Posted by: jgurner | December 6, 2010

Unexperiencing the unremembered again for the first time

Sometimes, the Universe will surprise you.

It’s not necessarily the kind of surprise you get when some one jumps out from behind some other sort of thing and says “Boo!” or “Happy Birthday!” or “Would you please give me you money in exchange for me not shooting/stabbing/pummeling, or any combination of the three, you!”

It’s not the sort of surprise as, say, balancing your checkbook and discovering you made a $97 error in your favor, which you then go out and spend on comic books, beer and condoms, which is often followed by a second surprise, not so pleasant this time, in which you realize just how bad at math you actually are.

It’s more the surprise you get when you realize that you, indeed, didn’t do something that you thought you did, and, had in fact thought for many, many years you had done. More along the lines of thinking all your life you’d been to the Grand Canyon when, in reality you realize after looking through family photos dozens of years later that not only had you never been to the Grand Canyon, you had, in fact, never been anywhere, rather than being the kind of situation you find yourself in after 17 years when the results of not using the condoms after drinking the beer, both of which are mentioned above, comes knocking on your door looking for tuition money and to unleash almost two decades of pent up childhood angst.

All of these are rather similarly unlike the experience I came to experience while reading a book. A rather remarkable book that for some reason, which has me somewhat examining what I cautiously call “the past” and my “memory,” sat on various book shelves and other items which, through usage became “book shelves” even though they were originally fashioned for other things for almost two decades.

The book is the fifth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. And if that sentence sounds wrong to you in any way, then I suggest you stop reading at the end of this sentence, go out, buy the five books in the series, read them, take a few months to ponder them, drive to New Orleans and find a seedy place where they serve $7 bourbon and Cokes, watch the activities which go on in that sort of place until well into the next morning, go back to the hotel, sleep for a bit, find a nice Cajun restaurant and eat way too much, head home, rest up from the trip and then continue reading this post with a greater understanding of not only this paragraph, but how life can be lived and enjoyed.

It seems that 18 years ago or so, according to our own calculating of linear time, I purchased what turned out to be the last installment of Douglas Adams’ series of books. In my mind, I took the book home and, possibly in one evening, read it from cover to cover, as I tended to do in those days. Fortunately, in those days, things such as going to class, going to work and hygiene could be ignored for long stretches of time. And, the longer you ignored the third, the longer pretty much everyone around you wanted you to ignore the first two.

For each day which fell between that return trip from Walden Books in the Oxford (s)Mall until last Thursday I would have possibly bet my life and fortune and would have most definitely bet someone else’s life and fortune on the fact that Yes! I had, indeed read this book, “Mostly Harmless,” (the name of the book, BTW), and then would have proceeded to give you some idea of what the book was actually about, which, as it turns out, would have been utterly and completely wrong. It was on Thursday that I finished, once again, the previous four books in the series and, once again, or so I thought, began reading the fifth.

I started with reading the word “The,” which had a familiar ring to it. It was followed by the word “history” which was a small surprise, but no without precedent. “of” and “the” which it turns out appears quite a bit in the book, appeared followed with “galaxy” coming up next. All were words I recognized. In fact, I dare say there were no words in the book I failed to recognize. The particular order in which they were put together in this particular volume, however, completely failed to be familiar.

The entire time I was reading it I kept saying to myself it would have to take a turn at some point at which it would start to sound familiar. It failed to do so at page 42. It failed again, miserably at page 167 and 214. At page 250, it went on for an entire page without “the” rearing its head at all. But, it showed back up about the middle of page 251 and I felt a bit reassured, though it totally failed to ring any bells. By the time I got to page 310 I suddenly realized there were only 277 pages in the book, so I had to go back a bit for the end, which unsurprisingly surprised me by being completely unfamiliar.

I remembered nothing about the book, until I read it, then I remembered what I had read, mostly.

Needless to say, I was surprised.

But, in the back of my mind I still wonder. Maybe I have, in fact read the book. Perhaps, in a plot which could have been a very minor and unworthy subplot that went completely unmentioned in some work by DNA, a stray neutrino went wide of its mark a billion years ago and as a consequence, compounded over time, the memory of my reading this book has been erased. Maybe the government, for reasons of national security in our continuing fight in the war on random words which invoke fear into some people, have used the microchip implant put in my brain by the aliens (not the ones you think) to block out my memory of reading the book.

