My brain is acting out. It is in high dudgeon. I say “Help,” and it says “No.” I say “Please,” and it slams a door.
I put a stick of butter in the microwave to soften and then forget to add it to the blueberry muffins.
I decide to take a walk and then walk in and out of my house a half dozen times because I forget first my scarf, then my AirPods, then my phone, my glasses, my mask, a tissue, hand sanitizer. If I didn’t forget so much, if I weren’t always searching for things, my Fitbit would have nothing to record.
I forget the names of TV shows and movies, too. “What’s the series that we like about the football coach who goes to England?” I ask my husband. I remember that this coach makes scones every day for his surly boss. But I can’t remember the coach’s name, which is also the name of the series. “Ted Lasso,” my husband tells me for the gazilionth time. Ted Lasso, I repeat, promising myself that this time I will remember.
“What’s the name of the book we both read last year by the Maine professor who was forced to give up her child?” I ask my friend Anne. “Oh, I remember that book,” Anne says. “I just ordered her new one.” But Anne’s brain isn’t behaving any better than mine. Neither of us can remember the author, and Anne has to look in her reading journal to retrieve the title.
Names drift away from us like helium balloons, especially these days. Names of movies, of TV shows, of books, of writers, of musicians, of actors. Where is my phone? Where are my glasses? Days and books and movies and TV shows, where is, where are? Everything is blending. I beg my brain to do its job, to help out, to remember, but it refuses.
Last Monday I found on my computer three pages of notes - 1,496 words - taken from a book I read a month ago. I remember reading the book. I remember the name of the book, “The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto.” I remember telling people how much I liked the book. I remember the author, too, Mitch Albom. And I remember underlining many parts of the book.
But I do not remember sitting at my computer and typing a single word of those notes.
“You can only capture and retain what you pay attention to,” Lisa Genova, author of “Still Alice,” writes in her soon-to-be released perfect-for-these-times nonfiction book, “Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting.” “And since you can’t pay attention to everything, you’ll be able to remember some aspects of what is happening before you but not others.”
Genova, as an example, writes about driving over the Sagamore Bridge so many times that sometimes she will be driving and think, “Wait, did I already go over the bridge?”
“The number one reason for forgetting,” Genova writes, “what she said, his name, where you put your phone, and whether you already drove over a really big bridge, is lack of attention.”
I wonder: Is this what happened with the book notes? Was I so focused on what I was typing, with the words and their meaning, that my typing was like driving, something I do automatically and so often that I gave it no thought?
Or was I distracted? I’m always distracted. Genova says most of us are. “We live in a constantly connected, go-go-go time plagued by distraction. Your smartphone, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, text alerts, e-mails, incessantly racing thoughts - all of these are attention thieves and, by extension, memory thieves. Minimizing or removing things that distract you will improve your memory.”
Genova adds that “our brains have evolved to remember what is meaningful. They forget what isn’t.”
Maybe it’s the lack of meaningful in these colorless days without end that is causing us to forget. Maybe it’s because we miss our families and our friends, miss going out to dinner, miss vacations, miss work, school, theater, concerts, miss seeing people smile, hearing them laugh, miss crowds, miss music, miss late nights and busy days, miss what used to be our lives; maybe it’s for all these reasons that we don’t remember where we put our glasses or the names of TV shows.
“Unrelenting stress is disastrous for your memory,” Genova also writes.
Or, maybe, it is just as simple as that.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at email@example.com.