Mind Over Matter: Remembering and forgetting – how the words we speak play a part in our identity

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Tom Marshall and David Carlyle. Photo. Richard Walker

For the past couple of months I have been doing marketing for Somersaults, a play by Scots Gaelic playwright Iain Finlay Macleod which is currently playing at the Finborough Theatre. I quite easily fell in love with the script. From the moment I read it I loved its surreal quality, created by rapidly moving from place to place and never quite confirming whether what is happening is reality or fiction, and how it evoked nostalgia whilst managing to keep me focused on the present. But if I’m honest, although I appreciated the content of the script and enjoyed the style of it, I did not feel that personally connected to it.

It is about Scotland, Scots Gaelic, language and how our “mother tongue”, in this case Gaelic, can define who we are and how we communicate. How much could it really speak to me, as someone who knows very little about Scotland and has no affiliation with Gaelic at all? But when I saw the play given life in the intimate surroundings of the Finborough Theatre, I was completely engaged and I did feel part of the world I was watching. It is not only about the protagonist, James, losing his language and the words of his past, but it is about losing connection full stop. It is about feeling lost, lonely and helpless. It is about being unable to unite who we are now with who we once were.

There are many illnesses that make one feel disorientated, disconnected or confused – Alzheimer’s, dissociative disorders and certain neurological diseases for example – but I think honestly we all feel pretty lost in the world sometimes even if we are medically fit and healthy. There are just some questions that seem eternally unanswerable: Why am I here? How did I get here? How can I unite my past with my present?

When change has occurred in my life I have found it hard to keep up with the events happening around me – the world moves so fast – and at times this has led me to question who I am and struggle to remember certain details. When James can’t remember the Scots Gaelic for “somersaults”, he realises that he has lost all connection to his past. He drives himself mad, trying everything to bring those words back, and provide that bridge between past and present. As his words disappear, so does his identity and his sense of self. We’ve all had those times when a word or phrase is just on the tip of the tongue but for some unknown reason, that particular idea cannot be articulated. How much can we really remember from yesterday, the day before and each day before that to our childhood? The person you are now is scarily different from who you were years ago and how we got to the now can somehow seem a bit of a mystery.

I think about painful moments when I have been unable to instantly recall something from my past, the momentary frustration, and the idea that this feeling could be eternal scares me all too deeply. Somersaults really has given me a new appreciation for my identity and how precious memory, communication and the words we speak are.

Photo: Richard Walker