The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan talks about, among other things, the importance of forgetting. We don’t usually think of it this way, but forgetting is almost as important as remembering for our psychology and survival. Would you really want to remember, in detail, every single commute you ever make? Every single meal you eat? Every word you hear someone else say? Every word you read?
Forgetting is adaptive. It is the process of editing the overwhelming flood of sensory information that comes at us every moment of every day, so that it is refined down to something manageable, something that won’t break our brains.
I’ve been editing a lot myself lately, and it made me think about how forgetting is like editing our writing. We must slow the flood of everything I want to tell you about my fascinating characters, my wondrous setting. Essentially ‘forgetting’ selectively until what you have left over is meaningful and beautiful and elegant – and by necessity, profoundly incomplete.
It’s amazing to me that even a profoundly abbreviated expression – a snippet of poetry, a single photograph, a cartoon – can feel so complete. Through selectively ‘forgetting’, editing, whittling down, we come up with something that is not merely a placeholder for a more full experience. It is itself a better expression than the full experience might have been. It is evocative rather than discursive. It is beautiful rather than thorough.