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We all have those momentary slips of the mind. You know, like why did I walk into the bedroom? Where are my reading glasses? Or, as recently happened, telling myself that when I'm done feeding the cat I'll sew a button on that jacket only to find, when I wanted to wear it the next day, I had forgotten to do so.
On Wednesday, my weekly morning for the farmers' market and the supermarket, I left the house armed with a list. Not the usual list of generalities – fruit, veggies, fish; a detailed list with what I need for a weekend dinner party. On the drive, I remembered that I had not noted the cooking chocolate I need for a dessert. No problem. It's in the same aisle with the walnuts that are on the list.
Ninety minutes later, as I set down packages in the kitchen, the thought appeared crystal clear in my brain: Damn, I forgot the chocolate. Why couldn't I have remembered when I still at the store? Only one @#$%^& item that wasn't written down and I blow it. Again. It happens all the time.
So far, the commonmplace ailments of age haven't bothered me much. I can live with the occasional unexplained ache or pain. I am resigned to falling asleep at an hour when I used to be eating dinner. I've learned how to deal with a leaky pipe when I sneeze or laugh. But this short term memory issue is the most annoying side effect of getting old. It's more than annoying; it's infuriating, a waste of precious time.
It's not that I ever had a great memory for short-term needs. Until I bought a key and letter holder to hang next to the door many years ago, it could take half an hour to get out of the house while I searched for keys. From the time I was a kid, I've found myself wondering why I've walked into a room. It is common for me stare into a kitchen drawer with a completely blank mind when the unpeeled potatoes are right there staring back at me.
But it all seems more frequent now – one of these things happens almost every day. Maybe more and I've forgotten. How would I know?
I blame it on the fact that I started making daily lists when I was in high school and I've never stopped. Work or personal, if it's not written down it doesn't happen. I make such a fetish of my daily lists that I use a special kind of notebook and am out of sorts when I've forgotten to purchase a new supply before the current one runs out.
Daily lists are in addition to computer reminders I've set to ding at me before birthdays, anniversaries, doctor appointments, scheduled meetings and the like. Half a century of lists have left me with no practice at holding anything in mind. Mostly it is temporary information that slips away so easily. Long term and newly acquired knowledge I need to have available at a future time seem to be intact. But again, how would I know?
Then there is my up/down, left/right, yes/no problem. Whichever is the answer doesn't stick with me unless I write it down to refer to later. If you have given me driving directions with only two turns, I will undoubtedly screw up one of them.
On my last job before retiring, there was a big project on the boards. It was expensive and needed a well-considered decision about going forward or not. Five or six of us spent a week researching our individual areas of expertise, then we reported back to one another in a hour-long meeting, weighed the possibilities, probabilities, etc. and a decision was reached.
Back at my desk, I had no memory of if we had made it a go. I tried to recall the conversation and I checked my notes; there was nothing that helped me recall. Only a couple of minutes had passed but I couldn't resurrect the decision. It took some careful stealth maneuvering with my colleagues for me to determine what we had decided without admitting my lapse.
Incipient Alzheimer's or other kind of dementia doesn't worry me. My complaints seem to be relatively common among healthy old people – and some young ones. I'm just really annoyed at the wasted time and that nagging feeling, too often, that something important has been left undone.
I've recently created a new procedure that is beginning to help with some kinds of forgetfulness. When I think, perhaps in the middle of writing a blog post, that the deck needs sweeping, I attach the thought, “I wonder if I'll remember to do this.” It is working more often than not - unless I've forgotten when it doesn't.
If any of this sounds familiar to you – aside from similar experiences of your own - here's a laugh: I just discovered that this is a reasonable facsimile of a story I published here only seven months ago. But I have finished writing this post now and there are other things on my list today, so you're stuck with it. I'm counting on your memory being as poor as mine to indulge me in this repetition.
EDITORIAL NOTE: The second episode of Life (Part 2) has been published at the PBS website, this one on generation gaps. Here is a clip:
You can watch the full episode here.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lois Cochran: Living with Animals