Working with my Memory – Part 1

As I’d alluded to in a previous blog post, my sensitivity to criticism and negativity was what had caused me to immerse myself in the world of fiction early in my life. In this world, negative people and events were still present; however, I could always count on the major problems to be resolved, and their causes and effects to be clearly traced through written words – a format that I could count on to make sense.

Then, in my early teens, major surgery inflicted permanent damage on my short-term memory. I recently came across these examples in a library book I’d checked out:

1. Short-term memory:

  • “the active, working, need-it-to-function-on-a-constant-basis” kind of memory, i.e.:
  • who just called on the phone a moment ago
  • where you put your keys when you came in the front door

2. Recent memory:

  • What you had for lunch yesterday
  • what you watched on TV last night

3. Long-term / Remote memory:

  • the name of your first grade teacher
  • incidents from your childhood

human brain - memory picture

On a constant basis in my life today, I need to deal with categories 1 and 2 above by immediately finding ways to link incoming pieces of information to what I have securely stored inside category 3, formed before my short-term memory was damaged.

So what’s inside my long-term memory?

As a child, my sensitivity prevented me from ever feeling at ease interacting with others around me. In school, I’d preferred to hide from my peers rather than fend off their constant taunting and snide remarks.

Instead, I spent my free time inside libraries, immersing myself in novels written for children. I used my imagination to put myself within the settings of these stories, and made up fictional interactions with their characters. I would even use to create new problems we would encounter, which I would use my own talents to help them resolve. I would earn the respect and admiration of these fictional friends of mine, which then eased the ordeals inflicted by real people in my life.

Securely lodged within my long-term memory:
• Gathering information through the written word, in the English language
• All details involved with the written word that are overlooked in speech: grammar, vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, syntax (sentence structure & phrasing)
• Making sense of life through fiction: having cause and effect to balance the positive and negative aspects

But I couldn’t escape being around other people altogether . I actually enjoyed being placed in settings among my peers,  performing the same kind of activities that we were all assigned. Those activities that stirred my interest and made me feel alive had a definite structure that I could easily understand and follow – allowing me to measure my own progress by observing how others around me performed the same tasks. They included workshops and enrichment classes for kids (PC learning; math, science, and vocabulary building); lessons in sporting activities (swimming and diving, gymnastics, tennis); and, of course, classical music (private instrumental lessons, workshops, recitals, auxiliary lessons in music theory).

So I could add the following to I have within my long-term memory:

• Performing tasks that others assigned to me
• Having a structure to follow that had already been defined
• Engaging in the same activities as others around me; giving me a point of reference
• Many aspects related to classical music

This is why, even today, I feel comfortable with gathering and imparting information through printed and written words. Why I am drawn to the school environment, to taking classes on topics that stimulate my interests wherever I can find them. And, this is why I continue to find joy singing with the LMU Choruses.

Let me add something else trained into my long-term memory: an Asian upbringing based upon the teachings of ancient philosopher Confucius:

• Wisdom lay in the elders of one’s family and society
• Obeying one’s parents is the duty of sons and daughters
• Obeying authority figures is the duty of common citizens


Now note the structures that have NOT been firmly lodged within my long-term memory; skills that I’d never mastered as a child:

• Communicating and negotiating directly with others through speech
• Organizing a coherent series of daily tasks for myself to perform
• Organizing a coherent series of tasks for others to perform
• Keeping track of the tasks just mentioned above
• Maintaining my orientation and sense of direction in unfamiliar settings

So whenever I encounter anything that falls into this last category above, and I have trouble determining how to proceed, following the opinions and guidance of others seems so much easier. However well-intentioned this guidance is, though, it rarely takes all of my circumstances into account.  Blindly following orders had landed me in some very painful situations in the past.

Today, to counter that tendency, I hoard every free moment I have by myself, in order to put all that I experience into words. I then rearrange those words within my mind, placing each portion into narrative order, and building sentences and paragraphs to describe them. Next, I come up with more words to identify and describe cause and effect. Only after transforming each experience to closely match the fiction that is familiar to me can I successfully attach the entire experience into my long-term memory, while keeping any emotions that arise under control.

All in order to give my memory a fighting chance to retain and process this new material.
Even with all of these efforts, I still make plenty of mistakes. And when others express their frustration, or disparage my ability to succeed in the future (the latter of which my parents seem to specialize in), I must find ways to channel all of that negativity into something productive and meaningful, which also fits into a framework within my long-term memory.

Between the years 2001 and 2003, when depression had caused my mother to hide from all activity and interactions with others, I’d channeled my own helplessness into a novel for middle grade readers. In subsequent years I submitted it to various writing contests, to publishers of these books, and then to literary agents. I attended local classes and writer’s conferences to obtain more insight into the publishing process, and to improve my own writing skills. But after receiving numerous rejections and little or no interest, I’d shifted my attention to other forms of writing, temporarily placing the publication of this novel on the back burner. I would instead concentrate on building this blog, continuing my Quarter Notes newsletter for the LMU Choruses, and drafting manuals and web content at my day job.

Then I spotted a free “Dear Lucky Agent” contest online, asking for the first 150-200 words of any unpublished middle-grade novel:

I shrugged. Why not? I’m not getting my hopes up, for my chances for winning and landing an agent are still slim to none. But this could perhaps be the first step in getting me back on track with my fiction writing, which feels the most comfortable to my instincts.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *