I dreamed last night of the Main Street Electrical Parade. This is, I think, part of my brain’s ongoing effort to make me feel better about things; my Uncle Bill has figured largely in my dreams lately, too, and he always made me happier. But I think I watched the whole parade in my head last night, which is impressive for something I haven’t seen in person since about 1995. Uncle Bill and the parade are just two things which remain in my head long after they’re actually gone, because that’s how humans work. Gone is not forgotten.
Is it strange to pair the two? Possibly. I’ve been in a strange headspace lately. But talk long enough to pretty much anyone, you’ll come up with something from pop culture that made them happy and lives on in their brain despite its relative inaccessibility. Oh, I can watch the parade on YouTube—but it’s not the same, is it? The parade isn’t the same unless you’re there, in Fantasyland or on Main Street, probably a bit cold because it’s summer but you’re sitting still in clothing intended to keep you cool as you moved around all day. Crammed in with thousands of other people waiting for the sounds and the lights, changing the night into something different.
If you’ve been to the parade in those days, you felt it, didn’t you, when you were thinking about it? Because it’s in your head. Just as you can remember someone important to you who is, in whatever way, not there anymore. And if you haven’t been to the parade, I’m sure there’s something else that has the same place. In fact, I’m sure there’s quite a lot of it. We as a species retain. That is one of our joys, I think, even though it isn’t always a joyful way to be.
Try this. Be a child again, inside your head. Just for a few minutes. Think about Saturday morning cartoons, if you experienced those. Or maybe being allowed to stay up late for some special occasion or another—my bedtime was at eight, but Mom would let us stay up for It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or what have you. Think about it. Were you in your pajamas? Siblings? Living room or den or family room? Where were you and what were you doing as you experienced that moment?
Now, I admit I have a stronger memory of childhood than a lot of people, but try it with something from adulthood, even. Sense memory is probably stronger for childhood, but try thinking about going to see a movie you’d really been looking forward to that did indeed turn out to be pretty good. The memory is still there, isn’t it? And as you remember, you can feel a little of that residual joy?
Of course, this also means you can probably relive sad things in just the same way, and if you are me, embarrassing things you did in 1987 will live with you forever. But the same quirk of the human brain that lets you remember watching Muppet Babies or whatever as if it was only yesterday is the one that lets you keep loved ones there decades after they’re gone, and that’s no bad thing. I’m not even sure if some of my memories are really memories so much as they are layers of fragment, but it doesn’t matter.
This is the part of the brain that gives us art, I think. Obviously I do not speak for all artists—on a good day, I can speak for myself. But a lot of art, I think, is having the moment in your head and wanting to share it with other people. The only difference is that you know you’re making those bits up. You’re often borrowing from those layers of fragment to create a world that is in its own way as real to you as a parade you saw as a child or your favourite uncle.