Better left unremembered

Kyle Liang

It’s not hard to point out what’s bad about having a poor memory. School is harder; you forget names easily; you miss meetings and appointments; you can never remember where you put your keys; you forget to call your mom when you promised her that you would call; the list goes on and on… But what is hard to point out is what’s great about having a poor memory.

I won’t deny that school is certainly more of a challenge when you’re required to spend two times, three times, or possibly even ten times longer than some people spend remembering a single piece of information. On the other hand, that additional effort only contributes to establishing a better all-around work ethic, which is undeniably a highly valued trait in the corporate world—an employee with an evident work ethic may even be favored over an employee an with exemplary memory. Not to mention the stronger understanding you build about your personal learning and memorization habits, will lead to more effective studying in the future.

I will admit, I can’t think of as fair a trade-off for forgetting names easily as a result of a poor memory. However, I will say that I force myself to pay extremely close attention to every other meaningful detail of the person and our conversation(s) besides their name in hopes that once somewhere in the vicinity says their name aloud I can pretend that I knew the entire time I was speaking with them.

I have also developed excellent and efficient planning and organization skills in order to make up for my inability to retain times, events, tasks, deadlines, schedules and agendas in my head. I learned to write out tasks and create schedules for myself that allow me to function like a soccer mom at 3 p.m. when her kids get out of school—I don’t skip a beat (unless by choice).

I will admit, I do lose my keys pretty often and again I can’t think of anything to make up for that; however, when it comes to forgetting to call my mom, I am learning to combat that by, instead of never calling her, making it a routine to call her. As much as I would love to talk to my mother on the phone every night of the week (I’m not being sarcastic—call me Bobby Boucher), I make it a routine to call her every Sunday night after I get out of my pre-clinical. It has gotten to the point that I associate walking out of the automatic doors at St. Vincent’s Medical Center with dialing eight, six, zero, nine, one, seven, blah, blah, blah, blah, so I never go a week without talking on the phone with my mom.

But what’s great about having what I guess many would refer to as a remiss memory is that moments remain as moments, both good and bad ones. Bad memories can quickly be forgotten. At the same time, this does not dilute their potency because each negative experience is felt as separate, isolated from other negative experiences. Instances of negative emotion aren’t always compared to other instances or compounding onto others; they are simply lived out for what they are and not how they are relative to other similar experiences. When I have a bad day, it’s not necessarily worse than yesterday or worse than tomorrow will be; it’s just a bad day. And two successive bad days don’t necessarily make for a bad week; it’s just one bad day, followed by another day, which also happens to kind of suck. Tripping up the stairs at 8 a.m. then spilling coffee on my white shirt at 8:15 a.m. isn’t the start of a bad day, because by 8:03 a.m. I probably forgot I even tripped. Then by 8:15 a.m. all I think to myself is “crap, looks like I actually have to wash this shirt now.” I can remain present in how I think. Negative thoughts leave my mind as quickly as they enter, then they never cross it again. And the best part about it is that I don’t dwell on them—or better yet, I don’t let them dwell on me.

The same goes for positive experiences. As I said, having the short, quick-to-expire, limited memory that I have allows me to live life presently. It allows me to experience each experience as new; it gives me a chance to do things that others may find remedial with the same vitality that I would if I were doing it for the first time because any thoughts, feelings or opinions that formed when I did it the first time, or second time, or third time, are quickly forgotten. I still can’t name a single run our team does at practice or tell you the route of any of our runs because they are all forgotten so easily. Rather than relive the same runs over and over again, every run that I go on with my team is blessed with a hint of unfamiliarity, newness, and opportunity to form new thoughts, feelings and opinions. Maybe the first time I went on a particular run I hated it, but the following week I may love it because I lose track of the collection of ideas that I generated the last time I did the run. My poor memory won’t let me hold grudges.

But what I love most about my fleeting, escapable, effortlessly exhausted memory is that I am able to let my experiences settle and lie pristinely and be untouched because with each recall of an experience, the memory is open to change. It becomes vulnerable. As you age, as you change, as you grow as a person, so will your views and so will your perspectives; and as you continue to progress down the gradient of life, pushed by your experiences, moving further and further away from those beloved moments—Disneyland with your parents in fourth grade, your senior prom, the first day of college, the recall of them will also change. And if you truly cherish those moments because they were perfect, or because they were just right, or because you would give anything to experience them again, then they may be better off left unremembered. Those wonderful moments were perfect for a reason. The timing, the situation, the context, was all meant to be experienced just the way they were. To revisit them, even if it’s only in your mind, or through pictures, too often, in any context other than the original, could risk tainting them, changing them and altogether ruining them.

You aren’t the same as you were in those memories—to step back in time, back into your old skin, will open room for different interpretations—maybe less pleasant interpretations—because you’re not the same person. Sometimes the hardest thing for an artist to do is to step away from their work, leave it how it is and focus on starting a new piece. Perhaps the best memories are the ones to step away from. You can keep staring at it, but the more you stare, the more you might begin to dislike what you see. Your present-day self is an embodiment of those experiences; the emotions from those memories unconsciously reside within you; the details from those memories are waning just as they should. And when they are no longer in sight is when a new cycle of happy memories can finally begin.