Monday, March 07, 2011

Why I'm jealous of Marilu Henner

Sunday was a wonderful day of skiing and reconnecting with an old friend that I hadn't seen in 10 years.  Eleanor and I were close friends and sorority sisters at UVa., and we've kept in touch via Christmas cards and Facebook and word of mouth, but we haven't seen each other much.  So when I found out (via Facebook, natch) that she and her family were going to be vacationing in Breckenridge for the week, I jumped at the chance to go and hang out with her for a little while (and get some skiing in, of course). 

I got to say hello to her husband, Robert, and meet her beautiful daughters, but then Robert took the girls so that El and I could have the morning to catch up, just the two of us.

It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to slip back into conversations and coexistence with people that you've known really well, have been really close with, and who have been with you through formative periods in your life (like college).  And social media obviously helps.  I haven't seen Eleanor in forever, but I keep up with her daily via Facebook and Twitter, so I've seen the pictures of her kids and know what sports they do and I have a general sense of what's going on in her life.  She can say the same for me.  So we might do a little bit of catching up, of filling in the blanks, but mostly we fall back into just talking -- about life, about how we feel about where we are, about our mutual friends.  It's the same conversation we always had.

Of course, there were certain things that she remembered that I didn't, and things that I remembered that she didn't, and it was fun to bring back things that had been otherwise tucked away in the recesses of my brain, probably never to be retrieved.

You're probably saying to yourself about now, "yeah, yeah, that's really nice, but what the hell does Marilu Henner have to do with any of this?"
Salvador Dali's Persistence of Memory

Marilu Henner is one of 6 known people in the world with the ability to recall, in vivid detail, every single day of her life (the clinical term is Superior Autobiographical Memory).  If you say a random date -- April 7, 1989, whatever -- she can tell you what day of the week it was, what she did that day, who she saw, and whatever else she can remember about it.  When she hears a date, she describes her brain's function as being similar to a DVD -- the day cues up and she sees it as if it were all happening again.  She can look at a pair of shoes and immediately remember the exact date she wore them last, what happened that day, etc.

Now, I have a decent memory for history and dates -- I even do exercises to try to cultivate and improve my ability to recollect -- but it's obviously nothing like that.  And I often lament the loss of certain memories because in losing the memories, I've essentially lost the experiences.  I've done so many cool things in my life, visited so many amazing places, met and known so many incredible people, and I feel like by not being able to remember all of them, it's like they didn't really happen.  I crave the ability to bring it all back, to carry all of those memories with me.  It makes me feel closer to my friends and family.  Friends like Eleanor, who is so wonderful and whose company I enjoy so much.

It makes me feel more alive.


  1. Anonymous2:24 PM

    I saw that Marilu Henner thing on 60 Minutes a while back and was amazed about it. Believe me, you are not the only one being jealous.

    Mirko, Milwaukee, WI

  2. Hi, Mirko!! *waves*

  3. 1. I knew it wasn't the rack

    2. Not only is there the lament of memories lost, but the confusion of memories retained. Why can I remember what a co-worker I worked with for a week 20 years ago was wearing on X day and I can't remember what I was wearing last Tuesday. That may not be the best example, but nevertheless.

    Actually, now that I think about it, the example is why can I remember mundane things from some TV/film I love and not the bits I know I really love ?

    Great post, Wendy.

  4. Drew - first of all, thanks, and I'm cackling about the rack comment. Second, those are excellent points. I can vividly remember points of dialogue from movies, but have lost so many important memories of people and places. Why, brain, why??