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Forgetting and Remembering

by Ferida Wolff

As soon as my shiatsu practitioner pressed into the acupressure points along my spine, my body remembered what I had forgotten. Last year I had promised myself to get a massage on a regular basis, at least quarterly. But without a scheduled appointment, a year had passed since my last one and now each pressure point was a testimony to my forgetfulness.

My memory has become somewhat erratic. My friend says that it isnt memory loss due to aging, rather that our brains are so full there isnt room to hold anything more. If something new comes in, it pushes something else out.

Perhaps. It is something I would want to believe because it is preferable to the alternative of losing my little gray cells. But didnt I hear (I forget just where) that we use only ten percent of our brain capacity? If I used up all the cells devoted to remembering appointments, why didnt cells from the other ninety percent of my brain do the decent thing and volunteer? There is no point in memory cells being tied up in quadratic equations that I never use when they could occupy themselves more productively by calling up the title of a good movie I want to recommend or reminding me to send birthday cards out on time.

I dont want to hear about right brain, left brain. Its all my brain and I should be able to direct it to function according to my needs. If my left brain wants to do math, let it remember how to divide three-quarters of a cup of flour by one third so that I can alter a recipe accurately. Or calculate the amount of time it will take me to get home when Im stuck in traffic and hungry.

I dont want my right brain feeling smug here. I dont see it being able to fill out forms without putting on a pitiful show of incompetence. That is not the appropriate time to bring out the creative genius.

Cooperate, you guys.

Supposedly long-term memory remains while short-term or newly learned information tends to evaporate. Sometimes that seems to be true as when my friend became a grandmother recently. She was worried that she wouldnt remember how to care for an infant but she said the knowledge came back instantly despite an almost thirty-year gap in practice. She had no trouble holding the baby the right way or changing a diaper. She burped her new grandchild like a pro and was a source of support for her daughter, as she had hoped to be.

But that isnt always the case. One woman I know who had, over the course of sixty years, propagated thousands of houseplants and now finds she cant remember their names. Surely her extended botanical history would qualify as long-term memory. It distresses her tremendously. What would it hurt for her brain to pitch in with stock from her archives?

I am having trouble remembering the tai chi moves I do every week. They are familiar as I do them in class but my retention goes home with my teacher. I admit to not practicing every day but I would think that after a couple of years the moves should have passed into kinetic if not cognitive memory.

Maybe it is as my friend says, that our brains are just overcrowded and something has to drop out. And maybe Im being too hard on my brain, for at the same time I am forgetting, I find myself remembering. What I am remembering, however, is of a different quality. I may forget phone numbers but I remember concepts. Like how everyone is connected in some way and when we hurt someone else it usually ends up hurting us in return. Or how we have to be a good friend to have one. I remember that forgiving someone who hurt us frees up energy for loving ourselves. And I remember that we have a choice in how we experience life.

So if I have to deal with forgetting and remembering, I will do it on my own terms. It is my recipe for a good existence.

I choose to forget anything that hinders my appreciation of life.

I choose to remember all that makes being alive rich and wonderful.

©2009 Ferida Wolff, from her book, The Adventures of Swamp Woman: Menopause Essays on the Edge.

Editor's Note: Ferida's new book of essays, Missed Perceptions: Challenge Your Thoughts Change Your Thinking, is now available.

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