People use the term “selective memory” in a derisive way, as if to accuse a person of only remembering what she wants to remember.
I wish we had that much control over it. If we did, I’d maybe remember that I had chocolate croissant for breakfast, chocolate ice cream after lunch and Mississippi mud cake after dinner, and so would not “forget” and raid my daughters’ Halloween bowl for stale Kisses. I would also decline to recall the painful stuff, and retain only the long walks on the beach and the pina coladas drunk with square-jawed soap opera actors (or I would if I’d ever walked on the beach drinking pina coladas with a square-jawed soap opera actor.)
I interviewed a psychologist recently who told me that we tend to remember that which we found emotionally arousing at the time–like when that boy in 6th grade failed to show up for what you thought was a date to see The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, or when your mom wouldn’t let you accept an invitation to someone’s fabulous country house because your family couldn’t afford one, and hence couldn’t return the favor. Presumably this is why you remember the fun stuff, like that Atari you got for Christmas and the first boy who felt you up.
But that can’t be the whole story; people block out unpleasant things specifically because they were emotionally arousing, and yet we remember the most mundane little scenes and factoids from three-quarters of a lifetime ago. Last night, a group of girls-now-women I went to grade school with came out to a desolate street in Williamsburg to hear me read an essay I wrote. I hadn’t seen three of them except on Facebook for 28 years, and the other only twice in all that time.
Still, we sat down and yammered and swapped memories after the reading as if almost three decades hadn’t intervened. Here are few of the things that stuck out in our minds:
Two of us were in love with Michael Greenberg, who is now one of the Mikes on ESPN’s Mike and Mike show.
Michael Greenberg was in love with tennis, football, and baseball, depending on the season.
We were not necessarily very close with our number one best friends ever in the entire world when we were kids, at whose homes we spent every weekend.
One of us had our 12th birthday party at a swank nightclub in the daytime.
One of us had an elevator phobia.
Two of us had Shaun Cassidy t-shirts.
All the words to several of the songs in Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, our class play in maybe fifth grade.
Pretending to like Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple because it was the cool song to like. (That was me. It seemed critical that I convey that I really related to that song and appreciated it in more than a superficial way.)
Sniffing rush and pretending to feel high. (That was me, too, and I’m still not sure what rush is but it may be affecting my memory even to this day.)
The older brother of a classmate who now lives in a surf shack in Puerto Rico.
The very moment we felt expelled from the cool crowd.
Being in denial about wearing too much makeup.
Being in denial that Sassoon jeans never looked good on anyone (particularly not the NY Rangers).
Almost coming to blows with someone who was later on Baywatch.
That one particular kid, if he were in school today, would likely be labeled ADHD rather than a troublemaker.
A teacher we all liked but who nonetheless could be physically abusive.
A lovely, lost soul of a classmate who moved away and then passed away.
Who knows why we remember certain apparently meaningless moments, with a few meaningful ones sprinkled in.Ã‚Â I sure don’t, but I think I’m addicted to knowing that I’m not the only one who does. Feel free to share yours!
Ooh, la la Sassoon Ron Duguay poster from www.deuceofdavenport.com.
February 8, 2009 at 10:06 am
You’re right, Steph. Memory is inherently selective: who remembers everything? The brain just can’t do it. Like how I remember Shaun’s “Audrey” vividly (“Without Audrey there would be nothing to share, there would be no reason to care”), which was not a hit for him, but am drawing a blank on “That’s Rock n’ Roll,” which was one of his biggest hits.
The word “selective” is used as an accusation, though, to say “You seem to be remembering what you want to remember, and not what I want you to remember.”
February 8, 2009 at 10:28 am
“C’mon everybody, get down, get with it. C’mon everybody, get down, get with it. C’mon everybody, get down, that’s rock n’ roll.” Poetry.