When people hear that I have an eidetic memory–often misnamed as a “photographic” memory–they have one or more of three thoughts.
1. I don’t believe you’re telling the truth. Those don’t exist.
2. It must be really cool.
3. You must have done really well in school.
Well, whether or not they “exist” I have one. And as anyone with eidetic memory will tell you, it’s not a piece of cake. First off, the memories are more like videotapes than photographs. I have a bad sense of smell anyway so while smell will trigger a memory, smell is the only sense that doesn’t really travel with my eidetics. In school I did well on tests, because I’m able to store and recall entire lectures and passages in books. But recall doesn’t help you with self-discipline and if you know you’re going to most likely ace the test anyway you–eg. me–don’t learn how to study. It wasn’t until latter years of college that I finally learned how to buckle down and focus.
While some parts of the recall are “cool” I guess–I can “watch” an entire movie in my head when I’m trying to fall asleep or hypnotise myself for pain control–this sward is not as green as you’d think. Imagine for just a moment that you can vividly recall key moments of your life, just as if you could travel in time. Most people think they’d spend their free time remembering vacations and Christmas mornings. It’s nice to do, because you feel all the senses–that happiness and warmth and carefree nature.
But you don’t get to pick and choose without some really tough work and–in my case–drugs and illness. So while you can flash back on your honeymoon you also get to remember the time you were trapped in your office by a former boss after everyone left. Every push of her hand, every bitter word and every curse spools back. You get to be assaulted over and over again. Actually, I’m pretty certain that anyone who has been assaulted has a clear record of that event, so that’s a bad example perhaps. People tend to remember the big things. But really, who wants a detailed memory of girls snarking behind your back in college, talking about how you shouldn’t be invited into town because you’re too fat to fit in the car? (I was a size 14.)
Shortly after I was married I started a memory palace. You imagine a place, and it doesn’t have to be a palace. It can be a lake cottage, a hotel, a childhood home. In my case it’s actually a rambling Tudor house with a very large attic. The attic is important because while most people who have a memory palace use it to recall information, I use mine primarily to lock things away. My old dusty Tudor attic space is full of trunks and jewelry boxes and humidors. The keyring hangs on a hook just outside the door, but the hook is up high. So if I ever need to look at the baddies I have to go to the downstairs hallway and take the chair from the sleeping cat who guards it. He’s a mean old tom called Eliot and if I wake him up he scratches my knee and the backs of my hands. So I really have to go through a lot of junk to get the keys that open all those cluttery boxes in the attic where I lock my bad memories away.
Sometimes, though, I think Eliot wakes up while I sleep. That’s the only explanation I have for why the grimmer films get out and start cruelly unspooling. That’s sort of what happened last night and I’ve had a divvil of a time gathering the celluloid from the 2000 assault and locking it back up again.