The holes in our old memories. Does it frustrate you?

Memory is such an unpredictable thing.

I can remember my ninth grade classes. Algebra, Civics, English, Speech, Orchestra, and I worked in the school office (it counted as a business experience class).

But I can’t remember much about the times of day. I had that schedule for 9 months. How could I not know the order of my classes? All the classrooms were in a long hallway. We’d shift from one room to another. Speech was in a temporary building outside the school.

It bugs me that I can’t picture where my locker was. I stopped by that locker several times a day exchanging books before the next class.

Isn’t it weird we forget something so ingrained in our lives?

I remember my 7th, 10, 11th and 12th classes equally well. For some reason 8th grade is a blank. I have no distinct memory of that school year.

Daily life is even more spotty. There’s certain events that I remember. But it’s unpredictable.

“…the goal of memory is not the transmission of information through time, per se. Rather, the goal of memory is to optimize decision-making.”

One of my biggest regrets is not keeping a journal.

Something to refresh those old memories.

I know it’s actually a self defense mechanism that we suppress bad memories. For example time in the hospital after surgery. The bad experiences and pain is largely forgotten ASAP.

We’d be miserable if we remembered every moment of pain and bad experiences.

Just this past weekend, my sister (just a year younger than I) came by to visit. She was talking about the time our cousin Joe and his family came to visit our grandparents, and we all went bowling. This would have happened some time in the mid-to-late 60s.

I have zero memory of this. You’d think it would stand out because we didn’t go bowling all that often, and we probably interacted with those cousins less than once a year. But there’s nothing familiar in the story she told. Either she dreamed it, or I’ve lost it.

I have a terrible memory of events, but a great memory for facts. If you asked me the year that the Black Death hit Constantinople, I could tell you immediately (1347) If you want the atomic number of Einsteinium, I have your back (99) If you want me to give you an in depth explanation of Baltic Grain imports into Flanders in the 16th and 17th centuries, I’m your guy. If you want me to remember that one time in Quebec City when we jumped a fence in La Citadelle to an unauthorized place and got chased by the police and ended climbing over a wrought iron gate to get away, I have zero recollection even though I know that it must have happened and the people with me completely remember it vividly, if you relied on my memory it never happened. I don’t drink, I don’t take drugs, but there are giant portions of my life that you would think would stick with me that I just don’t remember. People will show me pictures of places that I’ve been and I have no recollection of being there even though I KNOW I was there. Pretty big things too, like climbing the Eiffel Tower or crossing the Alps on a train. Things that you would think would be iconic and stick with me just don’t. Sometimes traumatic things and sometimes really joyful things. I have only small little glimpses of my wedding day and I can’t remember seeing my son’s body when he died even though I’m assured that they brought him into the room. There are people that I just don’t recall. I once went on a two week trip through Europe with a girl who is now a decently known Fox News anchor and I can’t recall her at all. I still talk to her brother and I know for a fact that we went on this trip and I can even recall parts of the trip, but I don’t recall her at all (We weren’t linked romantically or anything like that, just a half dozen of us went to Europe together on a trip and she was one of us.) It’s crazy how memory works.

Not really. There’s a lot of things I’m happy to not remember.

Would it be nice if I had better control over which things I remember better? Well, yeah. But also to be a handspan taller, and it ain’t gonna happen either.

Tough to maintain, I would think. It’s hard to maintain the discipline to sit down and write at regular intervals. I expect that’s why most people don’t do it.

A good proxy used by many people is photographs. When I was growing up my mom took lots of pictures of our family and friends, and put in the effort to cull the duds and organize the rest into worthwhile photo albums. When I became an independent adult, I kept up the practice, photographing the people and events in my life. This got easier with the advent of cheap digital cameras around Y2K, and it’s now really easy, since just about everyone carries a camera with them wherever they go, as part of their smartphone.

In spite of having an excellent picture collection, I share your anguish. I’m nearly 50; that’s about 300,000 waking hours of experience, and a few thousand photos seem like very, very thin evidence of it all. I certainly have a lot of memories I can recall at will (and the photos stir up even more memories), but not nearly enough to explain with any meaningful detail the moment-to-moment activities of my daily life over all that time.

We need something like the technology featured in Brainstorm.

I think suppression of bad memories is relatively rare; I think many people are miserable in their daily lives (to varying degrees) because they have clear recall of very bad memories. I’ve had a pretty good life so far, but even I can recall numerous memories involving physical pain, emotional pain, and sheer life-or-death terror that feel like I would probably be happier without.

A few years back I had terrible brain swelling due to an aneurysm. The had to remove a bit and, when they did so, they removed some memories. I am missing my junior high years, a lot of high school(I looked at the high school yearbook and didn’t recognize names or faces), and I can’t even remember a single thing about the house I grew up in. Even today someone will come up to me as if we are close acquaintances…and it is if they are a complete stranger to me. It isn’t too hard not to dwell on the years I can’t recall, but every time a close stranger comes up to me it is a harsh reminder of what I have lost and can never regain.

