Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"Memories light the corners of my mind"

Can you hear Barbara Streisand singing? Though Streisand’s The Way we Were is one of my favorite songs, this week’s blog post is about memory, not music.  

Does this happen to you?  You’re having a conversation, what you hear triggers a thought and before you can utter it, it’s gone---poof? It happens to me all too often these days, and it’s a good thing I have a sense of a humor as it’s a running joke with my team at work that I can’t remember anything. Fortunately, they know I count on them to take good notes, and they seem happy to keep me straight. 

I have friends who either worry or laugh about their forgetfulness, depending on the day, but most of us have a standard story to the effect that there is just so much in our brains that we can’t possibly sort through it and pull something out on a moment’s notice.  You’ve heard the line about not being able to access that drawer in the mental file cabinet, right? I like this description from Science Blog: 

One of my favorite Roz Chast cartoons shows a woman dumping out the high-falutin’ contents of a filing cabinet drawer — 16th century art, or something like that — to make room for a new drawer full of information about new TV shows. This is the finite filing cabinet model of memory, in which you toss out one set of memory to make room for new information…Memories have been considered, the last decade or so, to be in there somewhere, but perhaps just inaccessible. The old “I haven’t forgotten it; I just can’t recall it right now” situation. 

Apparently brain hiccups are a hot topic. If you go down the rabbit hole of Google, you can read about memory and the lack thereof for hours.  As a mystery fanatic, I found the Sherlock Holmes take on memory fascinating. It’s similar to another line I use about not wanting to clutter my brain with too many details. Sherlock likens a man’s brain to:  

…a little empty attic…you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order… Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones. 

I’m sticking with Sherlock’s rationale for not remembering every little thing, and I’m also fond of the Far Side cartoon, “Teacher, teacher, my brain is full.” Hmmm, I wonder if the person who once gave me a t-shirt with that cartoon on it—the person I can’t for the life of me remember--was trying to tell me something. 

PS.  To my readers who’ve been replying to the Ink Penn email, please know that those replies go into a black hole and don’t come to me.  I’d love to hear from you, so please either comment on the blog or email me personally. Many thanks.