Did my Memory go into a Witness Protection Program?

img_2221.jpg

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.”

“I did?”

“Mom!”

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.

Anecdotes:

  • “People have an annoying habit of remembering things they shouldn’t.” Christopher Paolini
  • “Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!” John Irving
  • “Sometimes I wanted to take a memory – one perfect memory – curl up in it, and go to sleep.” Kiersten White

 

20 Comments

Leave a Comment

  1. Hi Cheryl,
    This got me a little misty eyed in the beginning with walking through the house full of memories- yep do that all the time! Then you had me laughing the rest of the way through! I’m pretty good at only keeping the good memories and letting bad ones go. The Lilly dress-Jenga playing-kissing the wood memory will definitely make my all time favorites. Hope there is a spot on the calendar planner for us.
    On a side note according to Dr Facebook if you know you are losing your memory you don’t have Alzheimer’s- I’m going with that!
    😘
    Gail

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Gail, Thanks for the comment! It is amazing how we house our hearts in our homes, especially women. We’ve lived at the same address since 1990 and we’ve stored a memory of two in this space – most of them good, a few bad, some extraordinary – but let me just say if the walls could talk I might have to burn the place down! haha

      So many memories…sometimes I wish I could go back in time for a quick visit, you know what I mean – hold my babies again, dinners with the whole family, snuggling by the fire, dancing in the kitchen…awe.

      I am always amazed when I step off the crazy revolution of time that my body is aging faster than my mind? I look down and wonder why my mother’s hands are now attached to my arms, when did my face start to wrinkle, and I’m absolutely sure I lost a decade in transit?

      I do love the fact that our memories inform the future, that holding babies will come around again, snuggling by the fire with a glass of wine, dancing in the kitchen with my husband instead of the kids! It’s all good.

      Here’s to a future of many more memories Gail – looking forward to getting something on the books with you and Mike to look forward too! Miss you.

      Like

  2. Cheryl, I’m so glad we’ve found each other’s blogs. I love how you’ve woven the research in with your personal story. I’ve been interested in memory for a few years now, since shortly after I insisted my husband get tested. We both struggle with recall and making those associations. He struggles also with getting the stuff in in the first place. Can’t remember something you never captured in the first place. Turned out it was his hearing. This aging business takes resilience. Nice post. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Janet, welcome to Living in the Gap, and let me just say your blog is a total find! I look forward to catching up on your older posts.

      It’s interesting to me in terms of memory that as my needs change so has my capacity towards different tasks. For example, in my Autumn years I enjoy thinking and viewing life from a different perspective, I linger with my thoughts, saunter around subjects, let them steep for a while before I write. In my younger years I had to react fast, make quick decisions, it felt like I had to always be on top of my game. Not missing the chaos of those years at all.

      I sort of like that I’m able to gear down and enjoy a slower pace, which aids my memory of events, and allows me to capture the finer details. This aging thing takes does take resilience, and thank God our grit increases with age, what I’m learning is to not resist change but embrace it. All my best Janet.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love this post– comedy and tragedy! I have a good memory and yet my kids seem to find many flaws in my recollections. Either I’m slipping or they’re messing with me. Thanks for a fun read.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Cheryl, so many funny moments here, and wisdom too. I go about the blogging so differently than you do! I only post once a week so I kind of have it in my mind until The Day. Then I sit down with my journal and tea and write about how I have nothing to write about 🙂 When I eventually get to my keyboard, the idea I have will often morph into a completely different topic. I just go with it. I don’t draft or plan, but I do take a lot of photos for Instagram and since a blog needs a photo I sometimes get a topic that way. And on memory…the photos help me remember moments from the week. Also, when I was a youngish teacher (age 35) I had no problem remembering all the students names. Took about a week or two. By the time I retired (age 58) it was getting more and more difficult to remember everyone’s name. I usually had them all mastered by end of semester, lol.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Cynthia, I so appreciate your comments, and insights. I try and post once a week also but have no method of preparation! I occasionally write down an idea or two, maybe a great quote I came across, or a recent conversation and I just go with it. When opens up on the page is often a mystery. I think your practice of sitting down with a journal and maybe coffee instead of tea to write about “how I have nothing to write about,” is a great idea. I just might give it a try? Who knows? Might be the best thing I ever do to improve my craft! I’ll have to check out your Instagram account, at the very least I can surf it for ideas!
      I didn’t realize you were a teacher too! It was a late in life occupational change as I was home tending to a squad of children for two decades before going into teaching. A decade ago I did a better job at memorizing and today I do what I can do. Might be time to consider retirement and enter into writing full time? Love when your comments appear Cynthia – much appreciated!

