When the summer comes, my thoughts of two cats always bring some mixed feelings. Both the cats, named Charlie and Shadow, were chubby and yet their personalities were quite different. Charlie was gloomy, shy and introspective; Shadow, despite the not-so-bright name, was cheerful, playful and full of the energy found in typical extroverts.
I miss those cats, with some warmth welling up in my heart. But it’s also disheartening to recall their images since I know they passed away several years ago.
I lived with the cats (and my relatives) during the sultry and comfortably uneventful summer of 1996. I was staying at my cousin’s house in Toledo, Ohio, after spending one semester as an exchange student at a small college in Vermont. In the evening, her husband and daughter came home, and we had dinner and spent time together, chatting or drinking beer. But apart from the evenings, I mostly interacted with the two cats. Strangely enough, whenever I think about them, I feel like I’m instantly transported back to the time when I read books all day in a silent house with Charlie and Shadow roaming around somewhere.
Just the mere thought of the cats works like a mental time machine that unleashes a torrent of memories ― a mix of past events, emotions and experiences.
On Monday, I met my cousin in Seoul, and we had dinner together while talking about our shared experiences, including those of Charlie and Shadow. I told her that they often climbed over my belly in the morning to wake me up, which was stifling because they were in the heavyweight league. She told me how one of them brought back its hunting spoils ― a dead mouse perhaps, or what looked like the remnants of one.
When I was on my way home from the pleasant dinner with my cousin, I came to ask myself, “What makes certain memories more vivid and cherished, regardless of the amount of time that’s passed?” These days, I often don’t remember what happened 18 days ago, but I can recall small details involving Charlie and Shadow from nearly 18 years ago.
I have no idea about the exact mental mechanism that turns something trivial into something memorable and lasting, but my gut feeling is that it’s a highly selective process and that quality outweighs quantity.
Back in 1996, my life was much simpler. There was no social media to check repeatedly, no multilayered tasks that demand cumbersome multitasking. No smartphones, either. I just read books I wanted to read, daydreamed, dozed off and played with cats. Fresh information was rare, so even small incidents could leave a strong impression on my stimulus-starved neurons.
Fast-forwarding to 2014, things are overwhelmingly complex. My primary job is as an editor, which means I have to juggle my time frantically to manage the daily news budget, hassle reporters over topics and coverage, and edit articles as much as I can before the dreaded deadline. And the stream of new tasks never stops; as you may suspect, this desk column is the latest new assignment putting pressure on my poor brain.
Confronted with a quickly depleted mental reservoir, I try to record and save what I go through via digital solutions. I save data on a digital storage service like Evernote. I take photos of business cards I get with my smartphone and simply forget about where I put them. I jot down my small thoughts on the Day One mobile app and sometimes share them on Twitter and Facebook. I also use tried-and-tested conventional tools such as a notebook and a pen to preserve my trivial yet potentially memorable moments. I doubt I’ll be able to recall where I put all these snippets of information on digital platforms, but I’m also confident that there’s nothing much I can do about it.
After all, in the distant future, in which things may be even more complicated, I might miss the summer of 2014, with some mixed feelings.
By Yang Sung-jin
Yang Sung-jin is the national desk editor of The Korea Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. ― Ed.