Øyvind Aamot was in China as part of a round-the-world sailing trip in 2000 when his memory suddenly vanished.
Aamot, who was 27 at the time, came to, so to speak, on a train in Sichuan surrounded by strangers. That, he says, is his first memory. Most everything he had known before—ties to other people, abstract concepts, and even his sense of self—were suddenly gone. Interestingly, he could speak and understand the languages he had learned throughout his life, including Chinese, which helped him eventually find his way, aided by strangers and friends, to a hospital where he was diagnosed with amnesia.
Doctors have made guesses about the cause of amnesia, but nobody knows for sure: It could have been due to falls; a diving accident that had happened six months prior; food or drug poisoning; or even delayed effects of a high-school case of meningitis.
Today, many holes in the puzzle remain. Aamot, who know goes by simply "Wind," has "many ideas, [but] no certainty," for instance, about what he was doing in Sichuan when the amnesia occurred. And while there might be a chance that his memory recovers, for now he doesn't allow the loss of 27 years of memories to hinder his life. "I don't really feel it creates problems for me; I'm quite used to my life by now, and it's wonderful," he says.
And as for China, the country that witnessed his rebirth of sorts, Wind says, "it's a significant part of my life and will probably keep on being so."
After losing your memory, what were the most difficult things to relearn?
Abstract concepts, numbers, irony, humor, willpower, norms, love, stupidity, pain, and an endless list of others. Also, emotions or to connect to them. Spent many years on that ... still learning.
Have your personality or preferences altered? Were you able to rebuild relationships that you had prior to losing your memory?
Many of them at least, but I realize not all. [My personality is] much the same but [there are] small differences ... . My mother says I eat and like several things now [that] I didn't like before.
People you encounter usually wouldn't automatically know about your background. How do they react if they find out?
That just happens naturally ... sometimes it's necessary to explain, sometimes not. Many different reactions, but most find it amazing. Nowadays, I myself also do, but it took years for me to learn/relearn what amnesia actually is and means, so I didn't have this feeling for a long time.
What do you think is the most important thing you gained from that experience?
It has happened without really causing big problems to my life and my surroundings, and since this is the case it is an incredible thing I have experienced, and I can only be grateful for that, as it has given me some amazing perspectives of life that I understand now I might not have had without amnesia.
Do you think movies that deal with memory loss, such as "Forgetting Dad" or "The Man Without a Past" accurately portray the experience of losing one's memory?
It seems many cases of amnesia differ from each other, so I guess so. I met the filmmaker of "Forgetting Dad" also, and that was nice and interesting. I know now that some friends and acquaintances thought I was joking, or pretending, in the beginning... but opposite to what the filmmaker feels he finds about his dad, these friends of mine tell the stories of how they (slowly for some) realized I was not.
Can you tell us about your current project, Cosmic Wind Cultural Collaborations?
It is an organization with focus on collaborative projects, getting people with different cultural and artistic backgrounds together to co-create in various spaces and settings. Most recently a group of Nordic musicians and artists went over and worked with many North American musicians and artists at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada. This series of projects have previously been carried out five years in a row in Norway and China; next year, back to China. In addition, smaller collaborative residency projects in Europe and China, local interest groups within the fields of music, dance, theatre, multimedia, poetry, visual arts, photography, etc., as well as band booking, tour design and arrangements, stage production, etc. We encourage anyone who would like to collaborate on projects with us to get in touch: www.cosmicwind.org.
Norwegian filmmaker Thomas Lien, who was traveling with Wind shortly before the amnesia struck, suggested that Wind retrace his steps in China in an attempt to reconstruct his memories. The outcome of this journey was an 80-minute documentary, "Hunting Down Memory," which took three years to complete. The film was screened in Beijing and Guangzhou this summer and has been invited to Beijing's fourth annual Nordox Film Festival last November.
This article was originally published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 27 ("Faces"). Photos courtesy by Wind.