Wednesday, August 18, 2010

If we do not preserve our identities and personal histories, we may lose ourselves to the rapidly growing world of technology. Charles Baxter, in his essay, “Shame and Forgetting in the Information Age,” argues that, in today’s information age, shame and forgetting can play a significant role in our daily lives. Baxter insists that shame can lead to anxiety and the approach we take in dealing with our anxiety may ultimately lead to a loss of identity. How in the information age, may we combat the phobia of forgetting our personal histories, without the overwhelming shame and guilt? Baxter suggests we should protect our memories and experiences, and separate them from information memory. His essay outlines the distinction between information memory and experience memory and their connection to shame and forgetting.

Baxter, with a tribute to his brother Tom, begins his essay; with an example of how dealing with shame and forgetting can be a real struggle. Baxter describes his brother’s life as tragic and pathetic; ridiculing his brother in support of his claim, that forgetting can be a constant struggle for anyone. Tom was unable to mix well socially, despite his positive outlook on life. “Tom was an outcast of the information age” (141). “He was among the ranks of those who cannot easily process the printed word” (142). When it came to storytelling, Tom could narrate without missing a detail after hearing a
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story only once; but the printed word was a hurdle Tom could not jump. “He couldn’t hold it in his head; he kept it around and had to learn to live with it” (144).When Tom would forget things; shame would overwhelm him; and the shame Tom felt led to anxiety, which led to overeating. After Tom’s death, Baxter visited his brother’s apartment where nothing was in order. Periodicals and other forms of printed word piled to the ceiling. “And they say: all he left behind were our memories of him. That, and the papers” (144).

Baxter believes forgetting can be a necessary shield that protects us from shame. “Strategic amnesia might be an appropriate phrase to describe how we are coping with the information-glut” (145). He implies that, there are times when the need to forget is necessary. “Strategic amnesia has everything to do with the desire to create or destroy personal histories” (146). Baxter also suggests that when faced with the search for an experience or memory, strategic amnesia does not have to come into play. Baxter uses Ronald Reagan as a good example of how turning a restriction of remembering situations and dates can be an advantage. He suggests that President Reagan let forgetting work for him, because “It set him free from the responsibility for his actions” (148). Bill Clinton is another political figure who used forgetting in his repertoire of political tricks. “Clinton seems to be able to bury the past without demonstrating visible shame” (148). When necessary, using strategic amnesia to forget and bury memories allows one to avoid shame.

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Shame is an inescapable emotion playing a role in the life of the individual who finds anxiety when forgetting. Baxter shifts to explain how memory-anxiety can be witnessed. “The signs of anxiety over forgetfulness have been turning up everywhere lately, but most prominently, for me, in television commercials and newspaper ads” (147). “Memory-anxiety makes for good business” (147). Baxter mentions this in order to open our eyes and combat the phobia of forgetting, that runs our daily lives through technology. Baxter’s logical take on how the effects of technology causes anxiety over forgetfulness makes you sit and think about the signs of anxiety.

Through the works of Walter Benjamin, Baxter contrasts information memory and experience memory, demonstrating the between information memory and experience memory. Baxter states a point from Benjamin’s argument: “I’m not having experiences in my day-to-day life: instead, I’m absorbing or processing information. Information – proves incompatible with the spirit of storytelling” (Benjamin 149). Memory for information can be vast amounts of data absorbed daily, perhaps for a particular job or project, and at the end of the day, you feel blank with no experiences to show. To cope with the resulting anxiety may lead to drinking or the occasional recreational drug. Memory for experience simplified means storytelling, sharing of experiences. “In the information age, we can be rich in information and poor in experience” (150). Absorbing loads of information will leave no room for experiences, no room for storytelling. Baxter suggests there are times we want to forget, or do not care if we forget. Receiving and storing loads of information and data can push out stored experiences. However,
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there can also be times where experiences do not want to be shared, accident that plague your mind presenting the need for strategic amnesia.

