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February 04, 2003

Middle Age Memory

Friedrich --

I was leafing around an intro-to-economics book last night, and was wondering idly why I so much enjoy intro-to books these days. I always have, but in recent years my appetite for them has gotten ridiculous. When I get interested in a new subject -- say, econ -- I'll read not one but five or ten intro-to books on it. And I'll do so with great pleasure.

Bizarre, no? Is it that I'm trying to pound the basics into a reluctant brain? I recall that in my teens and twenties my brain seemed to soak up information almost against my will. These days, all I seem to want to do -- and maybe all I'm capable of doing -- is paddling around and around the shallow end.

I simply can't learn or remember specifics like I once did, and I can't juggle the same number of facts simultaneously either. For example, despite being an architecture buff, I can't for the life of me keep straight the field's technical terms (although my brain seems to be fond, for some reason, of the word "spandrel"), and I'm always having to go back to my architecture-reference books to brush up once more. God only knows what kind of mess I'd make of it if I tried to teach myself technical poetry terms. Trochees, dactyls ... It'd all be in one ear and out the other. Or else I'd read intro-to-poetry-technique books one after the other. Which I'd probably enjoy. But it's as though my hard drive, or RAM, or whatever, has simply maxed out. No more room on this boat.

Alas. It was fun having a quick and absorbent brain. These days, learning has become something else for me, and it's no longer a matter of seizing and retaining new facts. I find that what I'm capable of instead is moving the furniture around some, cleaning out the closets, and familiarizing myself in general ways with new neighborhoods. I find that when I return to a subject I've looked into as an adult, it isn't completely foreign to me. I feel like I've been there before. I can't necessarily find my way around, and the details escape me. But I have a sense of having once visited, and bits and pieces of it do coalesce.

And then it's back to the intro-to books...

How's your memory these days? The same as it once was? At this point, I'm just glad I'm still capable of remembering how mine once was. Hey, maybe the time has come to start pretending that I've developed "wisdom."



posted by Michael at February 4, 2003


You may be being too harsh on yourself. No one can remember all those architectural terms. I can't even pronounce some of them (clerestory for example: cle REST ory or CLEAR story?) I mean, I understand what is meant by post and lintel architecture (I think) but I'm a little unclear on the exact definition of a lintel.

I'm pretty good with details. Words, on the other hand, come and go. I interrupt my conversations, frequently, with a sort of form of verbal charade: "Would you please hand me know, one of those paper thingies in the middle of the table that you use to wipe your mouth. Begins with an 'N' I think. What do you call that again?"

Anyway, your recourse to introductory books is a wise one, I think. I understand that forcing yourself through these mental gymnastics helps to stave off dementia.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 5, 2003 12:54 AM

I;m only in my mid-30's, but I've noticed I can't memorize song lyrics anymore. A song I heard once or twice in my teens comes on the radio, and I can sing along perfectly. Yet I listen to new stuff and it never sinks in, even after many repeated listens...

Posted by: jimbo on February 5, 2003 4:44 PM

Never been able to remember details. I can however, remember conversations and plots almost perfectly.

Almost. Like many Americans, I now find certain memories superceded by the Simpons parody of the original.

Posted by: j.c. on February 5, 2003 6:05 PM

FvB -- If things keep going this way, I'll soon be reading children's books, not introductory texts. Or maybe just the same one children's book, given that I'll forget it within minutes of having finished it.

J.C., Jimbo -- Maybe pop culture and the Web both will supplant our memories. Maybe they'll have our memories for us. And it'll be a kind of redemption.

Wait. Didn't Philip K. Dick write a novel on this theme? Now, did I read it?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 5, 2003 11:10 PM

Check out

Posted by: IVWrites on March 12, 2003 1:26 PM

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