Saturday, March 25, 2006

Hyperthymestic for a day?

I read on Al Daily tonight that someone has the opposite disorder as me, with my inveterate forgetfulness. A woman has been discovered who claims she can remember everything, in astonishing detail, down to the weather, day of the week, and events of random previous dates throughout history. I have often coveted this ability, or at least some scaled-down version of it. I begun to wonder what it would be like to live this way, neck-deep in the floods of past images, conversations and thoughts.

I am often frustrated at my lack of ability to recall learned data. I am sometimes left feeling like my education was a waste of time and money, yielding a vague set of proclivities and the rough sketch of character, but no
actual, reliable, cold, hard facts. Why don't we come with instruction manuals? Fig. 1: How the memory card functions. For optimal performance . . . blah blah blah. Oh to hear a theory or notable historical figure referenced and not have to say "Yeah, I wrote a paper on that once." Which is to say: A previous me knew something substantial about that there thing. But if I've learned it, shouldn't it be in there somewhere? I just can't seem to get to know the little elf inside my head, the one with the the tag on his desk: RECALL DEPARTMENT. He runs around at will, dragging in things I thought I'd left stuck securely under my desk in grade four. He's a stubborn little bastard, refusing to comply when I want access to something of beauty or meaning, beckoning me from eight years ago . . .

But then I got to thinking, would I want to remember everything? My late grandfather had this compulsion for labelling. I think we still have a couple of those old labellers lying around our family cottage up in Gimil, with their thick orange-brown plastic and the companion letter puncher, leaving a white indent. He had everything labelled, from his clothing drawers, to every tool in the old shed, perfumed by the gas from the derelict mower. How was his memory, I wonder. But I do not remember anymore. I too have labelled my life, in meticulously-kept journals. (My beloved storage locker on Higgens Avenue can testify to this, bursting with words behind her plywood walls.) My years have been documented like my grandfather's things, and still, my memory suffers to find footholds. What makes us remember, what makes our memory serve us well?

Perhaps I should be more grateful for my selective memory. For the filter that keeps back the sludge of past hurts, old and stale regrets, dusty days and mangled intentions. But I think I could survive those, if only allowed past the NO TRESPASSING signs into all the good stuff, into the smell of the rolled-up slide show screen, and hot oil-popped popcorn on the stove.

I think I'd like to live one day with a case of this woman's hyperthymestic disorder. Just one day would be all I'd need. Just one adventure into a saturated past. Clear, bright memory, like columns of light piercing the thick blankets of forgeting, making them like transluscent rags. Moments dripping with joy and laughter, like honey. But then maybe I'd be too sad that those moments were not here with me now. Maybe that is why I do not remember well, because I am already far too nostalgic. Perhaps the things we think flaws are the very things that keep us alive.

Maybe I'd go crazy if I remembered everything. Maybe forgetfulness is a little fortress that's been built around my heart.


Anonymous said...

Jen, you are so wise.

Jen said...

who are you, anonymous?! i need to keep track of people who say such things about me, they are good to have around on days when you're out jogging and some punk kid drives by you and shouts: "Running isn't workin' for you! ha ha ha ha!"

Anonymous said...

Now you know who I am Jen I'll be

"around on days when you're out jogging and some punk kid drives by you and shouts: "Running isn't workin' for you! ha ha ha ha!" .