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The Joy of a
Bad Memory

by Stephen Lautens


September 28, 2001

 I have a reputation as a pretty easy going guy. You know - don't sweat the small stuff, pick your battlefields, all that dime store philosophy.

And to achieve this peace with the rest of the universe I didn't have to sit on a mountaintop, fast, watch Oprah, shave my head or graduate from any 12-step program.

The secret to this general happiness is actually pretty simple - all you have to have is a really bad memory.

There are all kinds of things that are locked in my brain forever. My high school German teacher would be astounded that I can still recite a hundred-line poem I memorized more than twenty years ago. I also have Shakespeare, Schwartzenegger movies and Monty Python skits locked forever in my brain that some day will make me the hit of the nursing home.

But with few exceptions I have trouble remembering people who have given me a tough time in the past.

I suspect it might be a man thing. For example, most men I know look back on failed romances with a certain amount of fondness. The male brain is chemically designed to only remember the good times when thinking about old girlfriends. It's only after a great deal of prodding (usually by friends and loved ones sick of listening to you wonder why it didn't work out) that men remember the time she set your sheets on fire and chased you through the streets with a carrot peeler.

If your friends won't remind you, a quick call to the former object of your affection usually clears up the cloud of nostalgia in short order and makes you realize you were lucky to get out with your life. A few weeks later you'll be wondering again why it didn't work out.

My wife is an invaluable help in these matters (especially since I'm long past the girlfriend stage. We're old-fashioned, and decided that we should stop dating after we got married.)

But without my wife I simply wouldn't be able to carry any grudges at all.

For example, she'll see me talking to someone at a party. "What are you doing talking to him?" she'll ask. "Don't you remember you hate him?"

I'll get that look of a man trying to remember if he turned off the coffee machine before leaving the house. "Remind me again why I hate him," I'll ask.

A story of back-stabbing, betrayal and deceit will follow in which I was apparently the victim. Most of it will be news to me, or at best a dim recollection. It will certainly seem like a reason for hating this person, but for the life of me I'll still have trouble dredging up the raw emotion.

Of course, my wife is of Scottish descent, where neighbourly disputes result in four hundred year blood feuds. She still refers to other Scots with certain last names as "sheep stealers", even though for the life of me I can't recall us ever owning sheep, let alone having them stolen. But then again, like I said my memory of these things isn't particularly reliable. For all I know, we may well have had sheep.

Long memories run in her family (in addition to sheep-stealing neighbours), and it is best to take anything she says as gospel truth.

My only alternative is to start putting sticky notes on everyone I meet so I can separate my friends from the sheep-stealers.

© Stephen Lautens 2001

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