Saturday, May 19, 2012

Remembering and Forgetting

“One of the saddest things in life, is the things one remembers.”

"Learn to forget, learn to forget
Learn to forget, learn to forget"
― The Doors, Soul Kitchen

Ever wonder if you have a tapeworm in your brain? Me neither. But we should, apparently. At some point in every life, one has to start cleaning out the top hard-to-reach shelves of the old memory bank. Otherwise, all we’re likely to remember is the danger of tapeworms, the needless mnemonic for how to spell Arithmetic, and simple gardening information, like say, distinguishing a rose from a daisy. I probably won't remember the hard gardening stuff like whether it’s aloe or agave that dies after it blooms. Look it up, you’re more likely to remember it that way.

Apart from potential worms in my brain, I worry that if I don’t clean cobwebs from my memory store (like the names of the brothers on Bonanza, and don’t say Little Joe because everybody remembers him. And Hoss. It’s that other guy, what's his name...) that I won’t have room to store new knowledge like the names of the current Idol finalists (not!) or the difference between a daisy and a rose. 

When a loved one dies, I grieve about the one-of-a-kind memories they took with them. Sometime it may be merely delightful and within living memory: like a particular game of hide and seek on a childhood summer evening like this. Sometimes it is generations old: like that the tiny enamel pin in my jewelry box that says “AHS ’03” that is my maternal grandmother’s pin from her 1903 Ayersville (Ohio) High School graduation class that Mom gave me. Sometimes it’s more than recent or fond; it’s ancient and essential. To give you an idea, think about what would happen if the last guy that knows how to brew good beer dies. Ok, then think of something that actually might happen.

I’d like to remember happy things, and not sad ones. I know life includes both, but see no reason why this should require that the shelves in my personal memory must be stacked that way. But, not withstanding Jim Morrison, learning to forget is the easy part. The hard part is learning what to forget, because it turns out that the mere act of revisiting a particular memory tends to strengthen it. It’s, like, counterintuitive. And it's hard: like counting to ten without thinking of elephants. (Which reminds me of my all-time favorite riddle: why do elephants drink?)

So, here’s my trick for learning to forget. The first step is to identify the memory you want to forget - say tape worms, or that if you are a gardener who likes to eat what you grow you may be a murderer

Then spend twice as much time thinking of something good to remember.  And if you can’t tap into happy memories to wipe out bad memories like bleach on bloodstains, then you should create some. Happy memories, not bloodstains. Like today’s NASA Astronomy Picture of The Day. Today, it’s the Annular Solar Eclipse I will see tomorrow night from here in SoCal, even though I won’t be in the path for the full eclipse pictured, but will see a small bite out of one side (i.e. a partial annular solar eclipse.

Don't forget that last step for heaven’s sake. Learn how to remember it. The happy memory, not the brain worms.

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