japonisme: in memory of memory

08 December 2011

in memory of memory

i sat in my swing in some late- autumn sunshine, watching the rays catch a column of tiny flies -- large colonies fly intricate patterns with no clear order, never brushing each other, like a huge flock of snow geese turning in the sky. not for the first time i wonder about them. what kind of insects are they? why do they occupy the same geography of the air for hours at a time, going up, or down, or in a circle? (it might be simplest to assume their zen nature, but then everything has zen nature.)

how will i find this information? i will probably phone the insect department at uc berkeley and ask. it's the kind of thing that i think i need more information than i have even to google. then it hits me like a bolt from the blue: even if i find the right person and ask the right question, i will not remember the answer. i've proved this to myself over and over. for one, there is a reedy kind of plant in my pond and i can never remember its name! i have looked this up dozens of times, and am today still unsure. or like spelling. if one is referring to other human beings, or rather the lack of them, are there two o's in the common word for that? again, i've looked it up. many times. i just say 'nobody' instead.

there have always been things i can and cannot remember. i can remember phone numbers for many decades, but that's because, as a synaesthete, i remember their colors. i have never remembered names, even when trying those 'cute' memory prompts. and as is not unusual amongst aspergergians, i feel an almost undeniable urge to nickname everybody. the length of time someone's real name lasts in my memory is about one minute. i'm not bragging, nor am i complaining. i accept that this is how i am.

more disconcerting are the actual changes. now, to give you some examples of the memory that was: in my early 20s i worked for a few months in a real estate office answering the phone. there were maybe fifteen agents with as many phone lines and i could easily, always, remember who was on which line and who it was for. no notes. a decade later as i became editor, publisher, designeer and everything else of a literary magazine. i kept many tiny items in my mind at a time and still could remember the addresses of my subscribers.

i still fool myself, saying, 'ok i don't need to write it down -- i'll remember.' why do you think there are too-frequent omissions of artists' names? (there would be more, but for the hours spent retracing my steps, trying to find the missing info.) i know people who remember everything. every- thing. i remember small bits and pieces of events, conversations, but the vast majority of time is forever gone. i used to be better, though, it's clear. i assume it's age, but don't people say of children, 'he'd forget his head if it wasn't screwed on.' it could also be that much of my past is not worth remembering; i'll give you that with the acknowledgement that it's mind-fucking.

but the period of time that's missing grows larger and larger: in the last couple of years, i have shown up on the wrong day for doctor appoint- ments three times. i forget in their entirety phone conversations and one's in person as well. i lose the lists i make to help me remember. if i want to look something up online i have to remember to do so quite a number of times before i actually do it. i do look things up by the dozens most every day, so compared to much of the human race i am probably unusual.

did you wonder if this all bothers me? i nonchalantly throw caution to the winds, embarrassed occasionally, yes. but i forget that too. apparently the time one spends in the far reaches of the right brain gets deducted from the time in the left. i am consistently happier that any time i can remember, but then.... when i lose my way, i rest relieved in the fact that i will remember too little to be bothered in a day or two at the most. in the land of the imagination, in the land of awe and wonder, it's the present that is what counts, and none of this has hampered my ability to be there.

if i have a total lapse and post the same post more than once, something about which i worry, you will forgive me, won't you?

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Anonymous evan said...

Sometimes, when I have way too much time on my hands, I wonder why some things stick to my mental flypaper better than others. Numbers never stick. Names of girls/women I'm attracted to stick better than guys names I've actually had conversations with. I remember the names of WW 2 aircraft, but not the name of the street that I take that left on as an alternative route to the pool- a route I've been travelling now for ten years. I remember images, but not necessarily where I've seen them. During swimming workouts, I sometimes find myself asking myself if I've been breathing for the last couple of lengths (the fact I'm conscious to ask is the answer), but, speaking of zen...that would be one of those moments.

10 December, 2011 10:24  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

that's so interesting, evan. i wonder how other people's memories work, in the little particulars like this. and i too seem to catch myself not breathing.

10 December, 2011 12:31  
Blogger Gerrie said...

We'll forgive ! There's something comforting in loosing the sharp edges of memory too as you also observed. It works (or doesn't work) both ways thank God. I think that's why paper and pencils were invented for people like us. Like the privilage of getting older. We are the lucky ones to hang around on this great planet long enough to experience this site of life too I guess. Let's celebrate, cerebrate, cheer, and make a toast on us, the survivors and gradually elderly. Before we forget.

11 December, 2011 07:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know somebody who forgets frequently that he's married and where is his home. He's maybe not sincere when he forgets to give money back too.d

11 December, 2011 11:20  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

ha! willful memory loss....

11 December, 2011 13:47  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

ha! (again!) -- beautifully put, gerrie! and i like your wordplay too. (it's weird but the email is putting your comments in the wrong order!)

it's a very compassionate world view, which puts some sunshine into this grey day.

11 December, 2011 13:52  
Blogger Rosie said...

I remember dreams, sometimes years and years later than the original. Why would a brain store a dream?

12 January, 2012 01:58  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

hi rosie -- welcome. yes, me too! good question! there have been various short periods of time in the past that i've kept dream journals. and *those*, it's almost like i just dreamed them last night!

12 January, 2012 10:16  

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