HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:
What was I supposed to do again?
I have lists, I have lists of lists, I have Siri, I have three, count 'em, three calendars.
And yet, and still, I always have this vague disturbing feeling that I've forgotten something.
I remember, I know I do, that I used to be able to remember stuff. One thing I do recall--when I first met Alison Gaylin, at Thrillerfest in New York-she was surrounded by a group of laughing people. I thought--wow. That woman has FRIENDS. And they all seem to be so amused about something! At least, they were all smiling and patting Alison on the back and generally being supportive and affectionate.
I found out later they'd all been at a restaurant, and some stranger had--remember, Alison?-- thrown up on Alison's shoes.
I'd be just as happy to forget that. And I bet Alison would too.
But memory is on Alison's mind a lot these days--her brand new novel of suspense AND SHE WAS--explores what it would be like if...
YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS…
Perfect autobiographical memory. I have to say, the idea of it alone is enough to send someone like me, who has a pretty good -- okay probably too good of a memory of certain events in my life -- into a quivering panic. I first heard about this very real condition – the technical term for it is hyperthymesia -- around five years ago, from a magazine article my husband showed me. The article detailed a man who remembered every single day of his life from start to finish, in perfect detail and with all five senses.
“Could you imagine?” my husband said, his mind going to spy movie plots in which pages of complex codes could be read once by this guy and stored in his mind forever.
“No,” I replied. “I couldn’t imagine.” Because I, on the other hand, was thinking about that time in fifth grade when I ripped my pants. Would I really want to relive, with all five senses, the moment of choosing the ill-fated pants, without being able to stop it? Would I want the shriek of ripping cloth in my ears, the feel of cool air where it shouldn’t have been, the heat in my face, the peels of my classmates’ laughter… Would I want that happening all over again?
And that’s just one of many things I’ve experienced in my life that makes me so grateful, every day, for my ability to forget.
Here’s my theory: As we age, memories shift and shuffle in our minds, kind of like clothes in a washing machine. Some retain most of their color, while others fade and fray – and believe me, that’s good. Our fallible minds give us that aptly named thing called perspective -- the ability to keep the past in its place and move on from sad or embarrassing experiences. Right? If you don’t believe me, just ask the Men in Black.
There are, of course, plusses to having perfect autobiographical memory. You’d win most arguments, you probably wouldn’t misplace your keys, you’d be very well-suited for certain jobs (journalist, lawyer, private investigator… Marilu Henner is hyperthymestic, and I’m sure it served her well as an actress, too. )
But none of that appeals to me, though. If I had to relive, say, recovering from wisdom tooth surgery in exchange for always remembering where I put my keys well, I’d rather go key-free.
Still, the appeal of perfect memory is not lost on me, and there’s one positive aspect that I find too powerful to resist. I thought about this too after reading that article – and ultimately, it was why I decided to make my new series protagonist, Brenna Spector, hyperthymestic.
I would love to be able to close my eyes and fully remember one of the Dodgers games my dad and I used to go to – down to the taste of the hot dogs and the specific shouts of the crowd, the feel of the bleachers under my legs and the sun on my face, to my dad’s patient smile as he taught me how to fill out the scorebook, his eyes aimed at the field. More than anything, I would love to experience that wonderful safe feeling I had as a kid but took for granted – the feeling of everyone I ever loved still being alive.
My dad died ten years ago, and if I could spend one more day with him, even if it was just in my mind, I’d go through most anything for that.
Even ripping my pants. Again.
HANK: So, Reds, how's your memory these days? (Have you heard of any ways to make it better? Love to hear 'em...) Would you like to have perfect recall? Like Alison's baseball games, what do you remember that you know you can't really remember? What would you like to have back?
Alison Gaylin’s book AND SHE WAS (Harper) is the first in a new series featuring Brenna Spector – a missing persons investigator blessed, and cursed, with perfect autobiographical memory.
(Mary Lou Henner is one – check out this 1992 exercise video. Sixteen seconds in, she remembers the exact date – and day – that she came up with her workout routine! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mojyHlhyyRU) shuffling in our minds as we age with certain events taking precedence over others, which fade and soften and disappear completely. It’s how we get that aptly-named perspective and move on.