Memoirs,  Productivity

Lost Memory

One of the problems of writing your memoirs as you get older (and most of us don’t think about doing so until we’re in a position to think about the generations that follow us) is memory.

memory, elephantsWhen we’re young, we’re capable of amazing feats of memory (at least, I think so — I’m not sure I can recall exactly!)  We could memorize masses of information — for school, for our jobs, for recipes, for hobbies, for any number of activities in which we took part. 

As we age though, sometimes it feels as if our brains have become constipated, full of useless trivia we no longer have any interest in retrieving.  But that one word we know will be a perfect fit eludes us, often for days on end, only appearing at three in the morning when we have to get up for a pee and can’t do a thing about its sudden reappearance.  Or we’re in conversation with a friend about that actor, oh, you know who I mean, the guy with the nose.  No, not a movie nose, in real life.  Oh c’mon, you know…

So now we’re trying to recall stuff that happened years ago, and we want to remember the details so we can write it all down, but all the people we could ask about it are either dead or don’t believe in the internet.  Or are even older than we are and can’t remember either.

memory, calendarMnemonic Devices

We resort to a series of memory-jogging habits that we often thought were ludicrous in the elderly when we were younger — using a timer to make sure we don’t burn our dinner (again!), repeating people’s names several times when we meet them for the first time in the vain hope that the next time we meet them, the repetition will jog our memories (but knowing even as we do it that it isn’t going to work).  Leaving little post-it notes around the house so that we’ll remember to clean the kitty litter before we succumb to the fumes, get the car to the garage for the semi-annual tire change, or call the doctor to ask if that appointment was for this Wednesday or was it Thursday.  “Oh!  Last Friday?  Really?  I coulda sworn it was this week!”

memory, shopping list

Some of the more organized among us write daily “to-do” and grocery lists, develop habitual places to leave our keys, or develop any one of a million different ways to jog a stubborn memory loose.  There are plenty of mnemonic tricks to keep us from forgetting how to live our lives.  Tying a string around your finger is a classic, as long as you can remember what the stupid string is meant to remind you to do.

Here’s one we learned as children:

Thirty days hath September
April, June and November;
All the rest have thirty-one,
Excepting February alone,
That has twenty-eight days clear
And twenty-nine in each leap year.

And feel free to check out my free download, “Mapping Your Memoirs“, for a couple more ideas.

Wikipedia Says:

mnemonic (/nəˈmɒnɪk/,[1] the first “m” is silent) device, or memory device, is any learning technique that aids information retention or retrieval (remembering) in the human memory. Mnemonics make use of elaborative encoding, retrieval cues, and imagery as specific tools to encode any given information in a way that allows for efficient storage and retrieval. Mnemonics aid original information in becoming associated with something more accessible or meaningful—which, in turn, provides better retention of the information. Commonly encountered mnemonics are often used for lists and in auditory form, such as short poems, acronyms, or memorable phrases, but mnemonics can also be used for other types of information and in visual or kinesthetic forms. Their use is based on the observation that the human mind more easily remembers spatial, personal, surprising, physical, sexual, humorous, or otherwise “relatable” information, rather than more abstract or impersonal forms of information.

However, the occasional lapse of memory is not something to get too upset about.  Unless we have developed Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, it’s fairly normal to run into the odd “forgettery” as we get older, but jeez, we sure don’t have to like it!


Here’s a delightful piece from one of the members of my weekly writing group:


I have lost some words.  Where have they gone?  I have searched through the muddle of my mind, poked in every nook and cranny of my brain.   But to no use.  They’re gone.  Disappeared without a clue.  I have posted “lost” signs on lamp posts telling the world about my missing nouns and verbs in hopes that someone will find them, take pity and give me a call.   

My mind plays at where the hell these words could be.  Just maybe they’re hiding in the dictionary somewhere between aardvark and zebra.  Maybe I was careless and left them in someone else’s mouth by mistake only to later hear them spout my lost words as if they owned them.  Or just maybe, and I cringe at this horrible thought, that my age is starting to show and the words will pop up if I just give them time to come to the surface of my mature mind.   

Whatever, I need to find them.  Fast.  My latest story is waiting for these words to polish it off.  And just like a rosy apple that needs buffing to make it shine, these words will make my writing come alive, to glow with the clever use of these elusive words.   

If only I could find them.

© 2018 Dorothy Doner-Coles


Happy Writing!

Mapping Your Memoir author, Bev Hanna




Trained as an artist in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, I was one of the first creatives to be employed in the computer graphics industry in Toronto during the early 1980’s. For several years, I exhibited my animal portraiture in Canada and the U.S. but when my parents needed care, I began writing as a way to stay close to them. I’ve been writing ever since. I run a highly successful local writer’s circle, teaching the craft and techniques of good writing. Many of my students have gone on to publish works of their own. I create courses aimed at seniors who wish to write memoirs, with a focus on the psychology of creatives and the alleviation of procrastination and writer's block.

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