Sunday, October 12, 2008

Rue for Remembrance

According to an article I read in National Geographic, short-term memories get posted to your brain all day long, and at night selected ones get written into long-term memory. As we age, the brain, for unknown reasons, writes fewer and fewer things into long-term memory.

Mine seems especially selective, to the point of snobbery.

Every night, in my sleeping mind, something resembling a butler examines candidates for retention and says fussily, "You're not good enough for the permanent pantry," or "You're far too trivial to warrant shelf space," as he tosses out useful information, like where I left my car keys, the agenda for my upcoming meeting, and the name of my sister-in-law’s best friend, with whom we’re having dinner on Friday.

And while the facts that would make my day-to-day functioning a lot simpler get tossed onto the neurological compost heap, I’m doomed to retain garbage that little or no future value, like:

The list of the helping verbs that I learned in 6th grade (is, are, was, were, am, be, been….)

The prologue to the Canterbury Tales, in Middle English, no less (Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote)

The first song I ever learned (I was sitting on a fence on a hot summer day/ just sitting on a fence when the fence gave away/ with my hands in my pockets and my pockets in my pants/watching the fish do the hula hula dance)

How to do firsts, seconds, thirds and removes in genealogy (if you’re interested, look it up on the internet, it’s too complicated to explain)

What would be really useful is to have the equivalent of a Windows® recycle bin, from which I could pull back data that I’ve trashed, but which afterwards proves to be needed – like the name of the vet I decided was a quack when he took three visits to diagnose ear mites, but who specializes in puppies that are difficult to housebreak.

I’ve always used memory aids to help me remember things, and these mnemonics have grown more elaborate as I’ve gotten older.

Where a cryptic note jotted in my daily planner was once enough to remind me to send out meeting notes, I now need a checklist of all the items to be included on the report, with examples. Where I once set items near the door if I needed to take them with me, they now must completely block the doorway, making it impossible to exit without either picking them up or breaking an ankle.

I send myself emails, leave myself voicemails and twist notes into my key ring in a valiant effort not to stand people up, forget to buy milk, and leave stool samples sitting on the counter. I can picture a time, in the not too far distant future, when I’ll have to actually disable the car and leave myself a recorded message under the hood.

Which is why I'm posting this blog right now.

Because now needs no remembrance.


  1. Oh, no kidding! I can't remember anything any more.

    That's very interesting about how our brains encode certain things into long-term memory. And, yes, it does seem to be random!

    When I was growing up, my parents and grandparents told me that some day, the only stuff I'd remember what what I was learning right then.

    And I saw my grandfather's memory going, how he could remember just about anything from his youth but had to keep a tiny spiral notebook in his pocket to write notes on. My grandmother would ask him if he'd taken his pills, and he'd consult the notebook and answer, "It says here that I did!"

    I never knew how he remembered to write stuff in the notebook!

  2. BTW, I just found this blog, and I love it!

  3. Thanks, turtlegirl -- tell 2 friends!

  4. Blog reviews:



    "Verily the ocean laughs always with the innocent".......Gibran

    "pretty when angry"......Wayne

    "I was an old tube amp, supporting dust in the basement. This kid hauled my carcass upstairs and someone plugged me in. The orange glow of olden days lit my guts from inside like an analog fireplace; timely embers.

    I waited until someone came along and pludgged in a Strat. Can't wait until they carry me onto the stage. Maybe the music will give my tubes a workout."

    Torrence Horton the 5th

  5. Ok, Terrence, I have no idea what this means, but since it's neither rude nor obscene, I'm publishing it.

    Good luck onstage!

  6. You made me smile again. This post reminds me of my grandfather saying how he couldnt remember what he ate for dinner but "ask me what i did 50 years ago and i can rember every detail". Thanks for the memories.

  7. Whoops. Remember that is! Not rember.


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