Saturday, January 09, 2016

Memory karma

Most people have some deterioration in memory abilities as they age. Unless it negatively impacts on daily life, especially in profound ways, age-related decline in memory isn’t a cause for concern, though it’s certainly annoying. I blame my mother.

I sometimes jokingly say that the reason my memory has become worse is karma: When I was a teen, I used to make fun of my mother’s bad memory. I wasn’t annoyed that she forgot things, but rather it was the fact she remembered things incorrectly. So, karma gave me the same sort of memory she had.

That IS a joke, of course, because I certainly don’t believe in karma. However, there’s one element of truth in that: My mother apparently really is the source of my dodgy memory, handing it down through her genes. My dad’s memory was pretty sound right up until the end, and I remember his father as being pretty sharp into his 90s.

It doesn’t actually matter which side gave me the bad memory genes: I just have to live with it. Increasingly, that means finding ways to compensate for it.

For example, I write notes to myself and place them on my keyboard so I’ll see them in the morning. Sometimes when I’m getting ready for bed, I’ll suddenly remember something I forgot to do, and I’ll take out my phone and email myself, which I’ll see when I check my email in the morning.

I’ve talked about these issues in the past—I haven’t forgotten that (though I have occasionally started to write a post that was basically the same topic as an earlier one, and a couple times I’ve accidentally re-used a title). Usually, when I refer back to something I’ve posted already, it’s on purpose and duly linked.

Last March, I wrote about my attempts to get better organised. In that post, I was talking about using paper-based systems to track what I needed to do. That never happened, though those notes and emails to myself are sort of related.

Neither have any of my attempts at task management using my computer and mobile devices worked. I meant to blog about that last year but, of course, I kept forgetting to do so. As it turns out, there’s one more thing I want to try before I get to that post this year (if I don’t forget…).

In my birthday post last year, I talked about why this blog is so important to me:
But I’ve also become increasingly aware as the years pile up of how important it is to record all sorts of things that mark progress through life. Memory isn’t anywhere near as reliable as many people assume, but it tends to become less reliable as the years pass. I sometimes joke that I’ve forgotten more than I knew as an 18 year old. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but maybe not as big a one as I might hope.

These annual posts—along with ordinary posts about ordinary things—serve as a sort of institutional memory, a kind of “Arthur Cloud”. But they also do more: These posts help me remember things I’ve forgotten, or they might inspire me to reflect on memories that maybe I hadn’t examined before. Those are good things, too.
All of that is still true, of course, and it’s also true of the old journals I kept on my computer in the years before I started this blog, and especially my even older hand-written journals dating back to high school. All of them, like this blog, document things that I’ve forgotten. Fortunately, those rediscovered memories have all been good, so far.

The photo up top is both literal and symbolic. The literal is that in the days when we got bills in the mail, I used to stamp them “PAID” so I’d know I’d taken care of it. That way, when I ran across it later, I didn’t have to try and remember if I’d paid it. These days, with nearly all our bills coming by email or online, it’s not as easy to stamp them as having been paid, and I’ve developed various ways of coping.

The symbolic sense is that if there ever had been a “karmic debt” from making fun of my mother’s memory, that debt has now been repaid, as I endure what she did all those decades ago. But I know two things about that: The first is that I’ll keep joking about that whole karma thing, and the other is that I’ll forget that I’ve done so and tell someone the same joke again (probably several more times, too).

There: Now I don’t have to try and remember any of this, either.

The photo at top is my own.


rogerogreen said...

My memory for certain things has always been terrible. Names at parties - brutal. I email myself things and say, whoa - I would have forgotten. The blog IS a great reminder of that movie with so-and-so I saw; when WAS that?

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

Remembering names has never been one of my strong points, so that much, at least is the same.