Author: Campbell, Bruce

Now Where Did I Leave That?

I’ve seen lots of jokes about “old people” walking into a room and then saying “Now, why did I come in here?” I can’t remember a time when I DIDN’T do that. My mind has always ran off in multiple directions at once. Sometimes it’s a blessing and sometimes it’s a curse.

Have you ever done this? You get up to go into another room for some reason. Let’s say you’re sitting in the living room, and you think “Man, I’d like a glass of milk!” So you get up and as you’re headed for the kitchen for the glass of milk, you notice something on the coffee table that really belongs in the kitchen. “Well, as long as I’m headed there, I’ll go ahead and take that in there.” Then, that thing you picked up reminds you of another item in the bedroom that really should be taken back to the kitchen, so you go in there to get it.

Coming back out, you notice the coffee table is smudged, so you say “Well, after I take these items into the kitchen, I’ll grab a sponge and bring it back and clean the table.” So you head for the kitchen, finally. You drop off your items, and grab the sponge, and then you notice something that really should be in the living room. “Well, I might as well take that – it’ll save me a trip!” Then you notice a couple of freshly folded items by the dryer. “The bedroom is just past the living room, I’ll grab those, too.”

You get to the living room, set down the sponge and put the thing that belonged in the living room back where IT belongs, then go into bedroom, put the laundry away and when you step back into the living room, there’s a brief instant of panic: “Why the heck am I doing all this?”. You spot the sponge – aha! You wipe down the coffee table, admire your handiwork for a few minutes, and then take the sponge back to the kitchen. You march BACK to the living room, plop on the couch and think “Man, I’d like a glass of milk!”

We simultaneously know our memories are remarkable, and also quite fallible. I have a number of mnemonic tricks that have worked for me. One is routine – since most of the time you’re not really even paying attention to yourself, you benefit by having a routine. Get home from work, keys go here, wallet goes there, and if you do it the same every day, you’ll never lose your wallet or your keys. What happens when the routine gets interrupted, like you come from work, and your usual well-worn path to your normal spots for keys and wallet is blocked by a delightful grandchild? Big trouble then, UNLESS you make a mental note of the deviation.

The next morning, you reach for your wallet and keys in an unconscious motion and – NOTHING! This is where you try and remember the deviation. “Hmm, what happened last night?” If you’re lucky, you’ll have a mental picture of what you did and the crisis will be averted.

Which brings me to another mnemonic device for deviation from routines and this one has a bluegrass context (You thought I’d NEVER get there, didn’t you?). At bluegrass festivals where I often go to bed VERY late, and often in a somewhat diminished mental state, I have created a habit of telling myself aloud where I’m stowing my glasses, wallet and keys. The next morning, I may not remember what I did, but I remember what I heard. That’s just another one of the benefits of being a musician!

Posted:  10/26/2011

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