Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Memory is a net."

According to the plane ticket wedged in the book, I was flying from Fort Worth to Hartford when I came across this, "Around 1960, a young psychologist named Sarnoff Mednick thought he had identified the essence of creativity. His idea was as simple as it was powerful: creativity is associative memory that works exceptionally well." 

I shut the book. The lines struck me as immediately true and absolutely how my creative process conducts itself and how I operate in the world. It lines up with my lectures on craft and the way I structure my creative writing workshops -- which begin with heavy memory exercises to build texture -- and my reliance on the quote "Memory is a net." (Olive Wendell Holmes) This quote goes on: "one that finds it full of fish when he takes it from the brook, but a dozen miles of water have run through it without sticking." Those fish, though, they are the things your brain has kept -- sometimes beyond reason or rationality -- but, in their essences, those memories are kept because of psychological resonance and they often have some sensual grip. They're ours. They shimmer and gasp in our hands.

This associative memory isn't like other kinds of memory skills -- the memory for trivia, for formulas, for collected data that needs to be applied. No. This associative memory is the reason why, when you're in a room of writers, you can shout out any word and ask for a story. Shout out, "Doorknob!" and a room of writers will start sorting through all their best doorknob stories -- places they were locked into and out of, the first one they saw made of crystal that reminds them of their first understanding of wealth or want. 

(The book is Thinking Fast and Slow.)