Monday, August 1, 2011


Some years back, when the economy allowed me to be a decorator more than a writer, I was busy installing a new sitting room for clients when I happened to overhear the husband speaking to a guest about me in the other room. Naturally, I motioned to my assistant to be quiet so I could hear what was being said.
She remembers everything. In detail. Even colours. I swear, she’s like Rain Man.”

Hummm. Rain Man? A compliment? I wasn’t exactly certain, and the stifled laughter that emanated from the vacinity of my assistant didn’t make me feel any better. But I have to admit that I do have a pretty good memory. I like to think that’s a good thing.

I recently finished reading a book that made me even more appreciative of both memory and the intricacies of human thought. Turn of Mind, a first novel by writer Alice LaPlante is a captivating read. Written in the first person, it tells the story of a brilliant surgeon who is in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. When the story opens her neighbour and best friend has been murdered. She is the prime suspect in the crime, but cannot even remember her friend is dead, much less the facts surrounding the event. Some days she is startlingly lucid, some days find her incapable of grasping even the basics of everyday life.

Reading this has made me think a lot this week about memory. As someone who relies on her memory as much as I do, the mere notion of losing even a part of it is chilling. Many articles are written today about the importance of protecting one’s memory. Everything from sleep to stress control, crossword puzzles to exercise is recommended. Now I love a good crossword puzzle as much as anyone, but I’d like to add another helpful hint if I could.
Simply pay attention.
Slow down.
When the breeze blows in from off the sea and finds you, stop for a moment to think about the way it feels as it brushes your cheek. Remember the salty fragrance of nature’s perfume. Let your eyes gaze out over and into the blue of the water till you can see that colour behind closed eyes in your sleep.
After all, none of us can remember what we don’t notice in the first place.

Back in those busy decorating days of mine, I had a painter who worked for me and who frequently brought his ten year old daughter with him to the job site. Candace was a delightful child, with a rural Southern accent that she wielded with what could only be described as a rapid-fire drawl. One day, during a break in my work, I sat with her as she regaled me with her many tales of schoolgirl woe. Chief of these was her extreme consternation over her inability to, as she put it, “fergit” what she was learning.
“I mean for goodness sake I know the year when Haydn met Mozart! 1784! I know when the Magna Carta was put out! 1215! I don’t have nothing to do with all that!
Why can’t I Fergit It??!!

As I sat there, equally stunned and entertained by her tirade, I gently tried to tell her that the point was not to forget. Memory is precious, I told her. Like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag, it magically expands to hold a multitude of wondrous treasures. But we need to be careful for we cannot always control what we place inside it. Therefore it is important to concentrate on beauty and goodness as much as we can. This helps make a happy life.

Of course she looked at me like I was crazy.
But I can only hope she’s come around to that way of thinking by now.

Watercolour above by Lincoln Seligman