Bob Garner: A crammed attic
Sunday, April 22, 2018
I’m stuck with a hoarder’s memory.
My brain — my attic, if you will — is entirely too full of random stuff. Entire passages of books I’ve read. Minor details of geography. Lyrics of Broadway show tunes. Odd bits of trivia with little apparent use or connectivity.
I don’t want to be burdened with this oddball collection. I just can’t seem to get rid of it. And what’s worse, it too often falls through the attic door, in effect, by tumbling out of my mouth.
Let’s face it. Almost no one wants to know what you have stashed in your attic. If anything, they prefer you getting interested in their store of collectibles.
Advice on getting rid of clutter can be found everywhere these days. If you haven’t used or worn something in the last several months, the conventional wisdom says you should get rid of it.
The idea is to leave some space in your surroundings and your mind for the new things and challenges that will inevitably show up. Just as a wine needs to be decanted to be at its best, we all need breathing room. And we need to leave room in our existence for others.
So we can probably all agree that more space and less clutter can be a good thing. At the same time, we know that life is complex and that we need curators of memories, thoughts and ideas, to say nothing of the actual historical record.
In a world where the number of authoritarian regimes is increasing, for example, someone needs to keep a record of advances, safeguards and freedoms that are being diminished or discarded entirely. Otherwise, people forget they once had them.
Still, there’s no getting around the fact that historians, experts in minutiae and most writers of any stripe are often tiresome and annoying.
The trick, then, is to be able to manage an overstuffed memory without allowing it to manage you. Scribes have their place, but things get tricky if they imagine their place is squarely in the flow of everyday life and conversation.
The more random material someone has in their brain, the more likely it is that they will end up talking too much. No one likes that. And the best conversationalists are the ones skilled at getting others to talk through listening and asking questions, rather than talking themselves.
Who really wants someone to drag down some dusty object from their own attic? Who wants them to insert it into a conversation in an effort to demonstrate expertise or relevance?
Those with a good overall grasp of philosophy, history and current events — or some special area of expertise — can often add something useful to the public discourse. They likely contribute best when they confine themselves to the written word, speak before a group or share insights through broadcasting.
But they may be lousy one-on-one conversationalists.
What about random odds and ends stored to overflowing in memory? Well, they would undoubtedly be useful in creating memorable characters, enriching plot or polishing dialogue in a novel. But how many novelists do we have room for, really, as we’re getting rid of clutter?
All of us can’t keep our memory banks perfectly cleaned out and organized, much as we might need to do so. But anyone with a hoarder’s memory, writer or not, should keep one thing in mind.
Until there’s an opportunity to distribute or dispose properly of some alleged treasure, it’s best to keep the attic door latched.
Bob Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GARNER ON AUDIO
Listen to a recent podcast interview with Garner done by David Richmond of Williamston and Greenville. Click here.