I remember hearing a story about people who literally remember every day of their lives. The reporter tested them by asking them about a day or date that didn’t correspond, in true fashion, the interviewee pointed that out.
Since seeing that piece, I wondered if I might be contacted for the opposite. Not remembering details that should be all too recall-able. I know that there are advanced diseases for the loss of memory, and I wonder if my condition is a bit more benign. In my mid-to-late thirties I have sense of mental faculty, but it’s just that my mind takes it upon itself to declutter swiftly and frequently. All of that to say, I generally don’t remember things.
My brother, who has an amazing memory for small and large life events of our childhood, will often mention an event, register my total non-recollection and then return a kind of blank look — ”so, you really don’t remember that?” I think his astonishment has waned over the years.
The best and worst is when people recall to me phrases that I said that have stayed with them. It is the best because I so deeply gratified that something I might have shared was helpful in their life’s journey. It is the worst because if one day I was shown a lineup of quotes for attribution, including the one they remember, I likely wouldn’t be able to spot the winner.
The one thing this allows, however, is truly living in the present. I am constantly in the present, mostly because I have nowhere else to be. The future is uncertain at best. And, as you by now have deduced, the past is often conspicuosly unavailable.
Now, I’m not saying I don’t remember anything. Actually, I would say I do often acutely remember the feeling of a memory. Like the scent in a room after someone with perfume or cologne has been in the room. It is a kind of the accessory to a memory, if not the memory itself. It can lead to laughable situations such as a feeling of animosity or warmth towards someone because though I may not recall the exact details, I have a certain feeling as to how this person behaved or made me or others in that memory feel.
I think this selective or emotional memory recall has shaped my life in some notable ways. I have not naturally tended toward areas or disciplines that excel on specific recall or accounting. For example, accounting. I had to take it twice in college. I struggled with the Bar exam, partially because keeping the definitions in my brain without falling out before the exam proved a formidable challenge. And perhaps it is somewhat for that reason that I love audio. I now consume well over 95% of the books I “read” via audiobook. Somehow the act of listening to spoken words, complete with enunciation, articulation, and emphasis, helps me to immerse myself in the experience. And, it helps me conjure emotion, feeling…all of which helps me remember.
I always thought that everyone was somewhat like me. But over time I have seen that my often extreme lack of recall is my little gift from the Universe.
It has developed a problem-solving muscle which I have occasion to exercise often. I often feel like the Macgyver in a room with limited tools, i.e. clear and definitive memory, trying to make it out. This might be in a conversation with a “hey, do you remember me?” or in recalling some aspect of a blog post or section of the book I, myself, wrote. It might be as someone quotes a podcast episode, which I hosted, and I have faint or little idea what they are talking about.
I have chosen to kind of reframe this ‘gift’ as my very own magical superpower. Superheroes may fly or have x-ray vision or have a memory of steel — -but I have the now. When a challenge comes up I conjure up every tool at my disposal — -especially search engines and how-to videos — -and don’t rest until I have researched and come up with a solution.
Never mind, that I may do similar research again in a month when the issue arises again. I have set better expectations for myself and part of why I started content creation in social entrepreneurship, including blog and podcast, and wrote a detailed book on the subject, was to help preserve and create a record of my own exploration of the space. I try to include extra details and links, not so much to show my expertise, but so that if I read over it again, I can reconstruct my memory of what I learned, researched, and experienced. It is like my own transcript and deposition. It is a record of where I spent my time.
Perhaps my unique condition or superpower is why the medium of writing has always been a good fit. My instant blank slate invites creativity and is a source of delight when I read my own work. I love the feeling words have and how they can fit together. Unburdened by concise memory, I can rely on intuition. I can play. I can get completely lost and immersed in writing, knowing that instead of leaving me like a memory can, the contents will be right there waiting for me to enjoy again — -even if I don’t exactly remember having written them.