Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

Memory - Essay from Newsletter 92

Looking back, what do you see

The year in review

It’s that time of year when a good number of the podcasts I listen to are either on hiatus, airing re-runs, or taking a look back at the year.

How accurate is that look back?

This year seems extra challenging because 2021 felt so much like an extension of 2020.

For those of us who still are mostly staying at home, there’s little to punctuate our memories with signposts. “Oh yeah, that was before our trip to ."

But even in the so-called “before times”, it was hard to look back and remember what really happened during the past year.

Past year? Try past month.

Month? How about a full and accurate memory of what just happened.

Just now

There’s a new British game show that I’ve been watching named, “I literally just told you.”

The contestants begin with a round of standard quiz questions that they try to answer. While they do, the host might add a detail or two or have a seemingly side conversation with a contestant, a member of the crew, or someone in the studio audience.

Two women sit in front of laptops during all of this and write questions about what is happening right in front of everyone.

In one episode, the host mentioned in passing that one of the contestants looked like a particular celebrity, later another contestant was asked for that celebrity’s name.

In another episode, a contestant mentioned she was going to give her winnings to her parents so the show displayed a picture of her parents at some cafe. Later, another contestant was asked for the color of the dad’s suitcase which was clearly visible next to the dad in the picture.

The bag was bright pink.

I couldn’t remember. I kind of thought it was a reddish brown.

It was bright pink.

The contestant guessed black.

Some of the questions are quite difficult. In one episode the host did a fake ad read during what was supposed to be a break in the action. When he came back he asked one contestant for the last three digits in the phone number he gave out in the ad.

It is striking how little I remember about things that I’ve just seen - easy or hard - and I don’t think my memory is better or worse than anyone elses.

But I do worry.

My keys

Kim always kept her keys in a drawer in the kitchen.

When she walked in the house she would always take the time to put them there.

She had a terrible memory but she never had to think about where she left her keys.

Her coffee cup was another matter. She’d bring it with her into the living room or dining room and get engaged in a task that required her to move to another room.

She’d not only forget where her coffee cup was, she’d forget that she was in the middle of drinking it.

Hours later she’d be back in whatever room she’d left it in, look down and say, “Oh, there’s my coffee.”

I’ve been doing more of that lately.

When Maggie’s home I’ll call out to her and ask where I left my glasses, keys, television remote, or whatever I’ve misplaced.

Sometimes, when she’s in her own home I’ll text her to ask her where the missing thing is.

It’s not that I expect her to know - whether she’s home with me or not - but sometimes the very act of asking is enough to prompt me.

Until a couple of weeks ago, I would often turn to Annabelle and ask, “ok puppy, where are my house keys?”

And yes, I can see Kim shaking her head and answering, “if you’d put them in the drawer when you come in the house, you would know where they are.”

Sure. But that’s not the point.


Unless something is wrong with us, our memory as we age is no better or worse than it was when we were younger.

Unless something is wrong.

I do worry about dementia. Is it worse if I notice my memory leaving me or if I don’t notice.

I think I want to know.

I just re-read “The Thursday Murder Club.” By re-read I mean listened to the audio book.

There are features in Osman’s storytelling and use of tenses that are similar to my technical books and some devices I may adopt.

This story is about some murders and a group of elderly people in assisted care who help solve the puzzle.

It’s funny. Years ago I took a television writing class from Second City and that was the idea for a pilot I wrote. A procedural where these older retirees would solve puzzles brought to them by relatives and members of the nursing home staff.

Anyway, Elizabeth, who is kind of the ringleader, writes down a question each day about something she has observed. It could be an important date or the make of a particular car.

Two weeks later she opens that page and tries to answer the question as a test of her memory. Once she checks the answer, she sets the question for two weeks in the future.

Every day she tests her memory hoping that she will know before those around her.

Might be worth trying.

Making Memories

Like “I literally just told you”, Elizabeth is making a new memory and then checking to see that it is remembered.

Looking back at 2021, it is harder to separate the memories when so much of each day is the same.

Was that June? Wait, really? It was February? Who knew?

It’s one of the nice things about having a Christmas tree in the house - although this years tree was skinny and the branches didn’t really fall. It was one of those trees that Linus would give a pep talk for.

But Maggie decorated it anyway.

Because it was a smaller tree, Maggie took a basket up to the attic and brought down a curated subset of the ornaments.

I was starting to say that memories is the nice thing about having a Christmas tree in the house.

The ornaments serve as those signposts to important moments in the past.

Each ornament is a memory. Maggie hung Elena’s ornaments as well as her own. She hung her mother’s ornaments. There’s a mini pots and pans set that Kim bought for me our first Christmas so that I’d be represented on the tree.

There’s a Pooh - based on a Shepard illustration from the book and not the Disney Pooh.

This year there’s a new ornament.

Maggie’s gift to me was a cross-stitched ornament with Annabelle’s face and name framed beautifully.

It’s a great way to put a bow on the year.

The ornament is a new happy memory that we’ll take out each year.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 92. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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