The Fickle Entity of the Mind

I, at times, have a flighty memory. I am unsure if my mind believes the information to be unimportant, or has to push other tidbits of my cache into the garbage heap to make room for more, but either way, my brain can feel like a grain bag with a small puncture. I try and compensate for this by writing little notes, small ones, especially on the run. A word here, a word there, a small phrase. That is all well and good, but when later comes, and I pull out the paper, without the context of the moment, I wonder, what the hell does “Albatross Latvia” mean.

This seems like my curse. I am smart–it is not conceited to say so–I graduated magna cum laude for my bachelors, and when I am finished with my masters thesis this month I will have a 3.74 GPA. So it is frustrating that I can go into a movie theater, walk out when the film is complete, and a few miles down the road not recall what I just saw…at all. Now this isn’t a medical problem. I don’t have a condition. My brain seems to be selective in what it holds. I am great at trivia and trivial pursuit, so I don’t lack in that department with knowledge, but there are things that I just don’t remember. One area is conversations.

If you know me, then you know that we may have the same conversation many times over during our friendship. It is not that the last discussion wasn’t important, or I didn’t listen, but we may talk about this over and over again. I have gotten into the habit with good friends starting conversations with, “tell me if I’ve told you this already,” and they are good about it, only occasionally goading me on with a wry smile. My poor wife though, she humors me, and doesn’t tell me I’ve told her. I have probably repeated some stories fifty times, and she just lets me go, rambling on as the words pour from my mouth. And there is purposeful repetition.

I have always been a learner through repetition. The only way I can learn something well is by beating it into my head. I have the tenacity and the patience though to learn that way. People amazed me in college, reading the academic journal article only once, and then remembering every little phrase from it. Not. Me. I would read the article, and then go back over it, and then take notes, and then reread the notes. It was always work for me, but pleasurable work. I remember when I did archaeological work in class. We poured through box upon box of pottery sherds from the Richard’s and Nevin’s site in Blue Hill, Maine. I spent hundreds of hours working on these materials with other students in my group. I learned so much about prehistoric pottery this way, I will never forget it.

So for me, memory is a fickle beast. It traps in some, and lets others flit away on the wind. Sometimes I see my mind like a dandelion puff-ball. All the little white seeds just ready for a gust to send them scattering to the wind. Other times, my mind becomes an iron trap, sealing in certain memories, that I will carry forever. And then sometimes, past times kick through the door of my mind, barging in, taking over. So as time goes on, I am sure I will keep writing down little hints to guide my mind. But like Uncle Billy who put string on his fingers, I too will forget the string is even there, or what it is there for. Because, when you have a shitty memory, you have to be elaborate in your mental notes, or you end up wondering, what the hell is “damned romance” or “thunder road”  in reference too–found recently in my notes page on my cell phone.

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