When I was in high school, my best friend lovingly called me “the mouth of unwanted knowledge.” For as long as I can remember, I’ve been able to recall odd facts about a myriad of topics. These topics can range from movies to astronomy to the fact that if you put a monkey in front of a typewriter for an infinite number of years it will eventually type the word “parkakafrakawak.” To this day I have no idea why I can easily retain this type of “unwanted knowledge” but can’t for the life of me remember the vast majority of information I learned in my college courses.
Oh, it doesn’t stop there. I can remember a hula hoop routine to New York, New York I learned when I was in the 5th grade. I guess it’s still readily available to me in case the need should arise at a gathering and there just happens to be a hula hoop close by and that song playing in the background. I’ve always been fascinated by memory which is probably why I double majored in Psychology and Communications…either that or I wanted to open my own psychic hotline since I would be able to communicate with your mind. What has always interested me about this is what is it that makes something go from short-term to long-term memory. Now there are some things that make sense as to why this would happen…for example, your phone number. It’s not that I call myself all that often, but I’ve filled out enough paperwork for various reasons that always required I enter this number. After enough repetition it tends to stick. Makes perfect sense to me! How then do you explain the fact that there have been many times that I’ll watch a movie once and the next time it’s on it only takes me a fraction of a second, based on what’s on the screen, to be able to name the movie. I only saw that fraction of a second once and yet it stuck. Furthermore, why is it that I can get up off the couch to do something in the kitchen only to forget what the hell I walked in there to do after a distance of no more than 15 feet? I’m only 36…surely it can’t be old age!!!
Don’t even get me started on dreams! Anyone who has been around me for a while knows that not only do I remember my dreams, but I do so with amazing detail. One of the first dreams I had dates all the way back to when I lived in Cincinnati and my dad owned Pronto Printing. I walked to the side door to go in and when the door opened it was Frankenberry (yes, from the cereal) standing there to greet me. He ushered me in only to find Count Chocula standing there in his brown cape in front of the large window where the customers placed their orders. He pushed a button and all of a sudden the window changed into a wall with all sorts of buttons and lights everywhere. In the middle of the wall there was a tiny opening that was just big enough for the chair sitting in front of it to pass through. I watched Count Chocula strap a doll into the chair. He pushed another button and the chair went through the tiny opening. When it came back out the doll was gone! I thought that it must be some place amazing that the doll went and I just had to go see for myself. I hurried over to the chair, not paying attention to the opening, and helped the Count strap me into the seat. Just as the button was about to be pressed, I looked forward and there in front of me, through that tiny opening, was a saw blade. The Count pressed the button and just as I was about to come into contact with the blade I woke up. WHEW!! That dream occurred at least 30 years ago, but I can still remember it like it was yesterday!
As much as I complain about not being able to forget certain experiences and information as well as retaining others, I have to realize that not being able to do either would be devastating. Take for example Clive Wearing. I watched a documentary on him a while back and was fascinated by his condition. This man is an accomplished musician who came down with a virus which attacked his brain. The end result is that his memory only lasts between 7 and 30 seconds. Imagine in a sense “waking up” all day, every day for the rest of your life. For him, it isn’t frustrating because he has no memory of it…at least he won’t after the next 7 to 30 seconds. Because my memory is intact, the thought of living in this neverending hell would be torture!!
What also fascinates me about memories is why we can’t seem to choose which moments to remember with clarity. Of all the individual moments during a particular event, why is it that THIS insignificant moment is the one I remember while someone else doesn’t. Really, who cares that when we arrived at the party we stood on the left side of the room for a minute before walking over to our table?
There are also the cases of our minds playing tricks on us…as if life isn’t difficult enough! A while back I had something funny happen to me and so, as always, I called my Mommala to tell her all about it. After I told her, she said “Robyn, you already told me about this.” I said that it just happened and I she was the first person I called. Her response was so profound I think it really should be on a t-shirt for the world to see. So what did she say you wonder? She said, and I quote, “Wow! It’s amazing how quickly you forget the things you didn’t already know!” I’ll give you a moment to take that one in and chew on it for a bit.
So now I wonder, with everything I’ve been through, why can’t I work the reverse? What is it that stops my brain from getting rid of the memories that are holding me back or causing me pain? There are so many things that I’ve seen or done that I would love to just forget ever happened! How about the time in first grade that I smashed my thumb in the car door of a corvette after t-ball practice? Then there’s the memory of watching my sweet six-pound dog Button attacked and killed in front of me by a German Shepherd. I would like nothing more than forgetting how her life ended as it still affects me to this day whenever I take my two dogs for a walk. Of course I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
Struggling with my memories is something I do on a constant basis…especially recently. I’d like nothing more at times than to just turn my brain off for a while. Unfortunately, there is no off switch because, as I mentioned earlier, even when I’m dreaming I’m making memories or reliving those already in storage. Because of this, I’m having to learn how to find healthier ways to work through the chaos in my head. I am usually a very organized person…ask anyone who has known me a while and especially those I have worked with. This cluttered mess is enough to send me over the brink. Who knows what the future holds, but I’m sure for me it will be full of potential memories fighting to claim their rightful place inside the brain that controls the “mouth of unwanted knowledge.”