Friday, January 20, 2012

How to Forget a Memory

One year in high school, I had to take an SAT prep class at a learning center during the summer. I was really angry about this class interfering with my summer, and I told my parents that I didn't want anyone else to know about it. At the time, I didn't understand much about how my memory worked, but I had this feeling that I could sort of "contain" the class, so that it didn't touch the rest of my summer. I knew that if I told people about the class, they might ask me how it was going.  A normal question to ask, but I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want to think about the class outside of class at all.

My first experiment of trying to contain an experience and keep it away from the rest of my experiences actually worked. I have memories of the learning center, but they aren't linked to my life memories. If I think about that summer, the class doesn't even enter my mind. I have a very clear memory of my life, and what happened when, but when I try to recall everything that happened between sophomore and junior year of high school, this prep class doesn't show up anywhere. In fact, the only reason I remember which summer it happened is that I've thought a lot about this memory experiment. Before that, I actually had to count back from the time I took the SATs to figure out which summer the class must have been.  Even that was difficult because I don't have much of a memory of when I took the SATs - studying for them was something that I tried to keep quiet for the same reason - I didn't want it interfering with my life. By not talking about these things, I was able to contain them and keep them from spilling into my life and my memories.

I have a clearer memory than a lot of people. (I say "clearer" rather than "better" because memory is reconstructive. My memories are clear in mind because I've thought about them and reconstructed them so many times, but that does not mean that they are 100 percent accurate). When my friends or cousins are talking about something that happened a long time ago, I'm usually the one who has the clearest memory of what happened when. When my parents are trying to remember what year something happened, I'm usually the one who knows. Because even if I don't associate an event with a particular year, I will associate it with what grade I was in or something that was going on in my life at the time, which I do connect with a particular year. By not talking about  SAT preparation with anyone, I prevented myself from linking those memories to anything else that was going on, which is why I can't instantly recall which year I took the SATs. 

I love the idea of containing memories like that, but I don't see myself doing it anymore. I really like to tell my friends everything that I'm doing and I don't like to keep anything to myself. What really enabled me to keep the SAT stuff a secret in high school was that I cared about my image - I wanted to be seen as the girl who spent her summer practicing singing, dancing, and acting, not studying for the SATs.  I got instant gratification out of keeping things private, because I got to present myself as someone whose only focus was getting to Broadway, and that made me feel really good. Now that image doesn't matter to me as much, having someone think that writing is the only thing I do doesn't make me feel as good as it once would have.  And without that positive feeling, I don't have any real motivation for keeping something private that I'd rather tell. I don't see myself containing memories again in the near future, but I thought I'd share the experience. I'd be interested to see if this method works for anyone else.

No comments:

Post a Comment