What was I saying just now?

Aha! I have remembered to start drafting the next item on this site. That’s important because I find, at a late age, my memory getting more and more unreliable – a condition which I am told is rather common. There are, of course, potential outcomes. Does that bill get paid? Did I realise that my cousin was visiting me for lunch? Did I renew that subscription? Fortunately, my children are aware of this, and don’t hold back on reminders. (Although I am quite open to forget the reminders). But the outside world is not so clement – and I may find myself apologising for what is seen as deliberate delays.

And it hits me in other ways. From time to time I am visited by younger members of the family. Some of these are people of consequence: the distinguished historian, the civil servant who is rattling up the promotional ladder, the top executive who tries to retire but is too valuable to do so – and so on. But, ask for their names – and I am reduced to calling them all ‘darling’. And that’s a problem, too. I started adult life at drama school – and that is (was?) a community in which all females were addressed as darling. I have never lost the habit. However, I married one of them – and I have never regretted that.

Probably most writers have had the nuisance of knowing exactly the right word to use in the next sentence. And we learn that thinking hard is not the solution. Just put in xxx and carry on. And a few seconds later it flashes back into the mind. Grab it while it’s there. So I, and perhaps others, will have had to cope with a poor memory – perhaps poorer than it used to be. So let’s exchange how we have learnt to cope. Or not.

About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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14 Responses to What was I saying just now?

  1. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes:

    // So let’s exchange how we have learnt to cope. Or not. //

    Nothing needs to be remembered unless one will be penalized in unacceptably painful ways for forgetting. If one is required to work to deadlines to feed and clothe and house oneself, missing a few deadlines can be deadly. As can forgetting to brake the car when the light turns red. But if one’s living on an income and doesn’t drive, those don’t matter. Forgetting social obligations is unimportant if one has none. But as we age, we’re increasingly likely to be prescribed medications for things like blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes, and forgetting to take one of those might lead to an unacceptably unfortunate outcome. But aside from a few medications, there’s very little left that can, I think, strictly be classified as necessary.

    I suspect I’ve always had a poor memory. “Suspect” because, of course, I can’t remember. It seems that many people find it no great burden to remember tons of facts. I forget most facts as soon as I learn them. I think that’s always been the case. As a social being, I’m hopeless and nearly useless. But life goes on.

  2. Iona says:

    Written lists. Shopping lists, to-do lists, and an appointments diary, consulted regularly.
    (However, I have been known to go shopping, with a list, and still forget an item even though it was on the list).
    I find it very hard (always did) to remember people’s names. Sometimes I keep a note of them in writing, to be consulted at home before I join a group where I may meet the people concerned, The funny thing is, when I have written the names, I remember them without having to check.

  3. David Smith says:

    Iona writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2020/09/09/what-was-i-saying-just-now/#comment-61171 ) :

    // Written lists. //

    For the grocery, I use an iPhone checklist app. First, make a list of everything I’m likely to be looking for, one item per line. Then, make a check mark by every item I want this time. Then, sort all the checked items to the top. Last, re-sort as items are basketed.

    // I find it very hard (always did) to remember people’s names. //

    I, too. I’ve not found a solution for this – nor for forgetting faces. One that occurs to me now is photographing people and keeping all the faces and names together in an iPhone album. If I were still tutoring, that might work well. Sorry I’ve not thought of it before. Could be a little awkward explaining why I want to photograph them, of course. No pain no gain. Sigh.

  4. ignatius says:

    The only answer to remember a name is to use it immediately. Repeat it back to the person.
    “.I’m Peter.”
    “Oh .hello Peter I’m Sid”
    Then make sure you use it once again then write it down as quickly as you can picturing the person as you write.
    Works for me.

  5. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2020/09/09/what-was-i-saying-just-now/ ) :

    // That’s important because I find, at a late age, my memory getting more and more unreliable – a condition which I am told is rather common. //

    Evidently. Knowing that is consoling. Once or twice a month I need to make some updates on the web site of a social group I belong to. Every time, the procedure is newly unfamiliar to me – though it never changes – and I have to re-learn it. But it’s simple, and it comes back to me. Actually, the little learning curve is kind of fun, but, still, the momentary memory hole is annoying.

    I’ve found that for the occasional task, repetition is the best medicine. If I do it often enough, it stays in memory, and the process is almost automatic. Driving a car is like that, as are making the morning coffee, walking around the neighborhood with my friend the dog, and reciting a familiar poem. If the job to be done is repeated only rarely, though, it’s something of a new adventure every time.

