Chapter 45: The scent of good memories

Right now, I’m in a state of mind
I wanna be in like all the time
Ain’t got no tears left to cry

So I’m pickin’ it up, pickin’ it up
I’m lovin’, I’m livin’, I’m pickin’ it up

Ariana Grande’s no tears left to cry rolls out from the speakers as we, my friend Mina and I, buckle up our seatbelts. The midday fireball in the sky pierces through the small, milky window right next to me. Desert temperatures of over fifty degree Celsius cake everything that sets a foot outside, but luckily a cooling breeze from the air conditioning prevents us from melting away in this Boeing 747.

I’m pickin’ it up (Yeah), pickin’ it up (Yeah)
Lovin’, I’m livin’, so we turnin’ up
Yeah, we turnin’ it up

The upbeat song continues to play in the background and I exchange a silent smile with Mina. I know that we both must be thinking the same: after half a day of vegetating inside Dubai’s airport – due to an incredibly long overlay time – we are finally sitting in the machine that will fly us home to Glasgow. Looking around me, I see a colony of passengers board the luxurious, grand Boeing 747. This plane is such a gigantic ship whose very back and front I cannot even remotely scout from my seat. My eyes move back and forth, hopping between aisles, until they eventually return to the screen in front of me where I check the time. The departure towards home lies a bit more than a runway away, so this is how our backpacking episodes in South East Asia end. I feel a little strange imagining myself back in everyday work routine after having just voyaged to Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Right now, I’m in a state of mind
I wanna be in like all the time

Two years later, I hear the same song from Ariana Grande discoing on the radio while I trod through the local drug store. Within a snap, the tune mentally teleports me into the same Boeing 747 in which Mina and I ended an adventure of our lifetime. Instantaneously, the memories of our backpacking fun in South East Asia flash into my mind again.

I revive the scenes of sipping coconuts on a rooftop overlooking Ho Chi Minh City, of climbing up the countless stairs to limestone cave temples in Kuala Lumpur, and of conversing with a humble monk student in Chiang Mai.

We were truly lucky to profit from these extraordinary experiences. Being absorbed in the plume of mundane academic duties, the image of cutting through thick jungle seems rather surreal now. Yet, this is exactly what we did just twenty-four months ago. Even more absurdly, we actually hid in a murky alleyway from hostel owners who chased after us as if we starred in a crime movie. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Mina and I had truly jumped from one thrill to another while travelling through Southern Asia.

By a mere tune, all those incredible memories reawakened in me – memories which I never want to forget. However, I fear that memories I treasure could fade or vanish. Good memories delight as heartily as bumping into a close friend by coincidence. I therefore try to preserve precious memories as much as I can, mostly by capturing them as coloured pixels. Though, I wish I took more photos of the golden moments in my life. I keep telling myself to log more impressions directly upon their occurrence.

I am horrified that my keepsakes of good memories could be ruined irreversibly one day. In fact, some of the camera shots I collected in Asia suffered from corruption and became inaccessible. More than once, I have envisioned the loss of my entire picture albums and diaries which led to sweat-inducing frights. I became so paranoid about losing digital records of my memories that I began storing duplicate backups of my digital souvenirs on multiple devices. Still, I am afraid that these materialised versions of my memories could be gone at one unfortunate match of life circumstances.

Are tangible records really the only keepsakes we carry of good memories?

On a surface level it appears so.

However, Ariana Grande’s song and my unique connection with it exemplifies that we also own many intangible, perceptual records of our memories. We typically refer to mediums like photos, videos, or objects as vaults of memories. Yet, our sensual experiences shepherd a significant amount of our memories too – we are just less aware of them.

As opposed to physical or digital documentations, we do not actively gather perception-borne memories. Instead, we unconsciously accumulate them as a by-product of our brain processing sensual impressions which accompany the actions we engage in. Think of it as our brain taking five dimensional snapshots of moments without us having to press the record button. For example, our memories could be captured in a particular scent, a certain music, a special colour, or a distinct flavour.

These snapshots of the senses wield a magical power to transport us back to past experiences when we encounter the same, familiar sensual impressions again. Memories consequently dwell in the imminent environment around us. Intangible perceptions may not be our first intuition when we look for carriers of our good memories, but they are worth being sincerely attended to, especially because they tickle our emotions in a way that the tangible records cannot.

Right now, I’m in a state of mind
I wanna be in like all the time
Ain’t got no tears left to cry

So I’m pickin’ it up, pickin’ it up
I’m lovin’, I’m livin’, I’m pickin’ it up

Whenever I hear these lines sung by Ariana Grande, my head instantaneously returns to the seat in the Boeing 747 where I enjoyed her song for the first time as well as the end to one of the most exciting stories of my life. I like that Ariana’s song shelters sweet memories of my travels through Asia and in particular of the flight home from Dubai because no other record of my travels allows me to reminisce about it so vividly.

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