Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Battling gaps in a word-centric memory

This morning while driving to town I turned off the yammering radio voices and switched on the DVD playing songs of Ohio's songbirds. Our woods are already getting noisy, so it's time to reacquaint myself with the calls I've forgotten over the long silent season: Ah yes, orioles--will you return to your nesting tree this spring? And you, cerulean warblers--this year I'll know who you are when you pause to sing in my woods.

I don't know why I have such trouble remembering birdsong, but it's not the only thing that doesn't seem to sink very deeply into my memory. Yesterday at the bank I had to admit to the loan officer that I'm a word person so numbers don't always stick in my memory. What year did we buy our house? What was its most recent appraised value? What was the date of the most recent appraisal? Any responsible homeowner ought to have these numbers at the tip of her fingers, but I fumbled 'em. Time to look 'em up!

And then I've recently developed a new technique for remembering how many laps I've walked on the track at the rec center. You wouldn't think that would be so difficult--it's not as if I'm walking dozens of laps, so I ought to just count. But I just can't. I'll be in the middle of a lap, listening to happy music on the iPod, letting my mind wander wherever it wants, and when I hit the starting point again I can't remember whether this is my fifth time around or my sixth. 

But now I have a new method: I associate a word with each lap, and then I can run through the words to figure out how many I've walked. On the first lap I said Hi to Brian, so that's the Brian lap; I walked the second lap to the sound of a Michael Buble song, so that's the Buble lap. By the time I've finished the Brian, Buble, lift truck, lightbulb, and Debbie laps, I know where I am--but I don't know why it's so much easier for me to remember a series of unrelated words than a set of numbers arranged in order.

Not that it matters, really. I doubt that I'll ever face a life-or-death challenge that relies on my ability to remember how many laps I've walked at the gym or the date of our last house appraisal. But I'd really love to pass the birdsong test, if only because knowing their calls will help me see the birds, and seeing the birds brings such joy to my life. So hello again, Louisiana waterthrush. Happy to renew your acquaintance.


Stop all the Complaining said...

One suggestion, if you are not already doing it, is to picture the specific bird in your mind, in the type of setting in which you normally observe it, as you hear the bird calls, rather than just hearing the sound and thinking of the word "oriole." Also, trying to recall while driving is difficult because the concentration used for driving, even subconsciously, makes it more difficult to move the sounds from short-term or working memory into long-term memory.

Bev said...

Excellent advice. I'm better at remembering calls when I've seen the bird over and over, but even then I have to refresh my memory every spring.