Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Human Calendar

Memory is such an odd thing. Ask me to recall something from an open-ended question such as, "What was the last book that you read," and I'll struggle. Plop me in front of a television and turn on a program that I have seen but once and not necessarily recently, and it will be familiar to me. This past Christmas season, we were listening to Stuart McClean on The Vinyl Cafe on the radio. It was a program that I had heard only once twelve months previously, yet, as it unfolded, there was some parts that I could predict, even before they happened. (Well, when else would you predict: after something happened?)

There is a doctor in town. He has an unusual name. I taught a fellow with that name more than twenty-five years ago on the other side of the province, so I presume it is he. I can tell you the course and his seat — grade twelve geography, seat one in row five. I have taught thousands of kids and suppose that I forget most, especially names, although I remember his for whatever reason.

Cuppa has a different sort of memory. It will take her a lot longer than me to recognize a program that we have seen previously; sometimes, she remains unconvinced, even at its conclusion. But she tends to recall names really well and who gave what to whom at Christmas and what she had for lunch when we were last at a certain restaurant — seventeen months ago!

However, we all pale in comparison to The Human Calendar who can recall with clarity and detail what she did on many days of her life. Give her a date, and she'll tell you about the weather, what she was doing, and, perhaps, something newsworthy that occurred.

"It's like a running movie that never stops. It's like a split screen. I'll be talking to someone and seeing something else. ... Like we're sitting here talking and ... in my head I'm thinking about something that happened to me in December 1982, Dec. 17, 1982, it was a Friday, I started to work at (a store)."

Oddly enough, she can't remember the function of all five keys on her key chain, and she's not very good at faces, rote memorization, or school. Yet, her ability to remember dates plagues her.

"Some people call me the human calendar while others run out of the room in complete fear," she told researchers. "Most have called it a gift, but I call it a burden. I run my entire life through my head every day and it drives me crazy!!!"

The story appeared in The Toronto Star today. I didn't get a lot of hits when I searched for it on Google News, so it may not yet have spread far and wide.



Gina said...

I think I might prefer my day to day mind-stumbling compared to that! I don't know that I would like to have all those details playing all the time, it seems extremely distracting.

Bonita said...

It is a conundrum that part of our mind might function so well and other parts don't. I wish I could remember what I read in books - with all that careful investment of time and energy, what a disappointment not to retain all of it. Yet, there is always joy in rereading it, and saying, "Ah-ha! I remember that!"

Granny said...

I can remember all kinds of useless trivia but as to what I did yesterday? Or how to open my own microwave (seriously, I did that once)?

I don't think I'd want to have all those dates runnng aroud. The useless trivia is bad enough although I'd be great on Jeopardy.

Sarah Elaine said...

Just checking for the first time in a while. I like the new look.

Good post, by the way.

mreddie said...

The things that I have no trouble remembering are the things that I am not trying to remember at the time. This nearly brings me to the conclusion that my forgetter works better than my rememberer. The exception to that is that I remember the things that I try to forget - a quandry indeed. ec

madcapmum said...


Simply Coll said...

I find my memory is becoming more and more selective. Memory is certainly a fascinating topic.

PBS said...

It's so interesting how different people have different sorts of memory. My Mom can remember and recite poetry from her high school days. My memory needs prompting to remember things, like a co-worker was telling me about a good movie and it sounded sort of familiar. Turns out I've seen the movie but it took some clues to remind me! Sort of like a search engine to access data, I guess!

Turtle Guy said...

Oh, to be a human calendar... now, when was my birthday???

Karla said...

That’s an astonishing ability!
Memory is a strange thing. I will remember phone numbers before I can recall a name. Or I tend to have strange knack for remembering my surroundings and the people in those surroundings, what they were wearing etc... yet I couldn’t tell you what I watched on TV last night. Perhaps I missed my calling working for CSIS.

Granny said...

I can still recite high school poetry as well and can remember our first two phone numbers from 60 years ago - long before dial in our area.

Can't remember my son's though. Three cheers for speed dial or I'd be lost.