My boyfriend has the worst memory of anyone ever. One time, I baked too many cupcakes over the weekend and encouraged him to bring some to his swim club meeting on Tuesday. I reminded him on Saturday. Then on Sunday. Then on Monday. I reminded him Monday night. I put the cupcakes on the table in clear sight. I reminded him Tuesday morning. And so naturally, he forgot them. At that point he would have had to forget them on purpose. I was furious, and it wasn’t just because of a dozen stupid cupcakes. This wasn’t the first time he’s forgotten something, and what if it was something important? What if I needed him to bring me medication that could be the difference between life or death? Well, thankfully, that won’t ever happen because I’ve learned to never give him something that important to remember, which, by the way, sounds like the basis of a really healthy relationship. I screamed at him, eyes bulging, him cowering and speechless, and I finally blurted out, “The only other reason left for you not remembering is that you simply don’t care.”
While it was indeed something I fired at my boyfriend in a moment of fury, one day I found out that this statement might actually be true. While reading a book called Mastermind, a psychological analysis on how to think more like Sherlock Holmes (don’t laugh), the author says that we are more inclined to remember something if we are motivated and interested. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “DUH.” But she goes on to cite a trial, which led to the coining of the Lewis “Scooter” Libby effect, during which Scooter claimed no memory of having mentioned the identity of a certain CIA employee to any reporters or government officials. The jurors did not believe him, thinking, “How could someone forget something so important?” The answer was simply, that he did not think it was that important when it happened. And no amount of importance ascribed in retrospect would help him recall the incident. As far as his trustworthiness was concerned, he could very well have been telling the truth.
It’s scary to think that our split second decision in any given moment about whether or not the task at hand deserves our attention could determine the contents of our memory or lack thereof. Perhaps what’s scarier is the next statement in the book which reads, “we know only what we can remember at any given moment.” The idea that you could read a 500 paged book on how to milk a cow, but if you can’t recall any of it when you’re standing in front of an actual cow, you may as well have not read it at all.
While my boyfriend is horrendous at remembering simple tasks I ask of him, he has a remarkable ability to remember virtually every car he’s ever read about or seen. I’m talking about the car color, brand, model, year of production, everything, to the point where people are left gaping at him by the time he’s done. And so, aptly, he is a mechanical engineer at Ford, and not a professional cupcake picker-upper. In the same vein, I’m left with my mouth hanging whenever I hear my coworkers rattle off contents of the closets of every client they’ve ever worked with. “Oh yeah, Peggy has a Burberry ¾ sleeve sweater in green but it’s getting a little old, so we’ll need to get her a new one this season.”
I’ve heard of many sayings regarding how one should determine their destined profession. “Do what you love and the money will follow.” “If you’re willing to do it for free for the rest of your life, you should do it for a living.” And the list goes on. But I’d like to add my own version to it: maybe your calling, your destined profession, your chosen craft, should be based, simply, on what you can remember best, because chances are, that’s probably what you care about the most. Ahem, I’m looking at you, boyfriend.