Monday, February 13, 2017
Nicholas Reid reflects in essay form on general matters and ideas related to literature, history, popular culture and the arts, or just life in general. You are free to agree or disagree with him.
To do this reassures me that my memory is still functioning.
It happened like this. One day I was thinking about the Benny Goodman Quartet, pioneers of racially-integrated music and brilliant exponents of small combo swing jazz. “Ah yes,” I thought, “Benny Goodman on clarinet, Lionel Hampton on vibes, Gene Krupa on drums and….and…and…”
And for the life of me I couldn’t remember the name of the pianist.
I trundled through the names of all the great jazz pianists I could think of, from James P. Johnson to Oscar Peterson, without coming up with the right one. I was out of reach of the internet and it took about half the day before the right name, Teddy Wilson, popped into my mind. Naturally it did so long after I had stopped straining to recall it.
As for the other two names, they come from straining, unsuccessfully, to recall the name of the comedian, Rob Brydon’s sparring partner, who plays the role of “Alan Partridge”; and the name of the guy who wrote the poem “Peter Grimes”. Again, the names returned to me only long after I’d given up straining to remember them.
Whenever I lose, like this, some information that I thought was at my (mental) fingertips, I have momentary fears about premature Alzheimer’s or what patronising people call “senior moments”.
Do our memories really become enfeebled as we get older? Even if we don’t have Alzheimer’s, is it the fate of all of us, as we age, to lose things that used to be part of our readily-retrievable information?
But I don’t really think I’m descending into forgetful senility, and I have an alternative suggestion to explain loss of specific information. Could it be that we simply try to remember too damned much, and there actually is a limit to what the mind can reasonably recall?
It’s an obvious fact that we none of us remember everything. There was the famous case in Russia a few years ago of a man cursed with a total memory – and curse it was. He could remember every meal he’d ever had, every person he’s ever met, every tree or leaf he’d ever seen, and it totally stultified him as his memory always overwhelmed the present moment. We are not meant to remember everything. For the healthy functioning of the mind, we should remember only what is important to us, only what we have specifically chosen to remember.
And perhaps much that I try to remember is trivia that really doesn’t merit recall.
Even so, as I drive to work I say “Teddy Wilson. Steve Coogan. George Crabbe,” just to reassure myself that my mind is capable of recalling things.