Gustafson: Forget about it | AspenTimes.com

Gustafson: Forget about it

Britta Gustafson | Then Again

Here we are at the tail end of 2016.  It's now that the opportunity exists to pause and reflect on how this year will settle back into your rear view mirror.

Our lives are really the sum of our memories, and more often than not, we have the power to accentuate or eliminate as we mull over past events.

What if we could create an illusion of our own happiness? I believe in the power of suggestion. Magical, fun filled holiday season is jingling on its merry way! And epic winter here we come! As for November 2016… Well I may choose to deep-six some of that month for as long as I can hold my political breath.

And if we could create the illusion of happiness for ourselves, could we then give it as a gift to others? There are so many tiny, beautiful, funny moments in life, and it's hard to say which will carve out the pathways in the brain, defining how we will remember our lives.

As community ambassadors in a resort Village, we all have a unique ability, as well as responsibility, to help guide and shape the memories of our visitors. And as a mother I feel the same way as I help to mold and shape the minds of my own young children.

Most of us want our children to recall happiness. And in our resort, we also, by and large, want our visitors to leave having experienced a slice of what we live here for; feeling eager to return, despite the challenges that can encumber vacations. Delayed flights, booking errors, weather, crowds, altitude sickness, injuries … there's a long list of potential obstacles that can become focal points if they embed themselves in the cynical-memory realm. It's up to us to smile and to keep up a positive tone; plus smiling is good for your health.

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As I reminisce, I note that my own memories seem, at times, to be an unreliable recollection of past experiences measured best by what I have been told I should either have enjoyed or struggled through. So I guess I feel personally fortunate – or debatably delusional – having had the selective memory of a naïve-optimist piloting this voyage.

Last year, my sisters and I discovered evidence of the phenomenon that is the power of positive perception. While indulging in a trip down holiday-memory lane, we stumbled onto an old VHS tape labeled; "kid's holiday tape." We were flooded by holiday nostalgia and fond flashbacks. I could instantly smell the pine tree taking over half of the living room, taste Grandma’s Christmas treats that we would nibble on while huddling around a little metal fire-hazard of a space heater. Just seeing that tape took us right back to the school holiday break.

As kids, that break consisted of hours spent out in the snow. When we were not at ski-school, we stayed outside until sunset; mittens soaked, boots lost in tree-wells, bruised and bloodied from unsupervised sledding and blind leaps-of-snowy-faith, and far too many 'told-ya-so' lick-then-stick tongue accidents.

In the late afternoon we would shuffle in to recover and thaw out on the orange carpet in front of our 10" bog-standard TV with a plastic wood-effect frame and we would stream that "kid's holiday tape." It would resume where we had left off, or we would rewind and start over– this was pre-Disney channel, or at least before my family splurged on full-cable, and pre-pre-netflix, and pre-pre-pre-youtube. So we video-tape-recorded a handful of holiday specials one year and watched it for years to come.

Our tape was made up of classics like 'It's Christmas Charlie Brown' and the timeless Burl Ives' 'Rudolph', interwoven with an eclectic variety of random '80s programming that must have aired one holiday season when I had been toddling about. And that tape became synonymous with the holidays for us ever after.

It also included most of 'The Ewoks Adventure' movie; though the final scene had been recorded over and we were left with a perpetual cliffhanger. Overlapping the Ewok movie, the tape moves on to our collective favorite 'Herself the Elf' a 12 minute program so entrancing to the three of us little girls that we all agreed that it had felt feature-length at the time.

So recently we were delighted when we rediscovered this slice of Christmas past. We dusted off an old VCR and curled up with our own kiddos to take a trip down memory lane when, suddenly halfway through the already very short special, a WABC Eyewitness news bulletin breaks in with a story of the discovery of a shipment of human heads that had come ashore on a cargo ship in San Francisco.

Nope, the tape had not been recorded over, it was a news-bulletin interruption in the original programming, we simply had never noticed as kids. Covering the eyes of our own little ones, we continued to watch in horror as images of round plastic bags, lined up and tagged as evidence in some depraved crime spree, flashed across the screen for two full minutes of coverage. Then our little cartoon resumed right where it left off and the happy little elves went along their merry way.

As kids we had watched that video on repeat without flinching every year of my early childhood. And neither of my sisters nor I can recall having ever noticing the terrifying news story that interrupted our favorite special. Though we must have watched it dozens upon dozens of times, year after year.

I have always believed that I have a 'selective-memory' when it comes to my childhood, and the holidays in particular. Now I'm convinced.

Our real life experiences and our memories of happiness are not always aligned, so, my take away…we can direct them, create them, and yes, even manipulate them.

Who can say how all three of us had suppressed those images, or simply took no notice, despite recalling every detail of what the Elf's wand looked like. The magic of the holidays now feels a little less stable; but the memories we still hold dear. And I am certain that memories can definitely at times be better then real life experiences.

In the same way that my parents used to tell me what a great day I had just had at ski school, even when I was frost-nipped and crying at pick-up, if we remind our visitors of just how much fun they are having, they will more likely return.

The stress placed on adults, and resort communities alike, to try to recreate childhood elation… well, I can now see that the best way to keep things from spoiling may be to let the memory do the work. Implant more positive then negative thoughts, for there's no going back.

After all, the holidays, like vacations, are never perfect. They can be difficult and frustrating, and at times disappointing, but in the end even a shipment of human heads can be obscured by the power positive of suggestion…perhaps some smoke and mirrors, but most of all a good dose of selective-memory.

Let's exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind, after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.

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