Katie Scarvey: Don’t I know you?

  • Posted: Sunday, August 25, 2013 12:01 a.m.
Submitted photo
Memory Man Gilbert Sherr will be giving two free presentations at Trinity Oaks this week.
Submitted photo Memory Man Gilbert Sherr will be giving two free presentations at Trinity Oaks this week.

I don’t remember a lot of things very well these days, but what I do remember is how easy it used to be to remember things.

Fact Box

If you want to hear the Memory Man, Gilbert Sherr, he will be giving two presentations at Trinity Oaks on Thursday, one at 1 p.m. and one at 4 p.m.

The event is free, but call Linda Agner at 704-603-9204 to reserve a seat. Each interactive show lasts about 70 minutes.

Trinity Oaks is located at 728 Klumac Road in Salisbury.

On long car trips as a child, I’d study flash cards and in no time at all I could recite capitals, presidents and the starting lineup of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I’d quiz myself to see how many seconds it took to reel off the 50 states.

Taking tests in school was a breeze because I could visually recreate note pages in my head. I don’t know if my memory was photographic, but it was pretty good, and I think most healthy young people have the raw material for recall.

One of my high school friends, for example, could recite Pi to 500 places. Impressive, but after the first five places or so, only a few geeks exist who will know if you’re right or just rattling off random numbers.

Memorizing Pi doesn’t seem very practical, but it’s likely that any such mental exercise is good for the brain.

It’s disheartening to realize that an ability we take for granted is eroding for no reason other than time passing.

I now find myself in situations in which I see someone I know perfectly well and draw a momentary (if I’m lucky) blank when trying to match the familiar face with a name.

I’ve begun to strategize to work around my embarrassing new disability. I often grab the person next to me and whisper, “Who is that? I know her, but I just can’t come up with her name!”

At dinner with a friend recently, I couldn’t come up with the name of a TV show I’ve watched many times (“Game of Thrones”). My friend supplied it, but later, as she described a film she’d just seen, she kept referring to Che Guevara.

A few minutes later, it hit her: “It’s not Che Guevara; I meant Cesar Chavez!” And of course I completely understood and was comforted by the fact that this woman is one of the smartest people I know.

As disconcerting as memory lapses can be, imagine being one of those people who can’t remember faces because of an unusual medical condition called prosopagnosia, or face blindness.

These are otherwise fully functioning and intelligent humans with a brain glitch that has devastating social ramifications.

Apparently, these folks find strategies to figure out who people are using other clues.

The actor Brad Pitt has speculated that he has the condition and has admitted to feeling a lot of stress in social situations.

The neurologist Oliver Sachs also suffers from prosopagnosia and has said he sometimes has trouble recognizing his own face.

Then there are a few among us, like the actress Marilu Henner, who can remember every day of their lives with startling clarity.

If you cite a date even years in the past, Henner can tick off what was in the news that day, where she was or who she had lunch with. The term for this condition is hyperthymesia, also known as Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory.

If we all had Henner’s gift and knew we would vividly recall our experiences for the rest of our lives, would we conduct our lives differently? Maybe, maybe not, but I do believe we’d have far less social anxiety.

More and more, I’m a fan of the name tag. I wear one often for work – when I remember it, that is – and in my perfect world, everyone would wear visible ID, all the time.

Well, maybe not at home. But even there, it might sometimes be helpful. When my husband and his two brothers were small, my father-in-law would sometimes struggle to spit out the right kid’s name and took to simply yelling, “Hey Butchie!”

That wouldn’t work at a Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours event, would it?

When I found out that Gilbert Sherr, aka The Memory Man, was going to be at Trinity Oaks next week to share his memory strategies, I was psyched.

I’m pretty sure he can’t help me get my old memory back, but I hope to gain some helpful tools.

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