Forgetfulness and Rememberfulness

I talk to myself. A lot. I know, everyone kind of does and no one talks about it (why is that??). But I sometimes feel like the way I do it is slightly different than the majority of people. Tell me if I’m wrong.

It usually starts with the same exchange :

“Hi Sara.”
“Are you okay?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you okay?”
“I don’t know”
“Are you okay?”
“I don’t know. Am I okay?”
“I don’t know.”

I repeat this until one of me has an answer or something else to say. And when I do start the conversation, it’s as if I was already speaking :

“It’s like that thing my mother told me, you know that one time…” “Yeah that one time we were in the car with her” “We’re always in the car when we talk ” “And she was saying she knew this guy who…” “It’s like that thing my mother said ” “She compared me to this guy she knew” “We have our longest discussions in the car” “My mother and I only get along in the car” “My mother told me something about myself I still believe” “I’m blowing things out of proportion” “It’s like that thing my mother said to me” …

It’s kind of like a spiraling interview. I’ve always been interested in the way thought actually occurs in my head, and in other people’s heads. It seems like it follows an organic, if maddening, pattern. On one hand, I have a strand of thought I keep revising in order to make it completely perfect. Sometimes the strand divides, another thought comes out of it. Sometimes my brain jumps ahead to the conclusion I’m working towards (because I already have the conclusion when I begin the thought process), but the rest of my brain is still busy revising the original wording. This is how I spend hours staring at the wall. I’m editing my own thoughts.

And sometimes I’m not staring at the wall. Often, I’m not. I still have to get up, get out of bed, go to school, meet people, talk at parties, etc., etc. This stuff in my head is going on the whole time. The whole. Damn. Time. Sometimes it gets quieter, but it’s always there. And so my conversations in the real world often go like this :

“Hi, I’m Anna,”
“Hi Anna, so what do you do in Paris?”
(We’re always in the car when we talk )
“— so I work as an illustrator —”
(And she was saying she knew this guy who… )
“— at the university of Prague — ”
(It’s like that thing my mother said )
“— my brother, so really I’m new here”
(Ah shit she stopped talking, I missed it — shit shit just try to respond to the last thing she said)
“Oh you have a brother?”
“Um no, I said I was visiting my friend who is LIKE my brother. ”
“Oh shit sorry. I totally spaced out. ”

Usually the person thinks I’m totally uninterested in them and gives up, especially after I have to ask them for their name a third time. Maybe why I have such a hard time making friends?

When I do have a full conversation with someone and pay attention the whole time, that conversation becomes the new obsession. It doesn’t matter if it’s the love of my life or a bank teller talking to me, whether we were talking about feminist theory or the lunch specials — I repeat every word to myself afterwards. I repeat the full conversation, along with the tones of voice each of us used. I do it over and over, sometimes hundreds of times. Sometimes I begin to edit these conversations, to make them go the way I wish they had gone. I edit one tiny detail at a time — this time my voice went up at the end of my sentence. This time I didn’t stutter before I answered her question. I repeat and repeat. This follows the same spiraling pattern as the rest of my thoughts, and it goes on behind whatever I’m doing next. It also means that, while I will obsessively remember certain details (the ones I unconsciously choose to keep), I will completely lose other details (the ones I change or never had in the first place). This isn’t because I don’t care. It’s because I care too much.

When I was a kid, I was more objective about this. I remembered every single conversation word for word and almost never changed them. I remembered everyone’s name in my school, and had memorized their interpersonal details (Anna is friends with Becca but Becca thinks of herself as Emily’s best friend), their birthdays, their birth stones, their horoscopes. I would repeat these details to other people assuming that they cared as much as I did. But as an adult, my brain has gotten tired, and my self-loathing has kicked in. I try to alter my memories as I remember them. I can’t hold all the details in my head anymore, there are too many. My brain feels like a net that used to be tightly woven, and that is becoming less and less useful as it grows.

I try to tell people when I meet them or get involved with them that they can expect me to forget a lot of things. That I won’t remember dates, birthdays, meetings. That I’ll forget the names of all their family members. I have told some professors — this did not go over well — that I won’t turn in my assignments on time (even when we have weekly assignments, my brain can’t make the connection “Monday—Linguistics —Linguistics homework” it just doesn’t happen through all the chatter). “I have a problem with forgetfulness” I tell people. Most of the time, I don’t get the response I was looking for :

“If you can’t remember, it’s because you don’t actually care.”
“Don’t we all have a problem forgetting things? Write it down”
“Haha you’re too young to be talking like that, talk to me when you’re seventy and your mind really starts to go !”
“You’re probably doing too many things, why don’t you cut some things out of your schedule?”
“If you learn to live in the moment, you’ll be a lot more attentive. Have you tried meditation?”

The answer is yes, I have tried meditation. And as I’m sure you can imagine, it’s a real treat.

And yes, I do write everything down. “OMG you’re sooooo organized!” people tell me. I have to be. If I didn’t have a list, I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.

So, I do care. I promise. It’s not like these thoughts about myself and my obsessions are any more interesting than what someone is saying, they are actually usually pretty banal. At worst, I am revising a moment over and over so many times I start to hate the moment itself. I want to just delete the stupid car conversation so that I can listen to what’s going on. But I can’t stop it. Even things and people that grab my interest can’t make my other obsessive thoughts go away forever. They come back. Sometimes with way more force because I’ve been ignoring them. The chatter gets louder and louder. Once a friend said to me “Sometimes I think you don’t hear what I’m saying, and I can’t tell if you’re partially deaf or just really in your own head.”


Sometimes I wonder though, am I not trying hard enough? Maybe if I really took meditation seriously, it would work. Maybe if I made a more conscious effort to memorize information, it would stick. My girlfriend came up with a really silly way for me to do this. She knows I am obsessed with food, and love pizza even though I can’t eat it, so she was like “Any time we have a meeting, just tell yourself at three o’clock there is a PIZZA. Then you’ll definitely remember it.” This actually kind of worked, for one day. Maybe if I made an effort to do this every day I could get better? It sounds so exhausting though. And there are some days when everything is so bad, I just can’t even try.

It’s not always bad though. My obsessing makes me a really good editor of mine and other people’s writing. It brings me to all sorts of conclusions about myself, and others. It means that even though I might not remember that on Thursdays you work late and can’t hang out, I will remember other things, like the exact sound of your laughter when someone makes a joke you really like. I’ll remember all the colors and styles your hair has been in since we met. I’ll remember the exact voice that really awful asshole on the bus insulted us with, and so I’ll be able to do a hilarious impression of him, even two weeks later.

Am I okay?
I guess so.
Am I okay?
I guess so.
Am I okay?
I guess so.

Do any of you think in patterns like this? Do you have other patterns? Please comment, I’m really interested in hearing how your brains work !


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