For a long time, I’ve been losing my memory. I can’t pinpoint when exactly it started. I do remember that back in graduate school, around eight or nine years ago, it started getting difficult to comprehend things. I’m not sure of the specific reason why, either–there were a lot of factors, physical and mental. In any case, my brain is Teflon.
In my mind’s eye, I can see myself in my ugly plaid uniform in third grade, in the little school library, scanning each shelf and selecting books based on how wide the spine was. I read my first classic at nine years old. Where’d that girl go? How could she have been replaced by someone afraid of some pieces of paper stained here and there with a little black ink and who instead watches YouTube from morning til night? Who would rather buy stuffed animals than books? (Actually the stuffed animal thing has always been the case with me, but still.)
So, the other day, since my house is inescapable, I went down into the basement and dug up some books from college and graduate school. It seemed brilliant at the time to major in philosophy and political theory. Ask my bank account how brilliant that idea was. (The loan companies love me though.)
Anyways. I flipped through texts I know for a fact that I read and wrote A papers about, but I don’t understand what the words mean. I only know they’re my books because of the underlining and the notes in my own handwriting. Why I underlined those things, I don’t know. And I’m a little annoyed at myself for making my books ugly. But at least they provide some evidence that I did read them.
Now the books don’t feel like they belong to me anymore. They laugh at me and call me an impostor. What on earth are they doing here in my room? One disingenuously invited me over and it looked interesting, so I took it. Dirty trick. I open it only to find huge dense paragraphs and tiny, crowded print.
I put it back and read a Grumpy Cat book instead.
I don’t remember the last time I was intimidated by a book. Calculus, maybe. No, definitely. (Only textbook I ever sold back.) And The Archaeology of Knowledge. Is it a document or a monument? I still don’t know.
It’s really depressing to read your old work and feel as though you wouldn’t be able to write that paper today if you were in the same class right now. Were all those A’s just pity A’s from professors who felt sorry for me? Maybe they were afraid I’d hurt myself if I didn’t get an A?
It’s probably normal to forget a lot of stuff from college, but I think I’ve forgotten more than the average person. I look at my transcript and I see course names I don’t even recall and have no clue what they were about. Some of them make me seriously question what the hell I was thinking. Now I think the silverfish that crawl out of them get more out of the books than I do. (GOD I hate those things. And book lice. Learn from me and keep your books out of humidity.)
Worse, this memory loss spills over into other areas of life. It’s really embarrassing at work when I’m asked to do something and forget. Over and over. I worry that they think I’m stupid or negligent. I’m not sure which one is worse. Stupid is humiliating, but negligent is culpable, so I think I’ll settle for stupid. Plus, negligent implies that I have some control over it, which I don’t, so I don’t think I have a choice anyway.
And forget about using the stove if I’m home alone.
Recently, I’ve decided to start re-reading books from college, even if it takes me forever to get through one book, trying paragraph by paragraph to comprehend. A friend recently introduced me to his Method, in which you get a stack of books you want to read and read ten pages or a chapter and then move on the next in a very regimented, yet ADD fashion. I’ve actually made some progress doing this because I don’t need to get intimidated by trying to read a book cover-to-cover, but in little pieces so I can comprehend it more thoroughly. Plus, because it takes me a while now, cycling through the books means I don’t have to struggle through one book at a time.
I’ve begun reading a history of political philosophy; “Human, All Too Human” by Nietzsche; a theological study of the Gospel of John; “The Plague” by Albert Camus (seemed appropriate); a book on creative writing; a book about transformation through suffering; “No Greater Love: A Biblical Walk Through Christ’s Passion” by Edward Sri; “12 Rules for Life” by Jordan Peterson; and, lastly, “The Double” by Dostoevsky. I just finished “Hunger” by Knut Hamsun.
Actually, only the first two are from college, but I’ve got to get through the history of political philosophy before I move on to all my other stuff. And you know what? It doesn’t matter if I set out to read all my college books and end up buying all new ones. Because no one is grading me, and I resolve not to beat myself up for not sticking rigidly to certain books, only for not trying to achieve anything all.
We’ll see how it goes. At least the positive side to re-reading books you don’t remember is that it’s all brand new to you, so the end is always a surprise. And maybe I still won’t remember anything. But I have zero chance of remembering anything at all if I don’t pick up a book and try. I am trying to live out a new philosophy (for me, in my life)–to stop giving up before I try and then flogging myself for failing.
I’ve made some big mistakes in my life due to my own conceit. Everyone patted me on the head and told me how smart I was, so I never had to try. One hurdle was placed before me and I screwed up, big time. That’s storytime for another day. Bottom line is, I can’t be arrogant anymore because I proved that, yes, I too can make mistakes. Huge ones. So I realize now that I can’t be ashamed at how much I have forgotten, that I have to accept that believing I was smart did not prevent me from making mistakes, that I am not owed a perfect memory and intellect, and that I need to work on things just as much as anyone else does.
Have you ever had to start over again from the beginning?