Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tabula rasa

One of my favorite Spanish-language writers is Jorge Luis Borges, from Argentina. He writes amazing short stories. I remember reading one, in translation in a world lit class when I was still taking beginning Spanish classes. I loved it so much, I decided that I wanted to learn Spanish well enough to read it in its original language. Anyway, he has one story called “Funes el memorioso” which is about a man who is plagued by his memory. He remembers every single thing he has seen or experienced: the cloud formation on such a date and such an hour, the feeling of the air, the ticking of the clock. He remembers every second of every day—so that in remembering he relives it exactly as it occurs.

My husband does NOT have that problem.

One of the … uhm… quirks… of living with my husband is his memory, or better put, his lack of it. Actually, his memory is good for some things—it’s kind of a type of selective memory—but not selective in the sense that he just remembers what he wants to—he has a very good visual memory, especially for people.

For example, once while I was living in Chile, we were hitchhiking/backpacking in the south (it is a long thin country so south is one of the two directions you can travel). We were eating a long leisurely lunch at a beach-side restaurant on a remote corner of this quaint island called Chiloé. (below)

See more pics (not mine) here.

He started asking the waiter questions: are you from here? how long have you worked here? Did you used to work at a restaurant in a nearby town? It turns out, this guy waited on my husband and his family, in a totally different restaurant, while they were on vacation 8 or 9 years before. That is how good his visual memory is.

His audio-lingual memory, on the other hand is virtually non-existent: he has no recollection of anything he has said or heard. Sometimes, it drives me nuts. The whole point of language and memory is so that you can reference previous events and conversations and save yourself a whole lot of time (and irritation). Most of our conversations go something like this:

He: We did some work right there in that shopping center.

Me: Is that where you were when I called you the other day?

He: (blank look) When?

Me: … the other day, like 4 days ago, I called you as I was going to pick up the kids and you said you were near our house at a new shopping center.

He: (blank look) What?

(it’s a silly example, and ultimately unimportant, but our conversations are FULL of them)

Or like this story I told his dad: The last week of classes I was preparing a movie to watch in the Spanish class I was teaching. It is a Chilean movie called “Machuca” that portrays the time period up to and including the Chilean coup d’etat in 1973. I asked hubs if he wanted to watch it with me (I hadn’t seen it since it came out in theatres in Chile in 2006). He said: “No, it’s too sad, let’s watch the Netflix movie.” Se we watched “After the Wedding” a Danish movie which was so utterly heart-wrenching we both sat on the sofa blubbering like babies and then sat stunned into silence when it was over.

So, as I was telling his dad this, hubs asks: What was that movie about again?

Seriously, people, it was one of those movies that makes you cry so hard you don’t forget for a looooong time. It was literally a movie we had seen 10 days before and he had absolutely no clue what it was about. I had to outline the entire plot before he remembered.

He rarely has any idea what I am talking about. Sometimes he’ll pretend he remembers, (especially after seeing the look of annoyance on my face that he can’t recall the conversation we were having the day before) but there’ll be enough doubt in his eyes that I’ll say: “You have no clue, do you?” And he’ll shake his head sadly. He rarely has one of those “aha!” moments where he remembers all the details I told him before, preventing me from basically having to tell him the exact same story as before.

It is the exact opposite of Borges’ Funes. I tell him it is like waking up next to Aristotle’s “tabula rasa”—(blank slate) every morning.

Now, to be perfectly honest, there are some advantages to blank slate. Not saying I have done or would ever do this, but hypothetically speaking, if I were to “remind” him of something that I had really neglected to tell him, I could probably get him to think that I had told him and he forgot, not that I had forgotten to tell him and was now telling him for the first time. Of course, my very high ethical standards would prevent me from doing such a thing. The biggest bonus is that he never remembers if we were arguing the evening before or what we were arguing about and he never wakes up mad.

I guess it's a pretty good trade-off.


mosey along said...

Our husbands are quite obviously cut from the same cloth. I'll ask mine something two hours after telling him some key bit of information, and he has no recollection of either the topic or the actual conversation. How is this possible?

Isabel said...

maybe it runs in the Chilean genes because my boyfriend is very well-acquainted with my annoyed look when he realizes he's forgotten something i think he should remember :)

i got here from your comment on my blog--it's impressive just how many American women have lived or are living in Chile with a Chilean spouse!

may i ask if you're studying at UT-Austin because if you are, you really ARE living my future (hopefully since I haven't been accepted/rejected yet!)

Danielle said...

I just love reading your blog! You write so well and are so funny. Your husband seems like a sweet guy with some normal hangups just like most husbands. Mine has problems with short term memory loss and selective hearing. I know I have my hangups too though. Thats incredible he remembered that waiter from so long ago!
I'm excited to see Mckayla's cute little crawling baby bum though my house isn't ready yet...

Sara said...

I would love it if my boyfriend would forget arguments we've had.

He does forget other things like "you said we would hang out today..."

"oh, but I have this thing with a friend. We can get together later."

That's the selective memory that annoys me.