Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Baffled King Composing Hallelujah

Photo: Thomas Shahan, Flickr Creative Commons

I really hate my memory. It's a steel trap for trivia. I'll even admit that I like that part, but when it comes to numbers and names, I'm hopeless. When my wife and I moved into our first house, it literally took me months to memorize my own phone number. I can't even tell you the exact date of the birthdays of my parents or my sister. It's not even like we're on the outs or anything. We're a boringly functional family and always have been. I've just never been able to remember more than the months of their births. Times tables? Screw 'em. I never really memorized anything beyond the sixes except the tens and elevens, and I actually allowed the fours to fall away pretty soon after attempting to memorize them. The exception to this are dates relating to my wife. I can tell you the dates of our first kiss, wedding, and my son's birth without pause.

Names are just as bad. Unless I considered you really important in my life, I'm going to struggle to pick up your name and will likely lose it completely within hours or days. I do manage to memorize the names in my classes each semester, but it does take about a week and a half for me to get them all down and I only manage to keep them in my memory because I have to work with them about five days a week each semester. If I come back from Christmas break and a kid from the fall passes me in the hall and tells me hello, I'm sure to have already forgotten their name. It's pathetic. It's not like I don't care about the kids. It's just that I can't keep track of them all. The only kids I'm going to be able to keep straight are the ones I've had multiple times or the outliers. I can tell you the names of the kids who made my job miserable and I can tell you the names of the kids I really enjoyed teaching. I also remember a few of the larger personalities, even if they weren't horrors or blessings in the classroom.

I wish I felt like I had more control over this, but I think that somewhere in my mind I just don't think remembering names and numbers are that important. In math, I've always been able to see how most math worked so I never needed to memorize anything. I could always just figure it out when I needed it. Strings of numbers that aren't based in mathematics like phone numbers and Social Security numbers I can just keep stored somewhere to refresh my memory. I can't remember a time my poor memory for times tables ever caused me any problems. Even without a calculator, I can figure it out pretty quickly. I just have to do it the long way.

Names make for a touchier issue because not remembering someone's name is associated with not caring. This is actually the one that bugs me most. My phone number does not have feelings. My students may actually have a few. I do actually care, but there are just so many of them and I know that most of them I'll never have to deal with in the future. They'll move on to another grade and other teachers and won't have a reason to land back in my class or talk to me in the halls anymore than any other student. It just makes me feel really guilty when the ones who do take the time to greet me when we pass can't get anything more than a "How's it going?" in return.

I even think I can explain why I can remember all sorts of dates involving my wife when I can't even remember my own mother's birthday. As I mentioned earlier, my family was pretty boring. I never felt like I had to make my parents love me. I always felt pretty secure and they never made a big deal out of their birthdays. Not remembering the date wasn't going to be cause for any guilt trips or hurt feelings. As for my sister's birthday, I was always going to be reminded well in advance, so why bother taking the time to learn it? My wife, on the other hand, was my first real romantic relationship. I felt like I had to really try to not screw things up in the beginning and these numbers were easier to remember because of the strong emotions attached to them. Honestly, my wife and I have a pretty stable relationship at this point, so I'm pretty sure that if her birthday were to change at some point that I'd never get past remembering the month now.

I actually think that's a good thing. If you don't know what I mean by that, I'm not sure I could ever explain.


Courtney said...

Mickey forgot my birthday once, and I'm still pissed about it.

Julie said...

I'm really horrible with names so I understand. I have literally shaken someone's hand and said, 'Nice to meet you, X' and they've said, 'It's Y.'

Oops. My bad.

It took me months to remember my home number, too, but only because I never called it and we didn't really give it out to anyone. I didn't have to memorize it until we had horrible problems with Comcast and I had to call them every day and identify myself with my phone number.

A Free Man said...

Mine is a steel trap for song lyrics. I often wonder if I didn't have all these useless lyrics stored up in my memory banks if I would have room for useful information - like my Mom's birthday or my mobile phone number.