Tag Archives: hypertymesia

The art of remembering

27 Apr

Good morning. And it is a good morning!

Actually–I don’t know if it is a good morning or not. I have a wait and see attitude concerning the quality of the day. But when I typed, “Good morning” I was reminded of my elementary school principal. Her name was Mrs. Ramsay.

When I was in 5th and 6th grade, Mrs. Ramsay would come on the intercom, in a school wide broadcast, every day and say, “Good morning. And it is a good morning…” and then proceed with announcements concerning the School Boy Patrol bake sale or other pressing business of the day.

I have not thought about Mrs. Ramsay for decades.  I say and write, Good Morning all the time. Why did this memory surface on this particular day at this particular moment?

I have been reading about a condition called Hypertymesia–in which an individual is able to remember, in detail, nearly all of the events of their life. The word is derived from the Greek words  thymesis, which means “remembering” and hyper which means “excessive.”

When I try to imagine what it would be like to have this form of total recall, it does indeed sound excessive. More than sufficient, to say the least.

The actress, Marilu Henner, best known for her roles on the TV series Taxi and Evening Shade, has gone public in the past few years about the fact that she has hyperthymesia. She seems pretty happy about it. You can throw a date out, say October 4, 1965–and she can tell you what day of the week it was, and pretty much everything that happened to her on that day. Now Marilu has written a book called Total Memory Makeover. I guess she wants to help the rest of us remember better. Or maybe just make better use of what we do remember.

Marilu says that this hypertymesia is kind of like the Scenes option on a DVD. She can scroll through her memories, find the scene she wants and press Play and the memory plays back verbatim.

So much for “forgive and forget.” Marilu may forgive, but don’t count on her to forget.

That would suck during an argument. “Oh yeah–well what about June 7, 1978?!” Aw, jeez–I have to keep atoning for things that happened decades ago? If you’re a friend of Marilu, you just might.

I find the concept of hyperthmesia both intriguing and disturbing. I have some painful memories that are less painful because, with time, the edges have gotten kind of fuzzy. In some cases, I may have just filed that memory away so well, I can’t access it.

Marvin Hamlish once said, “Memories may be beautiful and yet, what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.”

I have become convinced over the years that we never really forget anything. My recollection of Mrs. Ramsay is a good example. Where was that memory hiding? Somewhere I haven’t accessed in a long, long time. But it was still there. A not terribly significant detail, just waiting for my brain to randomly unearth.

Stuff just comes up sometimes. Where did that come from? Why did it surface now?

Human beings tend to use memory loss in a defensive way. Politicians and other individuals who are required to testify in one hearing or another often simply respond, “I can’t recall.” As if to say–I am off the hook on this one because I don’t remember! Woo hoo!

As Velma Kelly says in “Chicago”–“I completely blacked out. I can’t remember a thing! It wasn’t until later, when I was washing the blood off of my hands, I even knew they were dead!”

I don’t recall, so I am not responsible.

I suppose Marilu Henner never misplaces anything. I’d like that. I can never find a damn thing.

Every time I look for my keys, it is a crap shoot. They could be anywhere. My glasses? Good luck with that! It is especially disturbing when I tear the house apart looking for my glasses only to discover that I am already wearing them. You’d think the fact that I could actually see while I am tearing up the house would be a clue…

Do things like that happen to me often? I can’t recall…

Will this be a memorable day? I don’t know. If it is, I hope it is memorable in a good way.

As Marvin H. once observed,  “it’s the laughter, we will remember, whenever we remember, the way we were.”

Here’s to laughter!

Happy Friday

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