Memories of Us: A Short Story

Memories of Us - A Shory Story

This summer I am working on a short story focused around the theme of memory. Opening up this thread to share, discuss and refine the direction of this work. All comments welcome!

My initial proposal can be found here: PILL: Memories of Us - A Short Story

A Brief History

Before I get into where my thoughts currently are at with this project, I want to briefly outline some history for how I got fascinated with by memory. Which was really a nested series of rabbit holes that I continue to explore today.

First, was the introduction to decentralised / self-soveriegn identity via a talk from Vinay Gupta at a blockchain conference. As a young software engineer, I immediately became hooked by the technical possibilities such a set of affordances would enable.

From there, I jumped at the chance to do a PhD on digital identity and cryptography at a new research lab run by Prof Bill Buchanan up in Edinburgh. Cryptography, for me, was its own rabbit hole. Learning about the evolution and systematisation of cryptographic thought since the 70s, and its gradual practical application to the messier realities along with the challenges this entails.

While my program was primarily technical, I found myself spending a lot of time thinking about the nature of identity and the purpose and intention of digital identity systems. These thoughts often took the form of abstract doodles in my notebook, which I have since digitised and published here: https://iiexhibition.studio. In many of these drawings, memory came out as a key component.

Memory was not something I had thought deeply about before, so with memory in focus I went back to some of my ideas for software I would love to develop and saw them in a fresh light. Two in particular:

  • A Living Library - Giving physical books a means to have memories recorded in them
  • Viewing Time - Giving a location a memory, specifically as a way to create timelapses of pictures taken of the same view.

See https://wip-abramson.dev/ideas-memory.

More recently, I partipated in a research program run by the Berkman Klien center where 8 of us each contributed a story to an anthology on Digital Identity in Times of Crisis. My story explored using digital technologies to attach memory to things can be found here: Experiences in Memory Space | Future Wip.

I really enjoyed the process of exploring these ideas through the medium of fiction and this ultimately led me to apply for the Summer of Protocols.

Finally, I want to highlight Letters to the Earth as a proto protocol for memory which provided me with some of the inspiration for this story.

The largest creative response to the climate and ecological emergency the world has yet seen, Letters to the Earth is the first book to chronicle how humankind is collectively processing planetary crisis.
(https://www.letterstotheearth.com)

The Letters to the Earth project touches what I believe are the three main categories of memory protocols:

I have alse experienced writing my own letter at a workshop and having it exhibited in my local town and know how powerful it can be.

Some notes on memory protocols:

My Story (Currently)

I am exploring setting my story in a museum (or memory sanctuary) some time in the future. The story will follow a memory weaver as they breathe life into a series of memories associated with artifiacts in the museum to enable a group of young students to experience them.

I want to get across an ethos and body of practice surrounding memory sanctuaries and the role of memory weavers. The importance of facilitating a dialog between the past, present and future.

A key idea I want to convey is that: memory is the soil in which the identities of the future grow. Something along those lines, maybe it will be the motto of the memory sanctuary.

I also hope to introduce and explore many of the ideas from the Memory Code, a great book that I found through Kei Kreutler’s fascinating work last year which looks at preliterate/oral societies and their rich, complex relationships to memory. The memory weaver is going to attempt to teach the children some of these methods and the memory sanctuary set up like a memory palace whose navigation either physically or imagined can be used to embed and orient oneself in memory. So while digital is still a thing, and an invaluable one, my story is going to reemphasise the importance of our own memories. Highlighting the possibilities for maintaining a complex web of interconnnected memories.

The memory journey might also explore the hate and vitriol of the 2020s. And the damage this caused. Imagining this in the form of graphiti on some of the earlier artifacts.

Throughout the tour, there will be a number of invitations, to the students but also implicitly to the reader:

  1. To continue studies to be initiated as a memory weaver of the sanctuary
  2. To inscibe ones own memory into an artifact. The process of how this goes down
  3. To join a workshop where they craft their own lukasa type object
  4. To develop their own ritual of remembering
  5. To develop and navigate their own memory landscapes
  6. To set up their own memory sanctuaries

This is still very much in flux, but it has got to a place that feels exciting to me. Reporting from a future where protocols of memory centered around memory sanctuaries are beginning to be adopted and the practice of actively experiencing, contributing to and participating in the memories of society is encouraged.

Open Questions

Where is this story taking place?

The setting of the story I am considering is 2040, UK. Probably London, in a museum that I call a memory sanctuary that opened 5 years earlier. I think this is far enough in the future that I can have some fun, but not far enough away that it becomes ambigous, unrealistic or unrelatable. The world and its societies are not going to be transformed, but hopefully they will be in the process of transforming. The children in the story visitng the museum could realistically be the children of people reading this story. My children even.

The sanctuary will contain a series of spaces designed to hold and experience memories. Current ideas for spaces:

  • Sanctuary Orientation: Introduce the how and why of memory sanctuaries, perhaps in a typical museum orientation video.
  • Theatre of Immersive Experience: Place where immersive performances of memories and stories are staged.
  • Garden of Apologies and Forgiveness
  • Shrine to Our Hopes and Dreams for the Future
  • Centre of Mourning and Loss
  • Corridor of Shame, Fear and Rage
  • YOUR IDEAS WELCOME…

Want to get across that the memory sanctuary is a relatively compact and configurable space that is animated by memory weavers through the stories they tell and the memories they highlight and draw from. These are memory experiences, similar to exhibitions, that are held in the memory sanctuary by different memory weavers.

