It’s happened again. I was having a bit of a sit down after having completed a raft of chores on Saturday when I thought, “I’d best just go and do that one last thing now before I forget”. I got up, walked through the house into the bedroom and completely forgot what I had gone in there to do. I mean—completely. Nada. Not a clue. Not even a smidgeon of a clue. How does that happen? I wasn’t distracted in any way. I didn’t stop to pat one of the dogs, or pick something up off the floor, or put the kettle on first, or even (at least consciously) change my track of thought. But there it was (or, in fact, wasn’t)—gone. Infuriating.
Although I admit that my memory ‘dropouts’ do seem to be happening a tad more frequently lately, I am not overly concerned just yet (just really, really irritated). They (the ubiquitous ‘they’) tell us it is quite normal to become a bit more forgetful as we age (thank you so much for that, so very comforting.) So perhaps, and only just perhaps, I might concede that age may be a (very slight) factor contributing to these lapses, but I think it’s more likely to be that it’s been a long year, I’m tired, and I’ve got so much stuff running around in my head at the moment that sometimes the less important things just leak out of my ears—leaving more room for the things that I really need, and want, to remember. (Well, that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.)
So, rather than being annoyed, I should be grateful. This occasional ‘leakage’ is actually a good thing. It leaves room to remember to go to work, to feed and walk the dogs (fat chance of being allowed to forget that in my house), to pay the bills, to go to appointments, to return phonecalls and emails—all the stuff that gets me through my daily life. And just as well too—l am not ready to morph into Dory just yet.
(Just a quick aside, while I am thinking of fish—and memory—and before I forget to say it—that thing we always hear about a fish only having a 3 second memory—not true. In 2008 an Australian schoolboy Rory Stokes debunked that myth. It seems that fish have hidden depths. (I give you leave to groan at that one—it deserves it.)
I do know though, once upon a time, my short term memory was in much better shape. I never used to have to write things down. I could remember people’s names, ages, birthdays and anniversaries without having to look them up. I travelled a lot and could remember itineraries and schedules easily. I kept lists in my head and mentally ‘ticked’ the items off as they were completed. Alas, no longer.
These days I seem to leave trails of crumpled ‘post-it’ notes in my wake (I especially like the bright, easily spotted, fluorescent kind—no comments please on my also having to start wearing glasses). There are post-its stuck to my fridge, my kitchen bench, my desk (at home and at work) and my computer. (Some seem to be in code and have been there so long I am no longer sure what they are supposed to be reminding me of, which is a bit of a worry, but they must be important or I wouldn’t have put them there. Would I?)
And I write lists—lots and lots of lists. I have actually become quite a fan of writing lists. There is something quite therapeutic about having a long list of things to do and being able to put a great big fat scribbly line through each item as you complete it. (Although, down side, I often seem to be putting three items on the bottom of the list every time I cross one off at the top—but, hey, one issue at a time.)
‘Use it or lose it’ is the catch-cry that immediately springs to mind. So now I am wondering how much of my post-it-note-and-list addiction has contributed to my memory decline? Maybe my brain being (hopefully) smarter than I think it is, knows of my tendency to commit to paper and so doesn’t feel the need to put itself out and remember these things as well (“Well I don’t know why I’m bothering if you’re going to write it all down . . .”) Mmmmm. I’ve got some holidays coming up. Maybe I’ll consider going cold-turkey on the lists for a while and see if that will kick my memory into gear again. Well, maybe not completely cold turkey, maybe I’ll just cut it down to a couple of lists a day . . .
Do you think elephants ever have these issues? ‘An elephant never forgets’. Everyone has heard that. But is it actually true? I know there have been remarkable studies done on the long-term memories of elephants. Research has shown that elephants remember not only what they need to survive, like food and water sources, but also individual interactions with other elephants, and people, spanning great distances and many years. All without the aid of a diary.
And that’s all good. Great. But, what I am asking is—after a long day’s slow walk, when the herd pulls up to a waterhole for a long cool drink and a bit of a sit down—when they are just standing lazily around shooting the breeze—do they have those “Sorry dude, what was your name again?” moments?
Do they sidle up to each other and say thing like, “Mate—I know I had a message to give you from Doris but I can’t quite remember—it’s on the tip of my trunk . . . ”
I like to think so.
P.S—Did you know there was such a thing as an ‘elephant fish‘? Wonder what kind of memory they have?