Friday, July 31, 2009

Fading memories

I have always taken pride in having a pretty decent memory. I am convinced that I made it through grammar school, junior high, high school and college without doing a great deal of studying because I could rely on my memory when test time came. Because knowledge is closely tied with rote memorization.

I remember odd little details about interactions that other people don't seem to remember. It is a mixed blessing. There are some things in life that it would be better if they slid off the cracker of my synapses.

Now that I am in my 50s however, I find my memory is getting a bit fuzzy around the edges. Part of it is because of the amount of experience you have by the time you reach 50. All of it may be etched somewhere in a brain wrinkle, but sometimes it just takes too much effort to sort through the piles of memory to find.

I am not sure why we remember some things well and others things flit off the radar screen seconds after you experience them. I drive myself crazy sometimes trying to remember if I actually shut the garage door after driving away or left it wide open (something I've never done). Sometimes I actually have to turn around and drive back to confirm that I indeed shut the garage door.

I imagine, however, that we would go mad if we remembered every thing. Our brains would be like the houses of those people who horde things and move about little trails through their living rooms between stacks of newspapers and magazines. There would be so much minutia to sift through that we couldn't ever finish a thought because it would be tucked away in the corner under a pile childhood memories of what you ate at McDonald's for the first time.

Speaking of hoarders, I remember years ago being asked to take photographs of an old transient hotel my agency had purchased and was going to demolish to make way for a construction project. All of the low-income tenants had been relocated. Our real estate people wanted photos of each room for documentation purposes and I was kind of the resident photographer, writer, editor, gopher.

This cranky older right of way agent led me from room to room in the abandoned hotel snapping photos of what until recently been the homes of many disenfranchised people whose next step would have been the street if they hadn't had this sorry shelter to land in. One of the rooms had been occupied by a bonafide hoarder. I was horrified when the agent unlocked the door and I was faced with stacks and stacks of newspapers, flyers, and other scraps of papers. Narrow trails led from room to room. Even the bathtub and toilet were buried in magazines and newspapers. The kitchen was stacked to the ceiling with empty McDonald's coffee cups. I snapped photo after photo. I noted a handwritten note tacked to a door jam. Someone, presumebly the former tenant had written, "God loves you if no one else does." A twinge of saddness hit me. And it dawned on me that whoever this poor tortured soul was who had lived in uninhabitable apartment was, they'd been forced to leave without any of their beloved accumulation of trash. The right of way agent event joked how the person had been pulled away trying to pack stacks of the paper into a suitcase.

But I digress.

And I still wonder why we remember certain things and not others.

7 comments:

R. said...

I rarely remember anything good. However, I do remember that awesome plastic motorized put-together robot battle-mech dinosaur you gave me on one of your visits. I believe it was a Stegosaurus.

I also remember my mother being obstinate about not letting me work on it at Grandma's. She eventually relented when my father intervened on my behalf but by that time it was getting dark. Even so, she still didn't manage to sap the joy out of having that particular toy. Thank you.

The laws of this country are irritating in this regard but I'd love to have a camera and microphone implanted in my body so I can record bits and pieces of my existence for quick playback on my optic nerve.

Naughti Biscotti said...

That story about the newspaper hoarder instantly took me to a dark, sad place. Has me thinking that depression is just like that apartment, where every sad thought is held on to and kept in your memory until you can't navagate through them to find happiness. I think I've been doing that. Maybe some of these memories should fade.

This weekend, I lit a scented candle someone gave me for my birthday. My son got this euphoric look on his face and jumped up from the couch saying, "What is that smell? I just got a flash from my childhood." He tracked the scent back to the candle. The year was 2000, a very stressful time in my life. My son remembers it differently.

Time said...

R.

Glad I left you with some good memories. I think I had figured out by that time that you were one of those people that liked to see what makes the clock tick and could actually figure it out.

NB,

That is a good analogy for the hoarder story. I have felt like that at times in my life and I've been a borderline hoarder too. I justed to save bits and scraps of things thinking I was just a sentimental person. But I've come to the conclusion that if you hold a memory in your hearts, a ticket stub isn't going to preserve it a few years down the line.

Naughti Biscotti said...

Oh, I've got a book containing quite a few pasted ticket stubs. I hold on to the good memories because you never know if you're going to be that happy again. It's like food hoarders who fear they may never eat again.

Time said...

NB,
I think there is always another show to go to. But I understand.

R. said...

Naughti Biscotti:
That's a major flaw in my brain. Happiness and happy times usually don't register more than a sooty fingerprint in my memory. Bad times are perfect emotional recordings injected into whatever streams of consciousness unfortunate enough to cause them to play back.

In a way my toddler is like electroshock treatment for my mind - I love her so much and get so much joy out of her existence and being her father that it's hard to remember because of the sheer quantity of goodness.

Naughti Biscotti said...

R: I think the good memories have a short shelf-life while the bad are loaded with preservatives.

Look at all the good memories you're providing to your child. True success is when they turn 16 and still manage to remember more of the good than the bad.