    Happy Sunday.

  6. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2020/09/09/what-was-i-saying-just-now/ ) :

    // Aha! I have remembered to start drafting the next item on this site. //

    Thank you for following up on that. I’ve come to look forward with pleasure to your conversation prompts. It’s curious that people need to be furnished topics in order to get them talking, like cars with run-down batteries, but so it often is.

    This topic, though, intriguing as I find it, has sparked very little conversation. I wonder why. Off the topic of religion? That need not be, I think. Life is a whole, and everything is intimately connected with all things. Not controversial enough? Why does online dialogue so often thrive on controversy and novelty and languish in their absence?

  7. galerimo says:

    Thank you for the topic Quentin. I was intending to make a contribution earlier, but dare I say it, I…. (mumble, mumble!)

    And all that has been said about overcoming the problem of failing memory goes for me too.

    I have become very reliant on the I-Phone calendar, though sometimes I fail to check it!

    We have a regular routine on a Sunday that has me checking my I-phone before dinner for the appointments for the upcoming week. Since that has become fairly well established, I have saved myself some serious omissions.

    Recently I was admitted to hospital and a young Doctor came to check me in.

    I noticed that he was empty-handed. No smart device. No charts. No pen and clipboard.
    “Tell me all about yourself “Galerimo””, he asked, “and what are you expecting here today?”.

    That level of attention really impressed me. Those empty hands suggested an open mind that was well serviced by good memory as well as good manners.

    When a nurse interrupted to say that theatre was ready for me and how much more time would he need with me he replied-

    “Tell them it will be as long as it takes for me to insert this cannula for “Galerimo””. Now that landed well with me too.

    When I need help, I think I want to be in the hands of someone who has integrated their life and professional skills to the extent that they can be their realised self with me. No hiding in the technology or professional “speak”.

    And that means a good memory – where it really counts.

    But memory can also be a very cruel thing. How hard it can often be for someone to move beyond the memory of the last days of a loved one. Especially where that has been a difficult or a pain-filled dying.

    To be able to get back to the lifetime of happy memories while acknowledging the end times without being stuck there – that is a healing and helpful thing to be able to do.

    I often recall during mass that the memorial of Jesus’ death and resurrection is a very unique memory indeed.

    It is not just recalling an historical event but a process of becoming immediately present to that event – as the beautiful prayer “O Sacrum Convivium” serves to remind me always when in the Real Presence either sacramentally or spiritually

    O sacred banquet!
    in which Christ is received,
    the memory of his Passion is renewed,
    the mind is filled with grace,
    and a pledge of future glory to us is given.

    And thank God for pill organisers! Canonize the inventor I say! There is just no way of surviving these wonderful end of life years without them.

    Not what was it we were talking about again? ⁉️

  8. ignatius says:

    David Smith writes:
    //This topic, though, intriguing as I find it, has sparked very little conversation. I wonder why. Off the topic of religion? That need not be, I think. Life is a whole, and everything is intimately connected with all things. Not controversial enough?//

    For me its pretty simple. I have a job which brings me into quite close quarters with an array of folk from all walks of life. As an Osteopath I have perhaps a dozen conversations a day, of up to half an hour each, on health/ life related issues. So I don’t need to chat about memory. On here I am mainly interested in how Catholics think/feel/act in relation to their faith, so that’s what I like to engage in and discuss..So its not that courting controversy is a personal pleasure – just that I have particular things I want to understand and these are mainly concerned with how people approach their lives from a spiritual perspective.

  9. ignatius says:

    Continued:
    It is true to say though that the entirety of any persons life in some way reveals their inner disposition and that, as a person believes, so that person is. Memory itself seems to be a function of inner disposition-which gives us the timbre of our memory. Then there is the objective operation of memory which seems to be metabolic and neural, so some of our behaviour relates to our orientation while at the same time being subject to ‘objective’ constraints.

  10. Alasdair says:

    I “retired” 2 years ago and – this will be familiar to many- have never been so busy. I’ve swapped 9to5 for 24/7. I have to log on to this laptop by 7am each morning to check incoming messages which usually demand responses or actions that very day. Of course its all my own fault – I’ve taken on far too much including, at the prompting of the government, returning as necessary to my old job to cover for sick colleagues during the current emergency. Each the entities for which I give my time don’t appear to be able to understand why I cannot devote even more time to them. I am still having to pay 3 lots of professional registration fees albeit 2 at a reduced retired member rate, as well as keeping myself ahead of registration and PRD requirements. I am using 5 different online conferencing/meeting platforms, only one of which I had even heard of 9 months ago. And, horrors, I have to use Facebook. All this is keeping my mind, and memory active so long as I don’t blow a fuse.

