Share this article

print logo

Linda Militello: Journals document life’s ups and downs

Writing is a major piece of my ikigai, Japanese for “a reason to wake up in the morning.” I journal to retain memories. Some individuals who have heard or read anecdotes from my life have encouraged me to compile my essays into a book.

My journals document the joyful peaks and painful emotional and physical valleys of relatives, friends, teachers, students and former patients. Many endured, while others died trying. Remembering and recounting their journeys strengthens my spirituality, teaches me new lessons and honors those who deserve remembrance. I always hope readers learn something from my writing.

No one else has lived my life based on my beliefs, needs, hopes and reality. I write about today knowing that tomorrow, the memory may be absent or modified if I don’t save it in some way. Neuroscientists have proved that every recalled memory changes during the recall and the storage of the memory. Family and friends are quick to point out my memory errors, proving neuroscience research. My journals prevent distortion of memories, which keeps my writing untainted by wishes and dreams rather than reality.

Like a computer file stored in a designated sector, some memories are stored in sectors of our brain for easy retrieval. Others that haven’t been recalled in a while are still there, but retrieval is challenging. Sometimes an associated event, song or photo will amazingly awaken a memory long unopened.

If we recount a memory to someone in the morning, that person may correct or add forgotten details. We then store the memory as we go on with our day. The altered memory doesn’t return to the same place in our brain, just like an opened computer file will not fit in its original sector once it has opened. A computer queries, “Do you want to save the changes to this file?” Respond no, and the computer will save the file as it was, but in a different location simply because the computer structure changes with every keystroke. Respond, “Yes, replace the file” and we will change the original file and the storage location.

For 20 years, I have computerized countless essays. I thought I had assigned a perfectly logical title to each. Now some titles are unrecognizable; others elicit little connection to the document inside. Fortunately, I can find documents in numerous ways. Occasionally, I get a message that the file is unsupported by my software or hardware. Then I realize that the computer is no better than my brain for recall if I don’t keep either healthy and updated.

Our brain hardware changes with age, fat deposits, lack of circulation, disease and trauma. Consider recall speed to be the software program in our brain. This can be clouded by alcohol, medications, lack of sleep and stress. The memories are there, but brain hardware and software need maintenance and care to retrieve those memories.

I’m finding I have more control over computer files than I have over my brain for long-term storage and retrieval. I can easily type a word that relates to a person, place or time and every document containing that word pops up. This beats ruffling through years of handwritten journals.

I will continue transferring handwritten journals to computer files in hopes of easy access to memories. If only the computer would remind me just what memory I need to remember.