Beyond Brushstrokes

The ability to remember, memorize, and to retain ideas, numbers, and facts is a fascinating function of the brain. The individual can grasp multiple concepts and interconnect them.

Memory is defined as stored experiences — happy, mundane, sad ones, sometimes remembered. These often need provocation for its remembering.

What happens when one forgets? It is normal to have memory lapses as one grows up and becomes preoccupied with many things to the point of filling up the memory bank.

As we mature (and add chronological years), we notice little quirks. Our short-term memory plays tricks. Stress and age are factors that affect the memory. Beyond a certain age, people joke about “senior moments” and being forgetful about little things. “The disc is full.”

Memory is about what has transpired. We have a data bank that stores details from the time we are in the womb. Thus babies can remember sounds — classical music or loud noise, words, and feelings. They respond to the same stimuli when they are children and adults. Toddlers can recall celestial phenomena such as the solar eclipse, earthquake, falling stars, full moons, Mars, the red planet. They are sensitive to exuberant fireworks — bursts of color and explosions.

Kids absorb everything they hear and see like a sponge absorbs water. Their memory is fresh and uncluttered. Learning and retention are easy. (It is important that we keep our promises and do what we say because children do not forget.)

“Where are those reading glasses?” (They’re on top of one’s head. “Where are the keys?” (In one’s pocket.) “Who is that person?” (The face is familiar but ummmmmmm….) These are awkward moments that occur occasionally. One takes them in stride, with poise and a sense of humor.

Forgetting is normal. When one is still a teenager, it is panic time during exam week. A bright student suddenly forgets the algebraic formula or the chemical composition or the important historical date. At a thesis defense, he forgets a critical explanation for a theory. It is a lapse that happens due to nerves, cramming, lack of sleep or all of the above.

A person can recall minute details about a childhood adventure but she cannot remember a trauma or people associated with that event.

“I distinctly remember forgetting that,” remarked writer Clara Barton. Someone reminded her about an offense done to her, years earlier.

One would rather remember the happy times. When one undergoes a devastating experience, the brain has a protective mechanism that blocks certain painful memories. There is a coping mechanism that makes one “forgets” the sad, heart wrenching moments of grief and loss. Victims of abuse suppress the memory. It is a defense mechanism the individual use so he can function. Psychological therapy and spiritual counseling are needed to deal with such traumas.

An individual with a photographic memory has the gift and advantage of remembering innumerable images, numbers, and details. However, he may find it exasperating occasionally when he cannot recall dates and names. This could be due to stress, anxiety, worry, or a simple overload of things happening too quickly or simultaneously. One needs to use an internal sieve to sift through the overwhelming, assorted, distracting stimuli, and objects.

The brain’s memory bank can only store so much information. Overload can cause “brain freeze.”

For example, at a business forum or social gathering, one sees a familiar face. But it is a struggle to recall his name. The solution is quite simple. Practice memory enhancing exercises. Introduce yourself and shake hands. Hopefully, the other person is polite enough to identify himself, too.

Memory experts say that one can thaw the freeze with practice.

De-clutter the brain. Relax and visualize pleasant scenes. Do crossword puzzles. To remember names: Pay attention. Visualize the name. Remind yourself. Make it a habit. Start a ritual. Sing it. Tie a string around your forefinger.

Notice how the “older seniors” (the elders) have excellent long-term memory. They can recount clearly what had happened several decades ago — the war, the first meeting, the first trip, the neighborhood, the first day in school and so forth. However, they forget what happened yesterday, a few hours or minutes ago.

A script writer commented, “Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, and the things you never want to lose.” Thus, the seniors hold reunions to prepare for their jubilee celebrations. Getting together is a chance to reminisce and enhance the good old days, and how perfect things seemed to be. The Barbra Streisand poignant song goes,

“Watercolor memories of the way we were…”


Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.