bonds of ‘propriety’, and we who have lost much, suddenly seem to have less to lose-and more to share. We might become blessedly more free, ‘specially if we are fortunate enough to have a like minded community where me becomes we and you-thee…and yes, dreams are revelatory, the soul guide we were searching for in others for all those younger days. There it was all the time–inside 🙂

  13. Liz says:

    Oh … so much of this resonated with me. Shaking my head now recalling that I used to apologize for doing well in school, saying, “I just have a photographic memory” as if it was a character flaw.
    And the pictures … of you flying with your horse and the beautiful youthfulness of the band …
    But best of all, you have added yet another ripple (Julie) in the growing circle of kindred spirits that started (for me) with Considering Weave … with their comments and your replies … deepening and enriching the stories.
    Thank you for all of this …

  14. saskia says:

    I wish I had retentive memory, I tend to forget most of everything, haha

    wise words from Jude’s dad; I suppose looking back, as far as I’m able to that is, I try and look at my past with non-judgmental eyes…..took me quite some time to get to this place, but hey I’m here now

  15. beth says:

    Wonderful post, Mo. I love seeing your young self and horse flying over jumps. The interconnections. I remember that Polanski movie… Way too close to the abyss for me to want to see that again!

  16. deemallon says:

    I am so glad you decided to post this. I really like hearing more about your childhood and what makes you tick and how certain vital aspects of your work were jiggered along by experiences (miracles?). Knowing you have a fabulous memory certainly explains your absolutely prodigious stock of references, which you seem to pull effortlessly and magically to mind, over and over! It was funny to read this, too, a matter of hours after having an argument with my sister about our childhoods… when the memories are so, so divergent it is hard to find middle ground.

    I will have to get looser as I approach 60 because my memory sucks and pretty soon I’ll just be making shit up, all the time (instead of part of the time, the way I do now!).

    • Mo Crow says:

      Oh that’s great Dee, love it! Old Man Crow has this theory that each time an event from the past is retold, there is a tendency to remember the last telling of the story rather than the actual event and so it becomes embroidered & enriched over time the more often the story is retold!

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