The house is completely quiet, my roommates have taken off for the day, Kelley (who is visiting from Boston) is working in San Francisco, Larry has back to back meetings at the office, and Dante is working out of town, even the dog has gone to the groomer. I have the entire house to myself, as I saunter around with a cup of coffee, blatantly leaning into the tranquility.
I’m accosted by memories in every room, as my eyes soak up beloved objects with potent associations, I allow the view from the many windows to give me new perspective. This is my sanctuary, my haven if you will, and I can’t imagine calling any other place home?
It’s one of those cool misty mornings, sort of spooky if your brain works that way (yes, that would be me), it’s as if the clouds would like to sprinkle, but they’re dehydrated, and have nothing with which to rain. It’s midweek, I feel much the same, I should be posting a blog today, but I have nothing written, and no valid ideas have appeared on the horizon? I’m de-ideated. Ha, ha get it?
Instead of writing I’ve been browsing Amazon for Department 56 Halloween Village accessories, a haunted house and pumpkin water tower ended up in my basket, along with a book my cousin Gail mentioned, as the main character is named Ann Johnson. I figured it was a sign? Anyhoo…I’m supposed to be writing and instead I am using the keyboard as a tool for shopping. Try not to judge me too harshly.
Recently I purchased a Lily Pulitzer monthly calendar. It’s sexy, vibrant, and I appreciate the analogy that calendars have with life. The pages are bordered in Lily Pulitzer colors and floral designs, the months have easy access tabs, and there’s space to organize travel plans, dates to celebrate, and random notes. There is even a two-sided pocketed page to stash coupons, gift cards, receipts, and such. I know – who could live without one? PM for purchasing info (I should really be paid by Amazon for all the hype I give them).
Another excellent avoidance technique is to convince myself that the entire calendar needs to be updated with everyone’s birthday, lake weekends, wedding activities, travel plans, work schedules, and appointments immediately. I’m so focused on detailing my Lily Pulitzer calendar I fail to notice a call coming in on my iPhone. Damn. It’s the eye doctor.
My memory is jogged, I think I have an appointment today, and they’re probably calling to tell me I’m late?
I go to grab my purse but it’s nowhere to be found? Shit, shit, shit.
I race to the back of the house searching my room, to the car, to the dining room, I scan the counters. Nothing. The clock is ticking. The last memory I have of my purse was in the car while dropping Shaggy at the groomers and on closer inspection I find my mislaid pocketbook nestled in the passenger seat. Well now I’m really late I might as well refill my coffee before I jump in the car, execute a beautiful exit mind you, except for the small passage over the edge of the lawn, not my skill set.
Glancing in the rearview I get a glimpse of my hair, it looks like I just rolled out of bed, because I did, and I notice a few rogue eyelashes lounging on my cheeks. Ewe!
The plan is to call the eye doctor, express my horror for being tardy (my students get detention for such shenanigans), and beg to be seen.
“Hi, this is Cheryl Oreglia, I’m late for my appointment, I’m still five minutes away, should I reschedule or can you still accommodate me?”
“Let me see Cheryl, can you hold?”
As I’m idling impatiently at a red light, methodically flicking eyelashes off my cheek, I acquiesce, “of course.”
She comes back seconds later only to tell me, “your appointment is actually tomorrow at 9:50 am.”
“Oh my goodness, what a relief, I’ll see you tomorrow,” with combed hair and tamed eyelashes.
What I want to know is what the hell happened to my memory? It’s as if she went into a witness protection program and I can’t find her?
According to Wikipedia, memory is the faculty of the brain by which data or information is encoded, stored, and retrieved when needed (retrievable being the key component). See we are designed to retain information over time for the purpose of influencing future action. For example when I feel hungry I remember to eat (God forbid I loose that file). If we didn’t have our memories we wouldn’t be able to communicate, maintain relationships, understand our personal identity, or remember appointments.
So why the design flaw? Just when I need my memories the most they start to fade like photographs exposed to the sun, or as Austin O’Malley says, memory is a crazy woman that hoards colored rags and throws away food.
Memory failure happens more than I care to admit. I go to draw on a memory from the not-so-distant past, and the bucket comes up empty. My children, however, have instant recall and honestly it’s annoying, “Mom, a few weeks ago, at family dinner, you agreed to watch the kids this weekend.”
The details come flooding back, but if left untriggered by my annoying appendages, they would remain lost forever. What the hell?
Do we just chalk it up to old age, check me off as unreliable, and I row merrily, merrily, merrily down the stream?
Not so fast sailor, apparently we sense that which is outside of us through the use of chemical or physical stimuli, which get stored in our brains for later retrieval. According to cognitive neuroscientist Nancy Dennis some types of memory fade as we age but others are very stable. This is good news not only for my grandkids but the eye doctor!
Memory, Dennis explains, is not a single construct. What psychologists know as “item memory,” the ability to recall individual events or impressions, is actually quite stable in older adults. What tends to fall off is “association memory,” the ability to link those impressions. You might remember a name or recognize a face, in other words, but putting the two together becomes a challenge.
Hello, the struggle is real, I have to memorize the names of sixty to ninety students every year, and it about does me in. There are tricks I rely on like using the name several times right after I meet someone, “Oh your name is Connie, I knew a Connie in high school, Connie was my best friend, Connie would you be a dear and grab those commentaries off the shelf.” Before you know it Connie has been seared into my brain. Another technique I use is to associate the name with a characteristic, such as Susie is silly, or Katie is kind. It actually works (Cheryl is crazy).
As we age we use different parts of our brains to remember things. High functioning adult memories come from people who use both sides of the brain to compensate. The shift in activity, Dennis says, reflects a successful change in cognitive strategy, as older adults tend to rely more on getting the gist of an experience than younger adults do, and less on grasping the details.
As in my appointment is tomorrow not today but at least I remembered it had something to do with my eyes! I love this quote by Charles De Lint who says the past scampers like an alley cat through the present, leaving the paw prints of memories scattered helter-skelter.
One way to assist our aging memories is the ability to forget what’s inessential. It’s referred to as intentional forgetting, Dennis says, this is an exercise of cognitive control. It can be a very beneficial strategy. I forgot I was supposed to watch the grandkids on Saturday so I can remember where I parked my car when I come out of the grocery store. I love it.
The other cool finding about aging memories is that accessibility to a past experience can be triggered by visible mementos! Now focus because this is important especially if your name is Larry. Cheeseparing (frugal or stingy with money) is frowned upon when it comes to memory, because souvenirs actually preserve the experience, and allow for easy retrieval! For example the overpriced pottery from Deruta Italy, or the miniature Eiffel Tower from Paris, even that adorable cutting board from a Lake County winery all evoke memories I want to keep. As Giorgio Agamben claims remembrance is neither what happened nor what did not happen but, rather, their potentialization, their becoming possible once again. Exactly.
We don’t forget…. Our heads may be small, but they are as full of memories as the sky may sometimes be full of swarming bees, thousands and thousands of memories, of smells, of places, of little things that happened to us and which came back, unexpectedly, to remind us who we are. Alexander McCall Smith
So heres the deal, surround yourself with images, decorations, and accessories that are associated with powerful and fond memories so everywhere your eye lands has positive associations! Get rid of the stuff that makes you cringe, and brings up events you would prefer to forget, I refer to this as disremembering.
Hence the Lily Pulitzer calendar, reminds me of my sundress, summer at the lake, Flamingo Drive (the house that built me), and my appointments, because I can’t always depend on my children.
I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we’ll swap memories.
- “People have an annoying habit of remembering things they shouldn’t.”