Remember, Remember: My Recall Dismembered


(Image courtesy of scui3asteveo at

Firstly, I’m sorry for the horrendous title, although obviously not sorry enough to put it out of its misery. No matter.

There is an localized urban legend that I remember everything. This started somewhere around first grade when AWANA gave me the opportunity to memorize large chunks of scripture–or, in my case, swathes. Things only got better as I grew older and I realized that *it was actually easier for me to remember ten verses than two.* Not quite literally, but the effort put into memorizing each verse was vastly reduced. Then people started asking me how I did it. As if I knew. However, the more I think about it, the better I get at figuring out what triggers memory for me.

1)Visualization. Unless I’ve seen something in my mind, or touched it, done it, or come up with some kind of 3-D model, it’s down the drain. I can’t even talk to people without some kind of image of what we’re talking about or I will not understand them. If I don’t have a notebook, a whiteboard, or a power point slide, I don’t get anything out of lectures.

2) Repetition, Rhyme, and Rhythm. (Also acronyms.) There is one exception to the visualization rule. It’s a verbal phrase I’ve somehow saved by repeating it, or because the phrase itself is memorable. I started out memorizing things by repeating them over and over under my breath. It helped if they had a sort of rhyming rhythm. (HE made HIM WHO HAD no SIN to be SIN for us so we could become the RIGHTeousness of God in HIM. [Woo NKJV!]) This is part of the reason I like poetry. It’s easy to remember. I love rhyme, and, while it took me a little longer to discover how to use it in poetry, I love rhythm.

3) Digests. As you may have noticed, I misquoted 2 Corinthians 5:21. (For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.) There are two reasons for this. The first is I memorized this verse multiple times in multiple versions. (Repetition!) The second is I don’t memorize the words. I memorize the idea. Rhythm helps me with the exact words, but before I learn the exact words I *must* to be able to regurgitate the argument in almost the same terms. I’ve also noticed this trend in my school work. I must make an outline, figure out an analogy, write my own summary, or have a pre-made outline each chapter or I will not understand and will forget important parts of the material. In short, I’ve got to organize everything.

4) Why. Part of the reason I’m always writing digests is I’ve *got* to understand *why* everything works the way it does. I drove my mom crazy trying to learn algebra and pre-calculus. I had tantrums because, “It doesn’t make sense!” I’ve gotten better. Now I write down all my questions, and, secure in the knowledge that they are recorded, I forget them. But I still chatter nonsense to my mom about why I think math works the way it does, and I drive my sisters crazy because I make an analogy for everything.

5) I don’t remember things. I’m gradually learning to make a physical paper trail and a trail of pictures through my brain. I don’t exactly remember, but I make it easier for myself to re-learn. My English teacher says that he outlines his papers before writing them to make it easier to write them so, “future Josh will like past Josh.” Ok. Bad analogy. There are certain things I find almost impossible to remember.

a. Street names. If I’ve been there often enough I might remember enough images to get there, but I don’t associate street names with images or even pay attention to street names. That said, don’t try to give me directions, unless they include sentences like, “Turn right at Kroger.” It won’t work!

b. Conversations. Unless a conversation is especially earth-shattering, funny, or inspiring, I won’t remember it. This is why people quoting my words back to me irritate me. Not only have they apparently proven me wrong, but I have no way to refute them because I don’t remember what I actually said or what I was thinking at the time.

c. Bible verse references. I have no trick for associating these with the proper verse yet or even for remembering them long-term. Come to think of it, I’m apt to forget any number I don’t revisit on a constant basis. (Repetition!) I remember 3.00 * 10^8 m/sec is the speed of light. I remember there are 6.023 * 10^23 atoms/mole most of the time. But I don’t remember Planck’s constant or how many feet to the mile.

d. Life lessons. This is why I slide into perfectionism, judging people, pride, and self pity in cycles. Unless I constantly reminding myself of who I am and who God is, I become very annoying.

e. Functional groups. I’m on my way through organic chemistry now for the second time. (Repetition!) I still don’t remember the functional groups. Currently, I’m experimenting with tables and attempting to organize them into groups. Perhaps remembering will grow easier as I understand what and why each group does what it does, and as I acquire examples. I don’t know how I’m ever going to associate the names with the structures. Perhaps with–dare I say it?–Repetition!

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