Sunday, June 7, 2015

Firestar's Lasso of Flame - Imagination and Memory

“Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.” --- William Faulkner, A Light In August

"Memories are meant to fade. They're designed that way for a reason." --- James Cameron, Strange Days

I have a memory in my head that feels so real. It was present in my childhood, and I would have sworn up and down that it actually happened, that I actually experienced it. But, now I am not so sure it happened, particularly since the context in which I place the memory doesn't fit. And, if I concentrate on it too hard, it becomes a thorny, pervasive itch in my brain.

The memory goes like this: I am a small child and watching television, a cartoon. In the cartoon, a skeletal figure in a top hat rises comically into the air from a pumpkin patch and starts to dance and float around in the night sky.

That's the whole memory.

Now the context I place it in may surprise (or even amuse) some of you. When I was a child, I was certain that that was the first scene in which the Great Pumpkin appears in the Charlie Brown Halloween special. One year it came on, I remember watching the special, eagerly anticipating the scene in which the dancing figure appears and Linus finally sees the Great Pumpkin. I just knew it was going to happen.

Obviously, it didn't happen. And so, to this day, I still have no idea from where that single memory originated.

Flash forward to the present day, and I am perusing Netflix, looking for nothing in particular to watch. I find the entire series of Spider-man and His Amazing Friends available for streaming, and so I begin watching a few episodes for nostalgia's sake

As I re-watch this rather inane Saturday morning cartoon, in the back of my head I have an image I'm expecting to see. A scene in which Firestar, the female main character of the show, uses her heat-based powers to create a lasso of flame in order to subdue an opponent. It's an image that has stuck with for over thirty years because I remember thinking even as a dull-minded kid just how ludicrous and impractical it was to make a lasso out of flame. How could it hold someone without severely burning them? Assuming, of course, that the fire is solid enough to even sustain the shape of a lasso, which it isn't and something that hadn't been seen in the series up to that point.
But, as I watch episode after episode, I see no scene with Firestar's lasso of flame. I didn't see it in the episode I was expecting it to be in: "The Quest of the Red Skull." And, so my casual viewing becomes an obsessive hunt to find this scene because I KNOW it exists. It is NOT going to be like the dancing skeleton memory and taunt me for the rest of my days.

I conduct a few internet searches. Nothing. I quickly scan through all twenty-four episodes of the series. No flaming lasso. Finally, I e-mail the caretaker of a now-defunct website ( and ask him for his help. He, the alleged expert on the series, doesn't recall the scene and even says that Standards and Practices for cartoon series of that time probably wouldn't have allowed for such a scene anyway.

He even tries to Scully me with an overly rationalized explanation that another scene from the series inspired my memory.

Lying bastard!

I want to write back to him and say: "Don't try that crap with me, you lazy piece of filth!" Because I know the memory is real and not some confused manifestation of a child's imagination. I mean, my childhood imagination wasn't so lame as to come up with a hero who can do long distance assaults in the form of intense, fiery blasts but chooses to use a flaming lasso to fight an adversary. This image was foisted on me by hack writing. It had to be.

My vigor renewed to keep searching, I go back to the episode in which my memory places that scene.  And, I watch it again, sound off, carefully examining every moment to make sure I didn't miss a second.

Proof I am not crazy
And, suddenly, somewhere in the mid-section of the episode, I see it. Firestar uses a flame lasso to stop Hiawatha Smith, a character created for the series who was only slightly less a racial stereotype than Apache Chief. Smith uses his natural acrobatic skills to easily flip out of the lasso's reach, although he could have just put it out by spitting on it - it was that feeble looking.

How could I have missed it before? Was I expecting it to be more obvious? Did I simply blink? Turn away at that moment? Or, go to the bathroom?

Regardless, I found and thus saved myself from yet another brain-scratching memory to obsess over from time to time. I had remembered it correctly, and it did exist. Mystery solved.

On a more serious note, this mental exercise/obsession did cause me to ponder the substance of memory. I have nothing profound or even particularly new to say on the matter, but I am fascinated with how memories develop and change over time, how we polish and freshen the happy memories and tarnish the bad ones. A great concert you attend was never as good as how you remember it. And a moment of devastating hurt was never as bad as when you replay it in your mind. Our imaginations always mingle with the remembered facts of an experience, adding and subtracting to the emotional strength of the memory.

Time and new experiences dull the effect of most past memories. I believe that is how we are able to move through grief and loss. Maybe we don't actually heal from our past hurts and regrets - we simply gather new material to process, and past pain becomes blurrier, like a boat moving away towards the horizon.

If that is the case, that is all the more reason to get up and get out into life whenever you're facing a new pain. Allow yourself some new happiness to start counteracting the anger or sadness or depression. Give your mind some new memories to start processing, making them richer and better.
I know. Not exactly an innovative thought. And one that perhaps oversimplifies the process we need to go through when dealing with a loss. But, I do feel this is an important component in escaping the renewed pain brought on by memories and the sadistic way our minds will obsess over them. Like that dancing skeleton from my childhood memories, remembered pain can mock us with its insistence and lack of closure. And, the only thing I've ever known to help is the building of new memories of happiness, something to not only make us feel better but free us from the obsessive chains of hurt and grief.

I mean, did I really need to obsess over and waste time searching for validation of my memory regarding Starfire's lasso? Not in the slightest. Perhaps the time would have been better spent finishing the book I'm reading or doing laundry or talking to a friend. Looking back, the moment of satisfaction at finding the scene was so brief and even now, new memories of laughing with my co-workers, of an energizing cardio workout this morning, of the pretty view of the harbor I have as I sit at the hotel desk, make the memory of satisfaction seem remote and unimportant. Maybe it wasn't worth it after all. Then again, maybe I wouldn't have come to that realization had I not gone through that momentary spurt of insanity.

Still...I was right - Firestar did use a flame lasso.

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