I’m simultaneously annoyed by people who don’t acknowledge my genius and dismissive of those who do.
I’m not sure that I really need reading glasses, but when I put them on—as I’ve just done, here and now to capture the words scrolling by character by character—my face relaxes. My eyes sigh, slightly, and sink into a comfortable gaze. More important, the lenses focus the sight and psyche forward, a direction that the rest of me deviates from.
I walked up to the local teacher after the awards ceremony, wanting to congratulate him, tell him I admired the work he’d done. “I don’t remember if I’ve introduced myself before,” I said.
He casually informed me that I was his professor from years ago, a course that led to his teaching degree. “It was a great class,” he told me.
“Have you eaten with us before?”
“Okay. It’s Friday so I don’t have to ask you any more questions.”
I heard on the radio that we (scientists, that is) figured out how to help people improve memory retention by 15%. It involved pre-surgical epileptic patients; and also, important to note, specifically timed pulses of electric current, specifically to the left side of the brain.
So, there’s that.
Incidentally, yet of important note, pulses to the other side of the brain could actually inhibit memory. So, there’s that, too.
The takeaway, I believe, is that there’s hope for memory, perhaps. Well timed and well positioned bits of charge sprinkled into the interwoven circuitry somehow might be a help, and perhaps knowing this might help one to insert these pulses at just the right time on just the left side.
I just recently checked a conference website to see if I was on the program as a presenter because I honestly couldn’t remember. I didn’t think so, but it wasn’t outside of a likely scenario. And then there’s the repeated private moments of What is her name? and the notable Where the fuck are my socks? I’ve been taking a few more B vitamins and trying to outrun cobwebs in my head by running in the mountains and there’s always more sleep and I still think that the caffeine helps, though maybe not as much as it used to. At this point, if a bit of conducting gel, some aluminum foil, and a few 9-volt batteries in series could offer something, I might employ my children to flip the switches—left side, right time—even if only for a revelation about the hiding places of my footwear.
Though, I’ve also considered: What else is hidden in that 15% that I’ve forgotten? Certainly, a name or a word that escapes me or exactly what was the character arc of Pip in Great Expectations? But also, maybe, those things I’ve not just forgotten, but forgotten to remember: A heartbreak, or another time I let you down, or the great embarrassment of middle school, or the great embarrassment of adulthood. There’s so much I thought I’d never forget, but now I can imagine a possible scenario in which I can’t remember enough to even be aware of forgetting.
And maybe that’s okay. I’ll stick to the B vitamins, and more sleep is in order, but I’ll demur on the electric pulses for now.
“So, what’s your favorite?”
“My favorite what?”
“Future potential means of faster-than-light travel.”
“Oh. I’m not really sure that I have one.”
It says clearly on the back, “Multi-Purpose Eraser.” But the only use I can find for the rectangular block of felt is removal of marks from the board. It won’t erase pain or sin, not memory or anything important, not even what was left in pencil.
I took air in and stared out the window, trying to relax into a 25-minute state of stillness while sitting on a wood bench. In drawing class, we work on the practice drawing others, the human form. We paired up and took turns inflicting eyes and pencils on one another.
The apprehension of being the model is that you might have a bad drafter trying to get down your likeness with marks on a piece of paper. But this fear is quickly displaced.
Next, you worry that your partner is a good artist, that they’ll get your features preserved as they truly are onto the 18 by 24 inch page, possibly to be pinned to the wall in the art building for all to see.
Or, worse, what if they see, really notice, exactly, what you really are like on the outside?
Or, worst of all: What if they see me as I really am?
I held still, stared out the window, trying to keep my mask on, inadequacies and insecurities tucked away within.
Friday morning, 8:00 AM. Thirty-eight students work out a problem on projectile motion, each on their own, hunched over paper and calculator. I’m just watching in the electric quiet. Everyone is concentrating on how long the banana is in the air, how fast is it moving, in what direction, how does that change, what does this mean about the apex of its trajectory, what is acceleration anyway and what does this have to do with velocity and all these directions and why on earth did he choose a banana it must be an inside joke that I would have understood if only I’d been in class yesterday but it probably wasn’t funny but what if I missed some hint? And also, the mind continues: what am I doing here, how on earth is this relevant to me, didn’t I just do this problem last night and why don’t I understand it now, is there a trick, why did that guy just finish so quickly and what am I not seeing that he did, what is the professor thinking and why is he smiling to himself and how much time is there and maybe I should have had breakfast?
I’d like to think that it’s a privilege to have a dedicated space of a classroom and a 20-minute block of time to do nothing but focus on one thing, all of us together in this shared experience, some shared braid of consciousness and effort and emotion. Maybe I’m offering them an experience they can find no other place. In return, I witness humanity, one brief example of what might separate us from other primates. Concentration and problem solving and celebration and despair all in this room, at this moment, focused upon this problem about a banana that I hypothetically threw across the room.
I just received confirmation from an institution overseas that they have received some paperwork, and in response to me asking if they needed anything else, I was told:
So long so good.
This stymied me. Was he telling me “goodbye and good riddance?” I thought harder, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I wondered if it was a title of some porn movie I wasn’t familiar with, but I couldn’t make sense of why this would be a solitary line from Norwegian counterparts. And then I realized, slowly, not having really mastered any language other than English (and that’s only marginal), that “long” and “far” are synonymous. And so everything is good, idiomatic or otherwise, at least so far.
and read poetry, all
at the same time,
which itself is a poem,
though a really bad one.
Students sometimes reintroduce themselves years after they’ve taken my class. I might randomly see them on the street or they send an email to ask a question. Often they enter that interaction tentatively and with a caveat. “I don’t know if you’ll remember me; I didn’t do that well in the class,” or something like this they say, suggesting that I have some ranked hierarchy of student memories. Perhaps the A-students have a dedicated shelf in my psyche, the C-students swept together randomly in a corner.
Truth is, I almost never remember the grades I give students. There was that one guy who got an A-, and I remember his A- specifically because he was so angry about it and blamed me for ruining his future by not rounding up and giving him an A. So I remember him, and I’ll watch out for him and make sure that I never have him as a doctor. I’ll make sure I go to someone who earned a solid B, instead.
But, like I said, I don’t actually remember if any other student from the past would have earned a B or anything else. I remember the things that are more important to me, like where you sat and what you actually did in the class. I might remember something you wrote, but more likely I’ll remember how you wrote. I’ll remember if you were kind. I’ll remember your colored pen set. I remember how hard you worked in the class, that you were there every day at a godawful time and in spite of your heavy course load. I’ll remember that you played basketball, but were generally benched and still had to practice and travel with the team. I might remember that your mom had cancer. I remember tattoos. I remember quirks. I remember that one project you completed or a conversation in my office. More often than not, I remember something random: you liked mechanical pencils or you worked nights or you had an addiction to Mountain Dew or you were finishing a degree in geoscience eight years in the making. Though mostly I remember where you sat, if you were kind, that you worked hard.