Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Memories by Rote

Before I begin, let me just say that No, I won't be ending this post with a video of Barbara Streisand (or anyone for that matter) singing "Memories" from Cats.  I'm in theater.  I know better.

I've been thinking about memory lately because I just finished Antonia Fraser's book Must You Go? about her life with Harold Pinter.  It was only a few years ago that I discovered that the two of them were married.  I find that odd because I love Antonia Fraser's biographies and Harold Pinter, well, he's Harold Pinter of              the                     pauses.  (Oh, and some great plays).  The book intersperses her diary entries with her memories of that time.  The book has made me want to keep a diary or journal of my everyday life.  Not that I plan on publishing my memoirs anytime soon or in the future.  Of course that hasn't stopped me from coming up with titles for them.  It'll be interesting to look back and see what I remember or how I remember the events of my life.

I'm also thinking about memory because I just started reading Joshua Foer's book Moonwalking with Einstein which is about (as he puts it) the art and science of remembering everything.  He's the brother of Jonathan Safran Foer who wrote Everything is Illuminated which was made into a movie with Ewan McGregeor (I think, I can't remember).  Anyway, he begins by discussing the Memory Championships where contestants have to learn a long sequence of numbers in a short amount of time.  My question is obvious:  Do these contestants remember the sequence the day after the championship?  I'll let you know.

I think this memorizing is quite different from memories.  Memorizing facts or numbers or lines (in my business) is different than remembering an event.  Or at least I think so.   I've always been good at memorizing facts for a short period of time and then totally forgetting about them.  The facts that stick with me are ones with a story associated with them.  In Middle School, we had a test on states and their capitals.  I couldn't remember the capital of Idaho so I cheated and looked on someone's paper.  I'll never forget now that it's Boise. 

What always impresses me are people who can recite full pages of dialogue from movies they have seen once or twice or remember that Elijah Wood was in  Back to the Future II.  And incidentally, Elijah Wood was actually in Everything Is Illuminated, not Ewan McGregor.  I constantly mix up actors and facts and things.  It doesn't prevent me from guessing wildly at Quizzo and convincing my teammates that I'm right.

So I guess I'd say that remembering facts is different from remember events that happen to us.  Of course the facts of the events may be fuzzy to us but the feelings are still there, or have they changed as well?  It's a funny thing, memory.  I wish I had a point but I don't so I'll leave you with a quote from Harold Pinter:

The past is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember, or pretend you remember. 


  1. i have to work on my memory...i can lay down some movie lines...but when i am dropping 3 minutes of fast beat poetry its not coming as fast as i would like...

  2. I can recall all sorts of lines or phrases from movies, novels, etc., but am always amazed by those who can quote entire poems or prose passages from memory. I'm great at remembering all sorts of trivial facts, like who was in a movie, or when something happened, or the first appearances of certain comic book characters and the like, hence my nickname among friends as "the god of trivia." I can also remember my lines, however long, whenever I've been in a theatrical production.

    I was going to add something clever to close this comment with... but I seem to have forgotten it.

    P.S. -- As regards your first paragraph... Thank you!

  3. Sometimes I long for a handbook on how to forget rather than how to remember. Is memory an over-valued function? Perhaps the perfect balance are memories that are gently dozing under the surface and can be awakened with the slightest nudge of stimuli.

  4. As Cyndi Lauper once sang,"Boise Will Be Boise".......