Baxter explains how to the use of memoirs can protect personal memories or experience memories. He compares the use of writing a memoir to therapy, “a local antidote to information poisoning” (151). When someone writes a memoir, it is like capturing that person’s very essence, a precious piece of personal history, which needs guarding and protecting. “Every memoir argues that a personal memory is precious. No other artistic form makes that argument with the same specificity or urgency” (151) Baxter points out that when sharing personal memories, we tend to narrate them; conversion of personal memories into experiences is necessary to communicate anything. “There’s no intimacy otherwise, and any memoir requires intimacy to convey its experiences” (152). The truth about experiences and memoirs make family narration functional again.

Baxter closes with the notion that, erasure may be the answer to forgetting resulting in shame. When we forget, we let shame, guilt, and anxiety control our lives. We forget information that is of importance, shame overwhelms us causing us to lose a piece of ourselves At times, and we seem to take for granted the excitement of remembering a story or song, or even and old friend’s name. We must preserve our identities and our personal histories, or we may lose ourselves to the rapidly growing world of technology. “Against a shame you cannot bear, your mind detaches itself from
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its own memory and sails off. . . It is the strategic amnesia of everyday life, both voluntary and willful” (157).
Writer, Valerie Laken, in her story, “Separate Kingdoms,” describe a family subjected to a tragedy and in search of a relationship that could make them whole. Colt [father], took short cuts to complete a project at his job, only to loose his thumbs to a cutting machine. His boss and lawyer sideswipe his attempt to convince Cheri [wife], his accident was unintentional. Because of this event, the family struggles with isolation and a search for common ground. Laken’s conveys the impression that, despite tragedies which may befall us in life; being able to reach beyond the borders of your kingdom, in hopes of making a connection, may be the ultimate choice that could pull a family closer and create a stronger relationship. The story is written in split columns to contrast Colt’s perspective and his son Jack’s perspective, describing Colt’s desire to integrate in the animal kingdom and while Jack maintains his sanity within the human kingdom. Column bridges support different vantage points unveiling boundaries set by each family member, in search of a connection and a better life for themselves.

Laken contrasts thoughts of a better life and isolation within Colt’s family. “We’d be done with it. Right now. No hassles. Pay off the house and still have a chunk of money”(9). “Tell me, Colt really. What is your plan after that? How long do you think $200,000 will last?” (9). When Colt and Cheri argue, it sends Jack hurtling away to a
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different world, a world without arguments and yelling, a place where his family is closely connected doing things together. Colt, lost in his own world, prevents Jack from getting close enough to share his. Jack realizes how critical Colt’s decision is, and how it could have a positive affect on their future, bringing them closer together. “We could be like those people who take pictures of themselves and hang them up on the walls. If he got that money, we could do all those things, maybe more. It seems like such an easy thing to explain” (16). Laken creates characters who desire a better life and money in order to show us that we all have dreams and aspirations of having a better life; believing we can only achieve this with vast amounts of money.

Laken points out how Colt is sensitive to animal life and wishes to protect their kingdom and be one of them. Colt seems to have more respect for the dogs than his own family. “You know what separates us from the animals?” “Opposable thumbs” (12). Colt’s desires to connect with the animals instead of his family became apparent to Jack after hearing his father’s statement. Any attempt Jack made to reach across his father’s borders or attempt to cross over to his father’s kingdom would be a difficult task, knowing Colt wanted to be one of them, one of those gators or sharks. Jack at this point
feels the distance between he and his father growing. “What occurred to me was, he had crossed over to the other side” (12). “I know why you did it. I think I understand” (17).

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Laken makes connections between the separate kingdoms, of Colt, Cheri, and Jack. Colt, with his own self-loathing of the non-animal kingdom, easily loses himself greatly widening the divide between him and his family. “Colt wishes he’d taken the Valium, wishes he were asleep, obliterated, dropped off the edge of the planet so she could make a fresh start without him” (15). Jack, making fantasy his reality, finds his way back to his private kingdom through his video games, the only comfort that he feels keeps him sane. “I go back to the living room and start up the game again. The scientists come out of the mansion, three of them. They need me” (Jack 3-4 emphasis added). Cheri uses her exercise routine to trap herself in her kingdom, in order to detach herself from Colt’s narcissistic world. “From the top of the basement stairs I can hear my mom down there doing exercise. She’s shouting along all cheery with that creepy Tae-Bo guy, calling out all the punches” (3). Laken describes the relationship within each separate kingdom in order to reveal the choices that create the boundaries between them. In the reject room Colt sympathizing with the animals, in the living room Jack saving the scientists in a zombie world, and Cheri in the basement with her Tae-Bo.

