Underneath my yellow skin

Writing & aging don’t always mesh

all. the. questions.

I’m reading the second book of a trilogy I’m working on, and I noticed that I completely left out a scene that I had setup to write. It wasn’t a huge setup, but I was carefully making it seem to be something important. Then, I just…forgot about it? Got distracted? I’m not sure, but probably the latter because I had setup another important scene, and that one I actually wrote. I’m going to have to write the scene and make it seamless, and I have to have my character talk to another character whom I introduced and noted I had to talk to, but then never did.

It’s not like me to forget entire scenes and characters, and I think it’s because I’m getting old. I hate to admit it, but my memory ain’t what it used to be. In my heyday, I worked in a department that had five hundred people. I checked in people to training classes, which meant I met most of the people in the department as many of the training was mandatory. I only forgot the name of two people, and one was because she was perhaps the blandest person I’d ever met. I felt bad about it, but it’s still a pretty good track record.

I’ve been losing the lyrics from 80s songs, which I’m fine with. I don’t need them, and they take up way too much brain space. It’s disconcerting, though, because I’d been carrying them around with me for decades only to have them disappear. Not all of them and not even most of them, but some of them–and that’s weird enough. I know it’s human nature to lose your memory capabilities as you get older, but it’s disconcerting. My mom and i have had several discussions about this because my father is rapidly losing his memory. He’s always had a terrific memory as well, and now, it’s really bad in some areas. To complicate matters, he never remembered anything he didn’t want to remember. If he didn’t consider something important, it didn’t register in his brain. For example. He never went to any of my activities when I was a kid unless my mom made him. He never showed any interest in my life, and I doubt he knows anything personal about me except I like cats and the color black. In addition, when he was the president of an economic research company, he had an excellent secretary (they still use that word in Taiwan) who would print out his emails for him. That’s not all she did, but that’s the extent to which his helplessness was extended.

Anyway, the problem now is discerning what is memory loss for him and what is just him not giving a shit. I think there is some of the former, however, because he’ll ask the same question repeatedly and not remember that I had already answered him. For example, when he got a new CPAP machine, he asked me every night (they were here on vacation) how to put it on. I would (im)patiently explain how to put it on, and he would nod and go away. Next night, same question and same response. This went on for a whole week. The reason I’m pretty sure it’s actual memory loss is because he asked me the question, which means he presumably wanted an answer. It wasn’t just the fact that he asked me repeatedly; it was that he showed no recollection of having asked me before.

My mom, on the other hand, has always had a really bad memory. So bad, I would often think she was deliberately trying not to remember when I was a kid. I would be resentful and pissy about it, and it took until I was in my twenties or thirties to realize she wasn’t doing it on purpose. To further complicated matters, she’s an unreliable narrator. She puts her own spin on events, and usually, it’s to make them look rosier than they actually are. There was one summer when she was back here on vacation, and she bugged me every day about having kids. I mean every day and not just one casual mention. This was during the depths of my depression, and I wanted to kill myself to get away from her. I am not exaggerating, and I remember it clearly. In my mind, it was one of the worst visits we’ve had. Later, she mentioned it and how great the visit was. There have been other cases of this as well. In addition, she thinks we’re closer than we are because she–well, that’s a post for another day.

Because her memory is so bad, she’s developed systems in order to deal with it. She takes copious notes, and she doesn’t rely on her memory for important information. As a result, her loss of memory, which is admittedly less than my father’s, has much less of an effect on her than it has on my father. He’s even commented to her that her memory is better than his now, and he’s right. The thing is, though, it’s a combination of different factors. In addition to my mother’s exemplary note taking, she also takes good care of herself. She exercises and eats right, and she looks a good ten to fifteen years younger than she actually is. When my father was working, he never exercised, and he didn’t drink water. At all. He worked late hours, and he probably didn’t eat well when he wasn’t at home. He has good genetics for the most part, but that can only take you so far.

Back to me and writing. Didn’t think we’d get back to it, did you? As I’ve written many times in the past, I don’t outline or plan my novels. I have everything in my head, and it’s not been a problem in the past. Yes, I’ve forgotten things before, but not like this. Actually, though, that’s one of the problems with growing old–it’s difficult to discern something that is normal from something that is worrisome. I *have* forgotten scenes before, and I have forgotten characters before, but I’ve never forgotten both at the same time.

This is why we edit, kids! I do edit as I write, which is a no-no, by the way. All the pros say you’re supposed to write the first draft and just let it flow. I can’t do that, though, because if I see something that needs to be fixed, then I’m going to fix it. In addition, if I need to add something or subtract something, I’m going to do that as well. Because I write on the fly without any kind of outline, I need to be able to adjust on the fly as well. Anyway, always edit. That much I can say is a truth, regardless of whom you ask.

I’m wondering if I need to start planning my novels. I say that and instinctively frown. It’s not my style at all, but needs must as we age and change. I would rather adjust to it now before it’s actually a problem than be in denial and have to deal with it when it’s staring me in the face. On the other hand, I can’t imagine writing an outline. It goes against everything I believe in. I think a good compromise might be jotting down notes as I write, but not on the original document. I know myself. I wouldn’t go back and read them, so it would be better to have a side document with notes. That feels attainable in a way writing an outline doesn’t.

I want to emphasize that I’m not saying outlines are bad. They aren’t. I think they’re excellent for people who can make them work. What I’m saying is that they don’t work for me, and I don’t think the answer to my failing memory is to try something I detest. I know myself. I’m not going to do it. Or, I’ll do it resentfully, which will make me much less likely to actually write. I can see myself taking notes and being ok with that, though, so I think that’s what I’m going to try. It can’t hurt.

Leave a reply