Ana Veciana-Suarez: Why can’t I remember what I’m supposed to remember?

 

aveciana@MiamiHerald.com

It’s not just where I put my keys that I forget. It’s also where I put my wallet. And the credit card I had to sheepishly retrieve from a gas station and the countless umbrellas I’ve left behind in assorted places. Let’s not mention sunglasses and pens.

More important stuff has tumbled into the deep well between my ears, too. And it’s embarrassing. Like the time I couldn’t remember the name of a high school classmate waiting behind me in line at a dinner. Or when I blanked out in the middle of giving out my home phone number. (Who calls themselves at home anyway?!) The Hubby also claims that I forget entire conversations, conveniently so. When he reminds me, the tug of some vague memory pulls at the membrane of my personal hard drive, just beyond my reach.

At times I feel like I’m losing my mind, as if the dark matter that collects memories, nurtures thought and encourages reasoning has darkened to the point of opacity, a polluted river made muddier by the silt of jumbled up recollections. Wasn’t always like that, though.

Talk about memory with anyone, regardless of age or circumstance, and I guarantee you’ll attract a crowd. Time was when a faltering memory used to be considered one of the many indignities that accompany age, along with wrinkles, failing eyesight, faulty hearing and sagging everything. But I’ve noticed younger people complaining about theirs, too. Teenagers are too distracted by social media. Young parents lapse because of lack of sleep and the middle-aged because of failing synapses.

Studies show that, while memory problems are highly individualized, some cognitive decline can begin in our 20s. It can’t help that in this age of information overload it’s incredibly difficult to concentrate without constant interruptions.

A friend theorizes that our memories are staggering under the weight of knowing so much more than our grandparents and great grandparents did a century earlier. There’s a nugget of truth in this — I’ve had to learn how to operate countless more gadgets than my abuela ever envisioned. I’d like to believe, however, that the brain is like the heart, infinitely capable of adapting to additional stimuli. The more we remember, or the more we love, the more of each function we can manage.

And like love, developing a good memory requires practice and well-honed technique. At least that’s the opinion of Nelson Dellis, the young Miami man who is also the two-time USA Memory champ. In an interview last year, he told me he had an “average brain” — ha! — and that he trained his memory over time until it was a fine, well-oiled machine.

My very average memory, and maybe yours, too, isn’t always so good at differentiating between the trivial and the important. How else to explain why I remember what Prince William said about his new son George but can’t retain the names of the main players in the uprising in Egypt?

Once upon a time, I thought of myself as the human White Pages. I avidly memorized and recited dozens of telephone numbers and addresses that belonged to family and friends. Now I punch them into my cell phone or wait for someone to press the Share button on their contacts. I know only a handful by heart.

The Hubby likes to tell this joke:

The memory is the second thing to go.

So what’s the first?

I forgot.

But my memory loss must not be such a bad thing because, after the third recounting of that gag, I forgot to laugh.

Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana

Read more Ana Veciana Suarez stories from the Miami Herald

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