Take your mnestic
In the web series “There is No Antimemetics Division” our heroes must fight a great evil, monsters that make you forget they exist. In the course of such adventures, they find it necessary to imbibe “mnestics” (the opposite of an amnesiac), drugs for remembering.
Every morning since I left that cabin, I wake up having to remember only one thing.
Take. your. mnestic
To do this, I sit with my laptop and place a leaf between my lips. This looks odd if I happen to be in a cafe, but serves to remind me I was doing something important if I get distracted. It also helps to turn interruptions like “do you have a second?”, into “Jarred, why are you eating a leaf?”.
I hit “ctrl+m” to pull up my desktop forever dedicated to “mnestic.txt” and my calendar. The contents of mnestic.txt have changed over time, but the quote at the top is always the same:
Humans can forget anything. It’s okay to forget some things, because we are mortal and finite. But some things we have to remember. It’s important that we remember. Write to yourself something which will make you remember.
- There Is No Antimemetics Division
I read it one word at a time, and try to recapture that sense of dread. The feeling of recalling something existentially important that needs sustained action over years. Knowing I’ll forget.
I read the second line, still a word at a time:
A routine of self perpetuating, undistracted time to think is necessary to respond well to being alive.
I try to recall the feeling I had sitting in that cabin, that “Space” is something both vital and fragile, and while I have it, I need to use it to ensure I don’t lose it. It’s at this stage I check my calendar to confirm the week’s mnestics are all lined up, coming to me free and clear down the river of time.
I read the remaining 8 lines from past selves who had access to a wealth of space, reminding me of how I want live. With my priorities freshly re-downloaded into my brain, I plan my day, set intentions, and make a todo list. Altogether this takes around 30 minutes.
To finish, I try to capture in time who I feel I am now, and verbally extend a bridge to my future self. Tomorrow when sitting down to take his own mnestic, he will think of this moment and verbally accept that bridge from the past, creating a chain throughout time built of 30-minute pockets of daily space-taking. A highway down which compressed 4-day thoughts can stream from the past to find me here in the present.
Every Sunday morning I take a larger dose, clearing a space in which to spend 2 hours trying to make sense of the last 168. I get a narrative sense of the week past, how it compares to the story I wanted to tell, and where that narrative wants to go over the next 7 days. I outline projects, make todos, and most important of all, visualise the structure of the days within which I’ll work.
It feels like gathering a Kamehameha of intention, shot wide and strong into the week to bring the shards of my agency scattered through time into alignment. This might mean 2 or 3 decisions made differently than I might have done otherwise, or it might mean 50.
Leaving a party an hour early to get to sleep on time, saying no to meeting a school friend, saying no to another conference, remembering to take decaf in the afternoon, reading that article, organising that book club, promptly responding to important messages.
These are things I can only do reliably when I’m in regular emotional contact with a picture of what actually moves me, ordinarily too big to fit through the door of my mind at short notice. But if one takes a massive shot of space with which to dwell on it, you can compress that picture down into a mnestic you can take daily.
“Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again.”
- Confucius, The Great Learning
It’s extremely useful, to have a place that I can trust I will return to every morning. Somewhere I can put ideas I want to be close to mind when I’m planning how I spend my time.
This is the function of a mnestic, to sit at the top of a block of time (be it a work day, a meeting, or a jam session) and bend it along a certain axis by putting one in emotional contact with a past self. To be a pneumatic tube ready to carry missives to the future, at the time they will be needed most.
When taken daily, it acts to routinely morph the landscape over which my time flows, and I can feel this happening. I can feel the requests I would have said yes to, and the opportunities I subsequently wouldn’t have had time for. The ideas I would have lost contact with, what I would have forgotten.
Mothers forget their infants
Doctors forget to check which leg to amputate
Dreamers forget how it was they wanted to spend their lives
We forget most of all, how rigorously and routinely we forget
Mnestic as praxis is a humble acceptance of the fact that we don’t spend our time on what we care about most, not because it’s hard, but because we forget.
Thus, the best piece of advice I know put plainly: Write down what you care about, and read it before you plan your day.
So, with “Space”, I came to understand that I’d come to this cabin to try and figure out how to respond well to being alive. To grapple with as best I could the key questions, “What’s going on?”, “How will I respond to that?”, and “Who must I become in order to do this?”.
I saw if I was to benefit from any insight I had into these questions, I would need to make ideas about “Space” and “Mnestics” a part of my life in a big way. But what of the rest? It’s not enough to just make space to take mnestics and take mnestics to remember to make space.
What was I actually going to do?
Up next and last: Response
In our household, we call being interrupted in this planning process a Kamehamehow’s-it-goin