03 July 2007

“Memory is the thing you forget with." ~Alexander Chase

“I don't remember anybody's name. How do you think the 'dahling' thing got started?” ~Zsa Zsa Gabor

For years I've mourned over having a faulty memory. Unless I write something down in detail, like on a calendar for short-term storage or in a journal for long-term, it seems almost certain that I will lose it, or enough of it to miss out on useful and enjoyable retrieval. I know many people complain they can't remember names, or numbers, or whatever, and certainly we all get fuzzy as time goes on, but I'm talking about a serious problem here. Rob will reminisce about something that we've done or encounters we've had with others, and I'll have to scratch my head till he manages to jump-start my brain with a juicy charge of details. It's not that I'm inattentive to life. I've been told that this kind of bad wiring is related to stress. That's all fine and good, but really, how do I get rid of stress? Yoga, okay, sure. Deep breathing, sure. Simplifying life, sure, sure, sure. Aren't we all wrestling with de-stressing? Isn't that just one of the jobs of life? It's not like there's an on/off switch I can conveniently flip. Right?

“Do not trust your memory; it is a net full of holes; the most beautiful prizes slip through it.” ~Georges Duhamel

So it really bugs me. I notice that I have affixed a label to myself with waterproof epoxy: HAS A BAD MEMORY. It strikes me that this is not helping my situation. But, to chant that I have a GOOD memory in the hope that I can TRICK my brain into doing its job seems, well, a little New Age schmaltzy. No offense to those who have mastered the power of positive affirmation. It's great if you can get it to work. It's just that I'd have to start out with something I actually believe before I could put my heart into it.

“A lot of people mistake a short memory for a clear conscience.” ~Doug Larson

But wait. Maybe there's hope. Recently during church I had a small epiphany: I almost never need to use a hymnbook anymore when it's time to sing. What's this? I actually remember something? And not just the words, but also the soprano and usually the alto parts? I can't tell you what a pleasant shock it was to realize that my memory was doing its job, and doing it well. It was this pretty glimmer of shiny hope that said perhaps I'm not going to be a mental vegetable in a few years.

“Most of our oldest memories are the product of repeated rehearsal and reconstruction.” ~Ulric Neisser

And then this morning I had a second memory-related epiphany, a thought I'd never before entertained, a brand-new idea to me. The concept of having a good memory, besides the familiar ability to easily call up and savor the past, could perhaps also include the abililty to intentionally lay aside events that need to fade—more specifically, to determinedly forgive grievances and lay aside fears. How's that for another definition of memory—a mindful, liberating forgetfulness?

“Let us not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that's gone." ~William Shakespeare

Since I'm already practiced at (ahem) recall-failure, this other more delicious kind of forgetting seems an obvious place for me to begin improving my memory. I love the irony of that: disremembering = efficient memory. What can I let go? I feel ready to cut so much loose. The thought of more open space in my head is exciting. I'm not unacquainted with forgiveness as a deliberate choice—I've tried to forgive over the years, though I'm sure not as often or as deeply as I could have. I'm even less rehearsed at putting away my personal fears, but again, I have had at least a little experience there too. Anyway, I'm good at encouraging others. (Isn't that the way it always is?)

“(History is) not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.” ~John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton

So. Maybe I should consider changing my label soon to: HAS A GOOD MEMORY. Where's the superglue? Maybe I ought to also take up chanting positive affirmations, now that I have some thoughts on the subject I can really get behind.

“Memory is a magnet. It will pull to it and hold only material nature has designed it to attract.” ~Jessamyn West

A Few Ways to (Hopefully) Improve Memory
•Sing hymns!
•Take good notes on life.
•Chant: There are two sides to remembrance, the holding onto the good and the letting go of the bad.
•Clean out mental closets—get rid of old hurts and doubts.
•Banish personal demons.
•Meditate and breathe deeply in these new, fresh, open spaces of the mind.

“A retentive memory may be a good thing, but the ability to forget is the true token of greatness.” ~Elbert Hubbard


compulsive writer said...

I cannot tell you how much this post resonated with me.

I have forgotten entire lifetimes of memories. And this I regret.

Thank you--you inspire me more than you'll ever know.

Geo said...

Thanks a bunch, c-dub.

I know the awfulness of that kind of regret. Know it very, very well. I try to remind myself that all my memories are still there, somewhere inside, waiting patiently to be brought again to light. It'll take a power beyond my own to ever suss them out, but I do heartily believe they still exist and retain their vitality.

Let's just keep on writing and telling our stories, and maybe the rest of our lifetimes will be easier to recall.

Chemical Billy said...

Hmmm, this thrummed a strong chord in me, as well.

I've often said I had a selective memory, although my will seems to have little to do with what is selected. I don't really regret that junior high is gone, almost entirely, and it can be a bonus that I will forget some movies (even very good ones) entirely, so I get to watch them all over again as though they were new.

Other movies, however, I'll remember word-for-word, nearly. And it doesn't seem to have much to do with the quality, or how much I enjoyed it.

Mr. Billy appreciates that I'll never get tired of his stories.

I do wish I could retrieve some things. Some do eventually float up. Certain memories of my mom, for example, will pop up. Lately, I've taken to writing them down when that happens. Thank goodness for blogs! All sorts of nostalgia trips are available in the archives...

Becca said...

love this idea.

J'oga said...

thank you for this post. I think you've hit several very important points. I feel that the most important thing I need to do right now to revive my brain is journaling.

Perhaps more consistent blogging will come with the journaling. Let's hope so :)

Geo said...

Billy: I didn't realize that our brains were so similar in their memory-retrieval (or non-). You always seem to me able to call up whate'er you choose. I guess your imagination amply fills in what gets missed.

Yeah, it is nice to be able to re-watch a movie with almost the same suspense as the first time . . . ! However, I saw Cyrano last week after not having seen it in well over a decade, and I almost knew it by heart. After only having seen it the once. Hmph. Maybe it was Gerard that made it stick.

Becca: Love YOU.

J'oga: I'm with you. I've let my journal lapse since my birthday and I can tell such a big, scary difference. My life melts away without a record.

Johanna said...

Yeah, this is just right just now. Well put, dahlink.

Elizabeth said...

Georgia, I loved this post. I especially loved what you talked about with efficient memory equating with being able to cut away and quit looking back on past wrongs...liberating ourselves in our liberating of others.
How fitting that you realized that maybe your memory isn't as bad as you think when you started to sing hymns. Somehow, that doesn't surprise me at all. Seems so fitting of you.
I sure love you, and this was inspiring to me to look at where I can improve.

Geo said...

Joh: Doesn't "dahlink" just work so well where names don't come to mind? (Not that I'm assuming you forgot mine . . . .) I think I'll adopt Zsa-Zsa's technique. Wonder if that's why old folks and Southerners like to say "Honey," etc.

Liz: It just occurred to me tha tI also have a great memory for all sorts of old rock anthems. You should hear me singing Queen when I'm driving alone! (Or not.)

But that's not so inspiring, is it?

Thanks for you loving words. I'm so glad it struck a chord with you.

Bluebell said...

Geo, you are fantastic. I just love you. Someday I will give you a great big hug. You always have such thoughtful, wise things to say. Rock on, sister.