Or, and this is the more likely scenario, a time traveler, bent on galactic domination but stopped by some bit of information I gleaned while reading the book, traveled back into the history of the Earth and taught our ancestors how to make Bourbon, knowing that once I was in college, if it existed, I would drink lots and lots of it, which would cause me to forget, among many other things, my ever having read “Mostly Harmless.”

So, I’m not saying 100 percent, unequivocally that before the past few days I had not read the book. There may be evidence to the contrary stating that I had, in fact. There could be a review in The Daily Mississippian written by me reviewing the book. There could be those out there who have discussed the book with me at length. These, of course, could have been planted by any competent time agent, however, to keep me thinking I had read the book so I wouldn’t be tempted to go back and read it again for the first time. That scenario, though, seems a little unrealistic.

But now, I have read the book. I have a clear memory of it, though I’m going on that the assumption that my having read it is real and not another implant of me just thinking I have read it. So, at this time, I will say, with some certainty that I have read the book and remember the things which actually occur in it rather than other events which, as it turns out, did not.

As a result of this incident, I’ve begun to ponder over what I can remember of my memory. (NOTE: From this point forward, we are going to assume that those things I remember I actually remember and those I don’t remember are things I actually don’t remember and that as a matter of course, both remembered and unremembered are, in fact, real and not just a figment of my or someone else’s memory.) Specifically, I’ve wondered about not just being unable to remember things through forgetfulness, blocking something out or alcohol, but about never having experienced certain things at all simply for the sake of being able to do them again for the the first time.

Think of what it could mean. You wouldn’t just be unremembering something. You would be unexperienceing it. Imagine all the things you could unexperience and then experience for the first time once again. What would it be like to see Star Wars for the first time? Or to finally see that one episode of the original series of Star Trek that you never saw until you bought the DVDs?

Think of it, just about anything that;s worth doing for the first time is worth doing for the first time again. Except possibly for sex. The very first time. Regardless of what romance novels and teen dramas on network TV tell us, it’s never all it’s cracked up to be, ending in a somewhat underwhelming disappointment that makes you want to try it again until you get it right. Now, the getting it right part would be something to do over again for the first time. Quite a few times, in fact.

And none of this talk about ruining the specialness of that real, actual first time by making it meaningless. This would just make every time you experience something again for the first time meaningful and special until you decided to unexperience it and do it again. It couldn’t possibly make the unique and special events that make up the most fond of our memories become crass, mundane and bland because, let’s face it, the rest of the world has pretty much already done that.

Unexperiencing could work wonders in making us all feel young again, as when the world was new, which is a line from a movie I would swear I’ve seen before a million times, but I can’t be sure, so I’ll go home this evening and watch it again, possibly for the first time.

See. Exciting isn’t it. You just never know…



  1. So what did you remember Mostly Harmless as being about? I might want to replace my memories of the book with yours. For that matter, what did you think about it? And are you aware of And Another Thing?

    Way back in college, I read a review of the Dana Carvey amnesia movie Clean Slate, in which the reviewer claimed to have had hypnotism to forget the movie, and reviewed the movie fresh each time. Made me wish I could do that with Star Wars — how cool would it be to be surprised by things again, to not know what was going to happen. But then, what if I didn’t like it as well? How much poorer would life be then?

    • I actually had bits of So Long and Thanks for all the Fish mixed in with stuff that didn’t happen in any of the books that I thought made up Mostly Harmless. I got the impression from Mostly Harmless that DNA was trying to be rid of the series and didn’t much care how he did it. It was quite a bit more random and lumped together than his usual work, but, really, how do you end a series of books that has not real story? You just make it end. I guess I’d say it was fairly unsatisfyingly satisfying.

      I am aware of And Another Thing, and that’s where it will stay, on the edge of my awareness. I tend to hate it when a publishing company hands over a series to another author after an author’s death. Sometimes it works. Mostly it doesn’t. And I just don’t see Eoin Colfer doing the job. Maybe someone like Neil Gaiman and I would have been interested just because it was Neil Gaman.

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