Be a Goldfish
I don’t remember as much as I used to, but that’s OK. Mary and I laugh about it. Lots of people we know talk about it, especially boomers, so there’s a whole lot of us forgetting a whole lot these days.
If it’s something I really want to remember, I write it down and occasionally try one of those memory visualization tricks to get whatever I’m thinking about to stick.
“Think of it like walking around in a house, where you put the various things you want to remember into rooms as you move around,” I seem to remember someone once teaching me.
Recently, a friend and I shared small talk during a walk together. He’d say the name of a book he wanted me to read, and no sooner that I’d taken a next step, the name and book vanished.
“OK, how do we remember these?” we seemed to both ask.
“We need visual cues,” he says, and so over the next few minutes the two of us construct a little scene with books flying around in a tornado, something outrageous that just might last until we got back to the house.
Even though this lack of mental acuity’s come over me, I’m somehow calm. Maybe because having a photographic memory has never been my calling. Or the fact that I’m not in a field that demands recall of lots of information. Still, it would be nice to remember the milk from the time Mary texts me to when I’m at the register. What’s startling isn’t that I forget, but rather the pace at which I forget — in seconds, not minutes or days. You tell me your name, I talk to you for a few more minutes and poof… gone. This not at all attractive.
“You know what goldfish do?” Ted Lasso instructs his players. “They forget. They have ten second memories.” Which explains why these stupid fish are OK swimming around in circles. These days on planet earth not all that different. The spinning. The going around in circles. The stupid fish.
Ted’s trying to get his players to forget the mistakes they make. “Be a goldfish.”
It’s good advice really, especially now, with what’s happening to us, swimming around in a bowl of pandemic and political ails not soon resolved. We’re all Bill Murray waking up in Ground Hound Day, pounding an alarm clock each morning, repeating the same miserable day, only in my case, I don’t remember much about what I just did, read, watched on TV. Let alone who I just met on Zoom.
To me, all of this is a be a bit Zen, which is how I’ve decided to approach it. Now, after I finish the book All the Light You Cannot See, I close it and start in again the next day. Page one. Why? Because it was that good. Because I didn’t want the feeling it brought over me to end. When I finish it the second time, I find new themes, either because they really do, or because, like Ted Lasso’s goldfish, I’ve forgotten them already.
“It’s the best book I’ve ever read,” I say to anyone who will listen, replacing Poisonwood Bible at the top of my short list, and the only book I’ve ever read twice. I’m going to read Kingsolver’s masterpiece again, and guess what? Given the state of my memory, it will be like I’ve never read it at all.
The good news is that a fair amount what got stuffed into my brain in the first half of my life seems to be somewhat available for recall given enough sleep and the right prompts. There’s still enough data left to hold on to a job, be a part of the family, keep a few lasting friends from calling me senile. In fact, I’m still heating and boiling the same things I prepared out of the I Hate to Cook Book of my twenties. Basic math at check-out still accessible, though who needs it. Mary’s birthday and our anniversary still in recall. Phew!
I juggle as much as I can during the day, though don’t multitask as well as I used to. We read about everyone’s suffering, a pan generational kind of COVID blur. And while the name of my third-grade teacher’s gone, Mr. Casagrande’s six grade lesson on how to fold the New York Times so you can read it on the Subway’s ready for easy access.
I’m comfortable in my current state of goldfish amnesia and simply ask that you wear a name tag when around me. If you’ve got additional advice for how I might improve recall, I’m all ears. No wait, if you don’t mind, write it down and text it to me.