What is being remembered?

The obvious thing for me here is the unfolding climate crisis and our response to it. But this brings up questions of at what scale. Perhaps at a national scale, e.g. a memory sanctuary in London that kids visit on a school trip. Or perhaps even smaller, on the scale of a town and its challenges and responses to navigating the climate crisis.

As I will be writing from the future, I should be able to have some fun with this. Although, climate change is something that is happening now all around us so there should be plenty of real world examples to draw on. Both the good and the bad.

My current favourite is climate resistance in the UK 2019 - 2029. It is a context I am reasonably familiar with and would make sense with the sanctuary located in London. Many people argue that it is this decade and the actions taken or not that will shape the structure of the natural environment for centruries to come. The causes, complicities and consequences of this the climate crisis are going to be debated and argued over throughout this period. I want to imagine a how we might remember these times in a positive way. One that doesn’t seek to judge, but present the myriad of human stories of this crisis from which we can make our own assessment.

Open to ideas and suggestions here though.

Stakes, plot and emotional journey

This is generally where I am weakest I think. What is going to drive this story forwards. Who are the characters and what are their stakes? How will they develop throughout the story?

Currently I am considering a group of 6. Four school children, one mentor/teacher who takes the children on this trip and one memory weaver who helps the group navigate and experience the sanctuary.

Main focus, perhaps entire story perspective, an 11 year old called Rae. A bright, bubbly kid that is full of questions. I think the main story arc could Rae wanting to become a memory weaver? Perhaps she starts off questioing its the purpose of memory sanctuaries. Or possibly Rae is an orfan, and is looked after by her climate denying granparents. At the museum, Rae discovers something about her parents that she didn’t know.

The memory weaver, Joanne: A kind, elderly lady who has been with the memory sanctuary for a long time.

I also need some antagonists. Perhaps an annoying kid.

I have some more ideas, but this is already long enough.

One thing I will leave you with is a drabble exactly 100 words) version of my story. This is a practice I took from the BKC research sprint, which I found to be fun and somewhat helpful. You get a little boost from having completed some version of the story, even if it is nothing like the end result. I recommend it as a practice for others working on a story - How To Write A Drabble - Commaful Storytelling Blog

Memories of Us - Drabble

First, they came for our stories.

Slowly tweaking, editing, omitting.

Each retelling moving them further from their truth.

Until they were unrecognisable.

As our stories changed, so did we.

For our stories were us.

The lenses through which we understood the world.

They helped us see that.

Brought what was once known back into focus.

And so, we fought back.

Crafting a powerful shared story of us.

Repairing the fractures in our tapestry of meaning.

Breathing life into memory sanctuaries and landscapes.

Facilitating the delicate conversation between the past, present and future.

I became a memory weaver,

You could too.

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That Drabble is really good. You might want to take a peek at @randylubin’s PILL post, who’s also writing a short story. His missing puzzle piece is a topic, whereas yours is a plot driver.

Also really interesting to see the different hacks/tricks that go into narrative formation, like a Drabbling or mindmapping. I’ve never written fiction so it’s cool to see it happen in sorta real time

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Great topic, and very interesting. This reminds me of The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling by Ted Chiang. In this story, this memory “weaving” – essentially, the narratives we tell about “what happened” – are contrasted with technologies that are able to audit those facts.

Two side-by-side narratives highlight this. In the first, an African boy learns to read, with writing being the memory technology. In the second, a father tests out a technology that catalogs all body cam footage and makes it instantly indexed, retrievable and sharable (think phone photos, but for every moment of life). In both cases, the protagonists are challenged by their own memories, the stories others tell, and the recorded facts of their lives.

One interesting concept from your plot is that the memory sanctuaries facilitate a corporate memory (as opposed to personal memories). This is similar to some museums I have been to – say, places like the Civil Rights Museum which are both a testament to the facts of what happened, but which also reinforce a particular narrative.

It might be interesting from a story perspective to have conflict either at the personal level (this woven-memory does not jive with my experience) or the corporate level (an alternative memory sanctuary is being created elsewhere – like the Creation Museum.

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Yeah, I have been going through Endings: the good, the bad and the insanely great which has been really useful for thinking about plot.

Also, on tricks totally. It would be cool to colate a list. I also like to read short stories when I am writing one, helps me get a sense of what makes a good one and how they might be structured. Last time I read Tomorrows Parties: Life in the Anthropocene. This time I am reading The Real and The Unreal: Vol 2. And now thanks to @stkbailey I am going to read Exhailation by Ted Chiang.

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Interesting ideas in here, thanks!

I want to imagine this as a space that tries to avoid the reinforcing of a particular narrative as set by some corporate entity. But totally agree, it is very easy to see how this could and likely would happen.

I want to frame memory weavers as independent accountable actors, who practice in memory sanctuaries to tell their own stories from the memories held within the sanctuary. Each weaver walks and presents different paths through the memory landscape. Also, I like imagine them inviting and equiping people to explore the memory wilderness. The untamed, less troden paths of the landscape.

Constrasting this with a memory sanctuary that proscribes the narrative that is told there would certainly be interesting though.