If I met you, and concentrated on your face and had a half hour conversation, and you came back twenty minutes later, I’d greet you with polite civility and say how do you do.
I once spent a full day chatting up a sexy girl and didn’t recognize her the next morning.
I can repeat your name twenty times and still not know it. And the next day you are a stranger. Yet I am so functional that not even my family knows this about me.
If your are my girlfriend of 1 year, I will explain for the two weeks leading up to your birthday, that on the morning of your birthday, I will forget. You will be unable to comprehend the truth of this, on that morning, and feel that I don’t care.
I’ve been this way since at least my early twenties – maybe the acid I did as a teen did this to me, maybe the head injury as a child, maybe the alcohol I started drinking at age 11, who knows. I don’t recall dates, faces, or events, but I do recall meaning, and the details that provide it. If you are meaningful to me, if we get some romance going, I’ll remember you after a glance, but I can’t make you meaningful by will of effort. Science trivia will stick, especially if it alters my world view by a half millimeter.
And, from what I gather, this gives me savant powers. My brain has rewired itself to make up for my lack. People take it for granted that I’m normal, and don’t seem to notice my special retardation. I don’t reminisce details with friends, but I do make jokes about our past. I gather my big pictures not from the one to one relationships that narratives unfold, but from reaching around into a myriad of small corners to piece together insight.
Mr. Monk, the TV detective, is, dammit, only a fiction. There are no savants with picture perfect memory capable of insight. It’s a trade off. Take your pick. Insight, or memory. And how am I able to remember this obscure piece of trivia about the studies showing that memory savants lack insight? I’m not sure, but it hints that narrative is not the only way we store memories, and that narrative is an obstacle to creativity.
I’m simply unable to reconstruct a narrative point by point, so I have no choice but to reconstruct the meta-narrative – I have to grab from 1000 unrelated points the meaning. Because I am memory blind, I compensate by seeing big pictures and by making odd associations.
I focus on what is important. I don’t do details.