I started my life and home here in the United States with the contents of one large suitcase. Decades later, there are bags, bookcases, closets and rooms filled with things that piece together a portrait of what defines me now and what home means now. I reflected on this phenomenon – the accumulation of objects that create extensions of our identity – when I worked on a study of ‘memory boxes’ in dementia care centers not too long ago. A memory box is a simple display case outside one’s room at a residential facility. Although it is not very large, it is filled with a collage of items that represent the person living in the room. The objects are picked for display by the resident, staff or the family members, and constrained by the limits of the ‘box’ itself. My research involved inventories of the contents of memory boxes outside each resident’s door – I was curious to know what the boxes held, where they were placed and if they could be designed better. The research made me think about my own collection of “things-that-form-my-identity” – which of these would my hypothetical memory/identity box contain? I wondered if I would ever be able to edit my life and distill their significance into one box, if I had to - perhaps not.
The nice thing about EDRA conferences is that I can talk about my research ideas (such as the memory boxes) with my colleagues and really explore the full extent of the topic. Many successful research collaborations are born at EDRA – and result in meaningful research and impactful articles and artifacts. Conversations are not limited to the room in which I present the research, but also outside over lunch, coffee or ice-cream. I have grown as a researcher because of these brainstorming interactions, and will continue to learn from them. I realize as I write this blog entry that I am creating and accumulating EDRA memories, one conference at a time. That is why I am really looking forward to the conference in New Orleans. EDRA is an indelible part of my professional identity and will definitely make its way in some fashion into my hypothetical memory/identity box