      Like

  5. Hi Cheryl.
    I have to say your writing somehow continues to improve. I seem to enjoy it more each week. Perhaps it is because when you write it brings back memories of our recent get-togethers, or perhaps it is because it just gives me a relaxed introspective vibe. I took the liberty of sharing your blog regarding your Missouri visit with my trainer, a.k.a. the Queen of Pain, and her words were “That was awesome!! So beautifully written!! She has a wonderful gift in writing. Thank you for sharing.”
    With regards to this post, I like to think of our memories as computer storage. Our memory does not seem to deteriorate, it is just full. I have to delete something to make room for new data storage.
    I agree that we seem to associate objects with memory. As Gail walks through our house, it brings back so many pleasant memories. The downside to this is that I think that she will have trouble leaving this house, which will commit me to many more years of hard work. Not much chance of moving to the farm. Argh! Of course, I share many of these memories, so it is not all bad. Oddly, my strongest memory trigger is auditory. Somehow most songs hit me with what I was doing when I first heard them. Weird example: More than a Feeling. First heard December 25th, 1976 at about 6 am on my hand-held transistor radio while listening under the covers. Woke up too early for Christmas, had to wait until about 7 before heading down to check out the tree. A glorious memory.
    Anyway, thanks for making my day.
    Was going to link Carly Simon’s song about “These are the good old days” (anticipation/ketchup), but had to go with Eddy Money, RIP.

    If I ever use the same song twice, please forgive me, as I will have “forgotten!!”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I like the way you started this comment! WhootHoot! Improvement is always a good thing especially when it comes to writing. I so appreciate you sharing my post with your trainer, or any interested reader, and I’m over the moon with her reaction. You sort of made my day, okay week, maybe my year with that one. I’m so glad she enjoyed the piece!
      I’m with Gail on the appeal of home and never leaving! I think the farm is your happy place because it intermittent instead of permanent like our lake house. Memories are intriguing especially in the way we are able to retrieve some, while others are lost forever, especially when your parents pass away and there’s no one to share stories from our youth. I remember some things and Nancy remembers others, when we do come across the same memory, sometimes we remember it differently, as to participants, sentiments, conversations, and outcomes? In fact Nancy and I were just discussing how distinct our children’s memories are about my Mom and Dad estate in Chehalis, 11 acres of forested land, with which to run and play. I think they remember it because it was so out of the ordinary, they did things at Donahoe that they could never do in the city, and it was loads of fun to be there. It seems our memories might be tied to the degree of emotion or the degree of disruption from the ordinary in order to really have a lasting impact? Sometimes a bad memory decides to stay long past expiration and it’s interesting how powerful they can be? Expelling the bad and preserving the good is my motto, more difficult than it appears, and maybe for good reason?
      It’s interesting to me that songs are a strong memory trigger for you. It is the same with me. I remember sitting in the neighbors pine tree with my friend Laurie listening to Donny Osmond (the guy I thought I would marry) belt out his smash hit Puppy Love. I was smitten. I can almost smell the pine!
      I totally agree with the Eddy Money pick – absolutely perfect!
      Haha, I’ll never remember if you use the same song twice, but I’ll remember this comment for quite some time!

      Like

    1. Thanks Cheryl (might I add I love your name) I tend to run these random scans every now and then, things move into the house of which I’m unaware, and at times removal is the only option. Thanks so much for the comment!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s