Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bad Memory

Here's a truth about myself that I have known and acknowledged for years, but which I have found hard to accept and have found necessary to keep, where possible, from others: my brain is not good at retaining stuff. Stuff like names, dates; who wrote what and when; what this book was about, or that movie; facts of all kinds. Let alone the factoids.

And the truth behind that truth is that it's not about the quality of my brain. I think I have a good one. I simply have not trained it in the art of retaining things; I have chosen to allow it to be lazy, and I suffer as a consequence. I suffer from the fear of others learning that I'm not nearly as smart as they thought I was, and don't know nearly as much as they do. I suffer from the embarrassment of exposure when, for example, I look into a face I have known for years and can't put a name to it.

There are many things that I remember perfectly well. I remember nursery rhymes I learned seventy years ago! I remember French poems, word for word, that I was compelled to learn at the age of six and seven. But I don't remember the name of many an artist whose work I saw just yesterday. I don't remember what the work looks like, nor where I saw it--unless there's something about it that calls to me and transcends that laziness.

I have always admired those who have minds like traps. They remember who wrote Don Quixote (well, actually, I remember that!) and when he wrote it (I don't.) They remember the names of characters in novels by Dostoevsky. They remember the dates of the Civil War and the names of the generals who fought it. I envy that quality. It makes me feel kind of stupid, less in some way than I feel I should be, but I envy it.

It comes down, I believe, to paying attention, and what I choose to pay attention to. Or, perhaps--as in the case of those French poems--what I'm forced to pay attention to, or else. Too often, I allow things to pass right through my brain, like water through a sieve. No sooner does it fill the void than it drains right out again. No wonder I felt so uncomfortable as a teacher in the classroom. I couldn't remember half of what I was supposed to know!

These stray thoughts emerging from a tired mind today, as I recall, yesterday, not remembering the name of one of the guests at the Standard, when I had my pen poised ready to sign her book; and the shame I felt at having to ask her for it. It's odd, isn't it, that I so easily remember the particular moment in which I failed completely to remember. Perhaps, I speculate, it's easier to store the memory of feelings than the memory of facts...?


mandt said...

As long as you remember to be in the 'moment'! LOL....

TaraDharma said...

I have the same affliction. It drives my family crazy. I also starting having hearing problems in the last couple of years so after much goading by family and friends I had my hearing checked. It's fine. Doc says the ear mechanism is working, it's - as we get older - a cognitive issue!! Perhaps that is the same for names/movie and book titles/authors/etc. I know there are ways one can 'train' the mind to memorize, I'm just not willing to do the work. And like you, I remember long passages and poems I learned as a child. No problem there!