Laken shows the dedication of Colt’s family through their action and their hope of finding a link that could bring them together again. “The money is your dad’s choice.
He’s your dad, and he has his reasons. It really doesn’t matter, the money” (17). Jack bandaged his hands suppressing his thumbs in order to attempt an understanding of what his dad was going through. He genuinely wanted to establish a relationship with his
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father, desperately in search of a connection to strengthen the bond between them. “Yesterday I tried to do everything all day without my thumbs” (Jack 17).

Valerie Laken’s story preys on our emotions as human beings, and successfully opens up the reader’s sensitivity toward family connections. Like an architect, she used the structure of with sound imagery, argumentation, and repetition to bridge the connections between characters. Laken effectively portrayed a sense of simultaneous action within each independent kingdom in order to link the thoughts and emotions of her characters. Sound imagery is used gives us a sense of pain and frustration within both kingdoms. For example, Colt’s frustrations when hearing Jack play his instruments and Jack’s pain knowing that his father did not appreciate his love for music. Laken’s piece also clearly conveys the importance of reaching beyond the borders of your own kingdom to seek personal connections that can build relationships and strengthen family bonds whatever your life circumstances may be.

At the beginning of this summer semester, I had low expectations of getting a grade above a “C” in English 101. I was extremely nervous and very frustrated on the first day of class. After reading the syllabus and covering the course goals, I quickly realized my fear was all in my head. I began to think of myself as writer struggling to find his niche, the writer in search of a muse to get ideas flowing and mold the written word into something comprehensible. I used military style outlines and backward planning strategies to formulate ideas and ignite my approach to my reach goals. I constantly sought out transition words to attempt a smooth flowing thought that my readers could comprehend and stay actively engaged. Once formulating a controlling purpose, I branched out in outline form identifying main points that lead back to the controlling purpose. My first attempt at finding a controlling purpose failed due to a lack of information and evidence to analyze. Once locating supporting evidence to analyze and interpret, writing a controlling purpose came much easier. The evidence I chose to analyze and interpret stood out as the strongest focal points of each essay, the points I felt would support may claim in my decision making process for my essays. I started out with simple content gradually revising into a more comprehensible form in order to raise my level of writing. My greatest weakness is writing the way I speak, which is not always correct verbiage. When interpreting text and clearly analyzing context I feel, is an
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area I need to improve. Now I will cover my interpretive essays written for this course and the course goals achieved in this course.

The purpose of this paper will be to emphasize my belief of protecting memories and paying more attention documenting experiences. When sharing personal experiences, they can be stored with others minimizing shame and guilt, making for a strong connection. Not communicating with others can be just as difficult as dealing with a tragedy. It can lead to forced separation of not only your body, but also your mind. I have been a member of the United States Army for many years, and during my enlistment, I have gained more useful skills than I could ever imagine. Over the years, I have lost or forgotten many of my worldly experiences. In my first ten years, I have seen over a dozen countries and lay claim to lots of memories that are near and dear to me. That is quite a bit of information and personal memories to gain in that amount of time. Who can remember it all? When reading Charles Baxter’s essay, “Shame and Forgetting in the Information Age”, it really opened my eyes to the way we remember and the way we deal with shame. Baxter’s purpose was:

Shame can lead to anxiety and the approach we take in dealing with our anxiety may ultimately lead to a loss of identity. How in the information age, may we combat the phobia of forgetting our personal histories, without the overwhelming shame and guilt? (990405198)

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During the first few years when I took mid-tour leave, I forced myself to share memories of my tours with family and friends, thus forced to remember. Sometimes I forgot or mixed up experiences with others. I could definitely say I felt shame from time to time. I quickly found ways to remedy my situation and preserve my personal memories, which became a part of my personal history. Gaining the military knowledge and combat skills that will stick with me for an eternity, pushed out some of the personal memories I acquired. Therefore, being in that situation required me to obtain digital media to document my experiences to help me not to forget the good times and the bad. This helped a great deal when telling a story about my adventures to my family and friends.

