I used to think the old folk were making something out of nothing when they complained about forgetting what they went upstairs for. I used to think I’d always done that, even when I was young. Let’s face it, we’ve all done it now and then, haven’t we – gone upstairs, downstairs, into another room, out to the shed, or the garage, got distracted, and come back without the thing we’d gone for?
But recently I’ve taken it to a whole new level. I no longer need the distraction. I’ll open the fridge door and find myself standing there urgently scanning the contents for a clue to what it was I wanted, scanning my memory – ‘come on, concentrate; you’re wasting energy’. So far, it’s always come back to me before the fridge starts bleeping at me – ‘bleep, bleep, bleep; take what you want and shut the door, fool’. Correction – ‘old fool’.
Some people would say I’ve always been a bit… distracted. But in the last few weeks I’ve come down with a really bad case of ‘what was it I came upstairs for?’ And I’m wondering how this will play out in other areas of my life. As a horticulturalist, all those Latin names are rattling around in my head. I’ve got a photographic memory. The photographs are all there, but the indexing system doesn’t work. I can suffer three days of frustration before suddenly, in the bread isle of Sainsburys, I’ll blurt out ‘ Phalaris arundinacea ‘Feesey’! [1.] with a sense of relief matched only by a sufferer of constipation finally managing to squeeze one out after a three-day hiatus (hopefully not in the bread isle at Sainsburys).
I’ve got around three hours of musical repertoire committed to memory, including a fair amount of lyrics (in four different languages – three of which I don’t speak!) And I can’t read music. What could possibly go wrong?
And then there’s the writing. Memory is important when writing a novel. The further in you get, the more information you need to hold in your head – who said what to whom and when, the order of events, what each of the characters know and don’t know, and so on. Get it wrong, and you risk continuity errors, or even making a nonsense of the plot. If you can’t hold these details in your head, things become difficult. You have no choice but to hunt through the text to find them. Actually, it’s a good idea to check you’re getting it right now and again anyway, as memory can sometimes be unreliable.
So far, my ‘What was it I came upstairs for’ syndrome doesn’t appear to be affecting my writing. Perhaps it’s just a phase I’m going through, rather than a permanent mental deterioration.
Sorry – what was I saying..?
text ©graham wright 2021
Image – ‘Ascending & decending’ by M C Escher
[1.] A tall, variegated grass, commonly known as ‘Gardener’s Garters’ – the name of which it actually only took me four hours to recall today (I call that a victory!) Actually, it came to me while I was writing this post, so I see it as a fitting example.