John Leonard an audience of one.

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Memories revisited

I wrote yesterdays’ piece entirely off the top of my head, with few edits, and sadly it shows a little. It’s not quite as clear and well written as I would like, but the point of the 30 day exercise is to encourage greater volumes of public writing to make me more relaxed about it - but to what end result, I don’t know yet. The journey is the destination at present.

Although it was written while I was inspired by Matt Gemmells’ piece - his work, obviously, is better quality - I have a different motive. I wrote it because I am scared of losing my memory. The writing was an exercise in recollection; could I, while writing, recall scenes from my childhood? Apparently I can, but as the character in the piece got more and more frustrated, so did I. My recollection of my childhood is exactly as it was written - disjointed, unconnected, and a series of pictures with the occasional associated burst of sound or emotion.

I’m 43 now. I’ve been through a horrible illness, and had other experiences that any normal grown man would be able to recognise, but the one thing that strikes fear and terror into my heart is the loss of memory. I’m not talking about the temporary loss of a particular experience - I’ve had a few I’m keen to forget - but that sudden realisation that a whole chunk of my past has gone missing, or even worse that it’s gone missing and I never know that it’s gone.

Over the years I’ve built a series of systems to hold up my creaking memory. A scaffold, if you will. It requires rigid maintenance and suffers badly if I’ve been lax. I place things by the door if I want to remember them, or pile them up around the things I need to leave the house - like my keys. I live by my to-do lists in Omnifocus and Asana and have to come to terms with the need to record everything I need to do in these systems, or they will disappear. My inbox and assorted folders are carefully organised to take away the need to remember where important data is stored and let muscle memory take over. I store every work email in carefully sorted nested folders. Search and audit trails are my personal religion.

This rigid adherence to systems, in order to support my failing memory, can be a burden. I adopt semblances of OCD when preparing for a day to come. I get pedantic and unsettled if my chain of events to prepare for the next day is broken or interrupted. I will scold myself relentlessly if I find out I have forgotten to do a simple task. My wife is thankfully tolerant of my need to record tasks the moment they are assigned - she knows by now that if I take a task without recording it, it will disappear like dust after mere minutes, and sometimes I can deny all knowledge of being told it in the first place.

And as if by magic, we return to the core of todays’ post. It’s that last sentence that captures all that I am scared of. I can be told something and not only forget what I was told, but forget that I was told it at all. It’s as if the event of the telling never happened, or happened to someone else. The fact that this happens to me - and can happen at any moment - is the pinnacle of my fear. If the scope of this forgetting were to expand, I would likely not know it was happening to me and before long all that is ‘I’ would erode with it.

I have no idea how common this is or how foolish I may seem by being scared of it. I’m wary of doing the research in case it tells me what I don’t want to know. Instead I write about it, and hope that exposing my fear to the cold light of day will cause it to disappear as easily as that instruction to empty the kitchen bin.