  11. galerimo says:

    Clear evidence here of the remarkable labours of my host and fellow bloggers in their later years.

    I am REMINDED of a friend who died at a very ripe age, once saying how long after his retirement it was, before he could utter with gratitude, the words –

    “Unemployed at last!”

    By way of recognition I also RECALL somewhere in the psalms – not number or verse )you can call me out if my MEMORY has failed me here) when talking about the blessed in old age – “Still bearing fruit when they are old, still full of sap, still green”.

    I was at the bedside of an old lady as she died on Tuesday, and though a total stranger to me, I RECOLLECTED words from God knows where “how precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his holy ones”. Memory surprises in the presence of mystery.

    So now I am fast reaching the conclusion that as my body deteriorates and my memory diminishes it becomes more a function of the Angels! As I am more and more convinced of how they help me BOTH TO REMEMBER and TO FORGET.

    And if that is true then, I would assert, so too is the collective memory we all inherit and to which we contribute during our lifetime – history, I believe, is a function of such memory.

    Our accumulation of all our knowledge and wisdom is held for us to RECALL in the repository of history.

    And what an amazing storehouse it has become. I am dumbfounded when I look up at the moon to think of just how much I have come to know about it and just how much more has become known about it in my lifetime.

    Staring at the same beauty as every generation of humans who ever lived- I have possession of so much more knowledge through the functioning memory of history.

    Only the great archetypes of our psyche are the exception here – king, warrior, magician, lover etc.

    Even if our civilization went up in a puff of greenhouse gases so as to wipe out all our technologies and our recorded history with every shred of learning we had acquired, I believe it would not mater one bit.

    Simply, by dint of our humanity, we would still have access to this great frame of physic knowledge for understanding our behaviour and creating our lives accordingly. It comes from within, this knowledge.

    Maybe it is not possible to forget anything – all we need are more clever ways or better technologies to help us access all that we hold in the vast storehouse of our MEMORY?. Personal and collective.

  12. ignatius says:

    Funny really this ‘retirement’ business. I’m 67 and have no plans for retirement whatsoever. I love my various occupations and intend continue in them till I can no longer. It does seem to me that ones life is ones own tapestry or painting, which we make or paint with the many hues of our individual lives. Trusting and hoping all the while that each thread or brushstroke will fit into the whole and will cause God to smile at God’s handiwork. For myself that means purposeful activity of a kind which pleases the soul and does good on the earth. I guess wages don’t really come into it other than that we need to provide for ourselves and others, with or without our memories!

  13. ignatius says:

    One thing that does interest me is the relationship between ‘memory’ and the act of ‘remembering’
    Its pretty simple when we just see ‘memory’ as a kind of box of tricks.

    To keep the memory box in good condition we know we have to do certain things to keep things working. We have to oil the moving bits and maintain them.

    So if we are capable we choose carefully what we eat, do a bit of research on memory enhancing foods, keep exercising the body and the brain. Along with all that we avoid bad habits, keep good self discipline and generally chivvy ourselves along. Thus we learn a few ways of doing stuff…lists etc. Pretty soon we convince ourselves we are winning.

    So all that lasts about a week or so until, tiring of our bright shining new identity as “good and faithful servants” of our faculties, we trot our all the bad habits and start polishing them up again.
    At this point we either have to weather a bout of the doldrums or simply accept that we have less control over ourselves than we like and just get on with what we can at any given moment. This seems to be the way we learn gentleness with ourselves and our own frustrations!!

    But ‘remembering’ is a much more interesting thing. Especially when we discover that the current nature of our remembering colours our recollection of who we are and where we have been – and in so doing governs our approach to the moment we now face..

    How we view and value the person we have become depends on what is, in the present moment, remembered of our pasts. In other words the person we remember from our perceived pasts, at any moment in the current ‘now’ largely governs our immediate happiness…which, in turn, governs our resilience to deal with the present and all its challenges; among them being the mammoth and byzantine task of remembering where we put the car keys..😊

  14. Iona says:

    There must be a place for the car keys where they are ALWAYS put as soon as you enter the house with them in your hand.

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