On Memory


OK, so I have a terrible memory. I honestly cannot remember many things beyond the immediate moment in which they occurred. As in, someone will be talking to me, will say something to me that I responded to, and then will say something else in relation to that thing, and I will have no idea what they are talking about. Or I will meet somebody multiple times over the course of 2 years, and have great, in-depth conversations with them each time, and then I will tell them, “Hey, didn’t I meet you before?” And they will sadly and politely inform me that they had this conversation with me the last time, and they will give me their name, and I will promise them that I will remember it this time for sure (and I won’t).

My girlfriend thought I was just kind of being funny when I first told her that I didn’t have a good memory, the first few times that it appeared as if I had total amnesia. But now she’s come to realize that, indeed, I really can’t remember things. You know that movie Memento? I’m not that bad, but I really do have to write things down immediately if I am going to remember. Otherwise, it’s pretty much guaranteed that I will forget it.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t remember certain things. I like to think of my memory as selective of the core essential heart of memorable moments. I remember generalities, summaries, abstractions. I remember feelings, faces, and overall outcomes. I don’t remember names, conversations, or circumstance.

There was a time in my life that I consciously decided that I would not remember anything. I had arrived, philosophically, at the conclusion that the past was meaningless, and thus it was purposeless to attribute any value or time to history and memory. This was during college. This posed some social consequences, in that I frequented apartment parties every weekend in which I generally saw the same basic group of faces–which of course I could recognize–but I had absolutely no idea of what their names might be, and whenever I would see some of these people in the course of walking around campus or at the next party, they would say, “Hey Mark!” and I would respond, “Hey!” or “Hey, dude!” dependent on gender. At some point, I’m pretty sure they caught onto the fact that I had no idea what their names were, and this definitely caused some pause in their consideration of me as either friend or acquaintance.

I have since determined that the past and its accompaniment of memory and history have value and meaning. I now try very hard to remember people’s names if I meet them more than once. But I still just cannot remember most mundane details for the life of me. I think sometimes that this is just the way my brain works. I cannot remember facts, dates, and details. But I have no problem remembering emotions and lessons. I feel like I naturally just remember the things that I feel have value, and discard the rest.

I have learned to work with my disability everyday. At my job, I carry a piece of notepad around with me and a pen so that I can reference lists of what I need to accomplish, and to jot down anything that comes to me. If I don’t do this, I end up standing for long periods of time trying to remember what I was going to do next. I also utilize other people around me who do have memories to remind me of things that I need to remember but know that I won’t remember unless they tell me.

In some ways, this is why I spend so much time writing all of my various thoughts, feelings, and meandering visions onto this website: because there is no better way of preserving my own memory and history then in these writings posted on meticulously backed up networked hard-drives spanning the globe. Honestly, I need this outlet. I need to write myself down. Otherwise most parts of me would be lost to that void of my own negligence. Every now and then I go back a little bit and re-read some of what I have written, and it shows me a continuum that I had forgotten. It reminds me of where I have come from and how I have come to this moment in my thought and existence. Otherwise, I really would not have much of an idea of who I was.

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One thought on “On Memory

  1. I am in a similar boat.
    I suddenly forget the names of my friends/co-workers. It becomes so emberassing at times.
    Funny thing is i can still remember their face and what I spoke with them. Infact, I remember almost everything about them other than their name.
    To re-collect those names, it try to remeber a previous incident during which I used they name. Say, I try to remember the time when I sent an email to them, or try to remember a conversation in which I used their name. After a while, my mind gives me back their name :). Sometimes, it gives me back the name immediatly, sometimes, it takes 15-30 minutes to give it back.

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