I can definitely relate to the desire to remember and the need for not feeling shameful at times that I did forget. At times, I felt I used strategic amnesia, which served to be a great advantage at times and a disadvantage at others. I can remember my first tour to Iraq, at the start of the invasion; my unit and I conducted daily patrols (convoy operations). At the start of a new day, we encountered an IED (improvised explosive device). I took out my vehicle injuring my driver, my TC (troop commander or passenger look out), the gunner, and myself. It happened so fast leaving me dazed and
confused for less than a minute. When I came to, my combat training kicked in and I remember everything I needed to know in an instant. Now when I told the story to my
family and friends, I spared them the gory details. I chose what not to remember, thus utilizing strategic amnesia.
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I do not think I had any anxiety about forgetting some of my personal experiences, even though I believe Charles Baxter is correct in saying that many of us consider strategic amnesia before anything else. We tend to collect information at the same instance, leaving personal experiences and memories behind. That leads to feeling shameful when forgetting, causing anxiety. It is difficult to remember everything you encounter over the years while traveling country to country. Being part of the military has programmed me to forget and sometimes not to forget about a many different things. Therefore, I cannot feel shame or regret about not remembering. However, I still share!

I feel that in the future I will pay more attention on documenting my experiences accurately in order to share my personal experiences with others, not losing my identity. Shun away the shame and guilt and live life to the fullest. Choosing to use my military experience help shape the strategies and content used in my Baxter essay.

I consider myself a socialite, someone who loves to be around others, and make connections. Especially family connections, which can define you as you become mature. I have always had strong family roots. Staying close to, communicating with,
and making strong connections have always been a life goal. When reading, “Separate Kingdoms”, by Valerie Laken, I was very confused by her style of writing. After going
over locating the purpose during class last week, it became clear on how to read the text. I found it very interesting the way Laken used different points of view in a split column,

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with bridges connecting conversations. It reminded me of a script for a play. I read Laken’s story several times, and viewed her purpose to be:

Despite tragedies which may befall us in life; being able to reach beyond the borders of your kingdom, in hopes of making a connection, may be the ultimate choice that could pull a family closer and create a stronger relationship (990405198)

When writing my essay, I took pieces of my life and situations I have been in to find a strong focus. Once I found that focus, I molded them into strategies, thus aiding in finding the purpose. I located the strongest meaningful quotes I felt would have an impact on my audience. Hoping to get them thinking about their own personal experience possibly connected to the story. I have learned communication is a key to happiness. Keeping suppressed feelings inside may lead to stress and anxiety. I grew up in a bi-racial household, dealing with all types of emotions; even tragedies. I was living in Colorado sometime ago and injured my self very badly. The injury was so severe I needed in home care. Living in an apartment with no elevator would not do me any good. Therefore, I accepted an offer from my friend to stay at her place during the healing process. Things quickly changed. I began to feel irritable and anxious, wanted
no one to bother me. I wanted to be alone, in my own separate kingdom. I did not want to let anyone in because of the misery I felt. I soon longed for some human interaction.
Watching television from sun up, to sun down just did not cut it. I immediately realized that I needed to make a connection with someone. I knew I needed help with coping. Not
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being mobile, not being that active person was extremely difficult to deal with. The restriction, the stress, it was brutal.

Laken’s story reminded me to always reach out to others offering comfort in times of distress. This story really moved me in many different ways, a sense of regret from the father, feelings of sadness from the mother, and a bit of loneliness from the son. No matter how difficult the situation connections must be strong and solid. I continue to reach to others creating new connections letting people in to my kingdom hoping they would in turn do the same.