I recently joined a Facebook group centered around my hometown. Someone posted a thread in the vein “Who went to Johnson Jr. High”? Someone else actually found an old yearbook and posted the faculty pages. I can now remember many of the teachers who for the last twenty-five years (I graduated from junior high about forty years ago) were a complete blank to me.

I think Douglas Copland said it best in Microserfs: “Human beings are amnesia machines.”

It frustrates me to not remember the word I meant to say next, but only for that moment. I don’t get worried over holes in my memory; it happens to everybody. It’s a wonder I remember everything that’s left.


It surprises me when I DO remember something that I assumed was long gone.

Yeah, me too. For example, I’m working on reorganizing the basement, and found some pool cues a couple of weeks ago. We used to have a pool table when we lived in Massachusetts, but I realized that I could not recall at all what happened to it when we moved back to New Hampshire. So I asked my brother if he knew. He said we gave it to my dorm. It bothers me that I have no memory of this because it sounds like a huge pain in the ass to have moved it there (over 100 miles!) - shouldn’t that be memorable?

Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes we remember what we want to remember, even if it’s not exactly what actually happened.

My memories of personal experiences tend on the whole, to be relatively full and plentiful, but – I am now seventy years old – there’s quite an exception, as regards memories of approx. my first decade of life. Odd sections of such memories from earlyish childhood, are definitely sharp; but there are indeed some vague bits, and a very great majority of total “holes”.

There is one particular connection, in which I greatly wish that my first-ten-years’ memories could be a lot more precise and complete. I’m a railfan (“railway enthusiast” as the British term it): here in the UK, the delights of the old-fashioned railway scene – for those of us in this fancy, who regard said old times as delightful – came to a fairly rapid and precipitate finish, as from near the end of the 1950s. This “falling over the cliff” was the combination of the sudden rapid decline of the use of steam traction on the country’s national rail system – the very end of same, in 1968; and the closure of many hundreds of miles of the system’s lesser and less-used routes – many of such, traversing beautiful country.

I had a good amount of exposure to this milieu in the first ten-odd years of my life, before it all started to go sour, as above. In much of the UK then, the railway scene was fairly ubiquitous; plus, as a family in the 1950s, for necessary / desired getting from A to B we made a fair amount of use of rail passenger services, as opposed to the private-automobile option. These factors combined to kindle for me, a lifelong passion for “things railway” – in my case, for better or worse, chiefly a backward-looking one. I’m aware of having experienced assorted journeys and doings in childhood, involving rail travels and sights: my actual true memories of these are frustratingly sparse and largely in “flashes”, compared to what the various experiences – which I can reconstruct in hindsight, from knowledge / imagination – must have been like. I would give anything to be able to have a goodly amount more of genuine memories of things lived thus some two-thirds of a century ago; but save for – essentially – fragments, vanished forever down the “hole of forgetment”.

Yep, this is totally me. I have a really strong memory when it comes to names and faces, and the class roster from 2nd grade, stuff like that. I can take a really good snapshot of a specific point in time. Although, sometimes I have trouble placing the snapshot in time. I remember very vividly a family vacation; where we went, who we met there, what kind of rental car we got, what music I listened to. But not the foggiest idea what year it was. Was I 12? 14? I just see it in still photos.

And I’m terrible at remembering series of events. Just recently a couple old buddies from high school were reminiscing about some shenanigans we got into. Remember we went to this place and this guy said that thing and it was so hilarious? I’ll remember the place and the guy, but no idea what happened or who said what.

Due to some pretty harsh bullying and depression in my teen years, junior high school is a complete blank. I recall grade school and high school pretty well, but my brain’s method of cleaning out the bad memories of junior high was to do a complete etch-a-sketch shake on that period. I’m sure I must have had friends and some good experiences, I just don’t recall any of them.

For years I’ve had this weird memory. I could have sworn it really happened. The thing is it’s more like a hallucination than something that actually happened. The more I think about it the more I wonder if I’m just remembering some dream I had.

I’ve tried my best to forget I ever went to school. Unfortunately I only seem to have forgotten everything but the bullies.:frowning:

Very much so. I can remember songs, books, cartoons, etc. with little issue. However, I was at my friends’ wedding, there are pictures of me in it with her… but for the life of me I can’t remember a thing about it. Its very… frustrating at times.

I forget my experiences so much and so often I’ve gotten used to it. I couldn’t tell you what I had for breakfast yesterday…and that doesn’t bother me. It’s extraneous information.

There are side effects - I can remember things about my high school experience, but not first-hand - for example I remember that I spent many happy evenings hanging out with a friend, but the experience itself is gone from my mind. That’s the way all my memories are; I have no experience memories at all*. It’s all distilled down to statements of fact before being put into permanent storage - and then most of those are discarded too.

*There’s one exception - when I re-experience media, I re-experience the feelings I felt the first time I experienced it. So I am very happy to reread books and rewatch movies, and the nostalgia is strong with this one.