Selective Forgetfulness

I can name sixteen uses for the Ablative, conjugate Spanish verbs (though I haven’t studied Spanish for years), recite much of Romeo and Juliet from memory, and remember the words to songs I learned years ago in camp. I think in outlines, organize all aspects of my life, keep tallies and inventories of my stuff.

I say all this not to prove that I am brilliant (I’m not), but to demonstrate a paradox. In spite of all this orderly thinking, I can’t remember what I had for lunch today or what I need to do tomorrow.

Memory may be limitless, but it’s also selective. A student can remember the words to dozens of songs, but not twenty vocabulary words; he can remember how to play video games, but not how to use commas.

Part of my problem is that I teach five different classes every day — not one class to five different groups of students. I have five sets of plans, quizzes, handouts, worksheets, and notes every day. I have folders upon folders, lists upon lists.

That part of my life is organized — out of necessity. When you go into the lion’s den every fifty minutes, you need to be prepared.

But getting the lions under control doesn’t leave me a lot of brain cells for other activities.

I have the list-making gene, inherited from my obsessively organized mother. But all the lists I can scribble down don’t keep me from forgetting to mail the bills, make a phone call, or put the washed clothes in the dryer. I am always running to the post office, finding mildewed clothes in my washing machine, and getting annoyed messages on my answering machine.

I find myself wandering around the house, trying to remember what I was about to do. Part of my brain must be missing, I think. If only I could remember where I left it.

I am something of a software junkie; I love downloading programs and playing around with them. For this reason, it surprises me that I only recently discovered that there is software that can take the place of my missing brain cells.

Apparently lots of people are missing brain cells, or there would not be a market for pricey programs that keep people from forgetting things.

The one I downloaded is Omni Focus. I chose this one because I use Omni Outliner a lot, and figured I might as well keep it in the family. Any company that can build an outliner as awesome as Omni Outliner can have my business. I trust them with my brain. Also, they have an academic discount. And an iPhone app.

It’s quite simple. I enter tasks as I think of them, assigning each to a project, giving it a context, and setting a due date. When it’s almost time to do it, Omni taps me on the shoulder and reminds me that it’s time to get started. I can change the due date if I’m not ready to work on it, or even put it on hold. No paper lists for me to lose. I can forget about remembering.

This frees up an enormous number of brain cells for other things, like talking in complete sentences.

It’s amazing how much satisfaction I get from clicking those little electronic checkboxes and seeing a task gray out. When I’m losing my sense of purpose I can take a simple task, like doing laundry, and turn it into a project with multiple steps:

❑ Throw towels down the basement stairs.

❑ Take a break.

❑ Eat breakfast.

❑ Go downstairs and put towels in washing machine.

❑ Add soap.

❑ Start machine.

❑ Have a snack.

It is rather annoying, though, when “Put clothes in the dryer” keeps coming up overdue for days and I’m not motivated to return to the basement.

But when I’m procrastinating about writing it’s nice to be able to point to the list of things I’ve checked off. My novel sits unfinished, but the furnace filters are changed, the recycling taken out, the cans of soup stacked alphabetically…

And now, I’m off to add more tasks to my list. That way I can check off one more box: “Add tasks to list.”


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