How many individual things are we able to remember at once–without resorting to unholy trickery, that is? At any given time, the experts will tell you, we can keep between five and nine things in mind, on average. That’s another interesting piece of trivia to tuck away, but it’s actually not what I’m talking about. I mean what is the sum total of things that we can know? Is there an end to it? We must assume there is an upper limit, owing to the brain’s finite mass. And if a brain is like my attic then we must also assume that, as it reaches maximum capacity, it’s not so much the size of the object you’re trying to stuff up there, but the shape of it as well. Any new thought, in other words, would have to be able to fit in among the other notions, in form as well as size. It follows then that at some point you can only accept certain types of information, which, considering my elders, is just about as accurate a theory as any other I’ve been able to devise.
Regardless, the reason this thought is occupying so much of my mind is due to a list that I can’t forget. Because I am a slothful creature by nature, I’ve always clustered tasks–those things that must get done–into as short a time as possible, the better to have done with them. As I run my internal audit, which usually happens while I’m in the shower, I string together an unwieldy list of activities that I’ll try to maintain by repeating them like a mantra. “Marinate the tempeh, add memory to the Palm, necklace for sister… Marinate the tempeh,” and so on. Invariably, when the list grows too long, errors begin to creep in. Words cannibalize themselves, and I am subject to involuntary spoonerism episodes. This must be what dementia is like.
The sheer bulk of information necessitates that I pare back to bare essentials. “Marinate, memory, necklace,” et cetera. These optimized lists are much more manageable, and sometimes they’re even catchy. But that’s the problem, see. If they’re too catchy then the lists can bridge the gap between short term memory and long term memory, and suddenly I find myself weaving these one-time lists–agendas shortly to become obsolete–into the very tapestry that makes me who I am.