July 4, 2011

On Forgetting Our Notes-to-Self: The tragedy of forgotten ideas

I have a tendency that I'm sure a lot of magicians (and computer programmers, oddly) can identify with: Often, seemingly out of nowhere, an idea will flash into my mind, unrelated to anything I'm doing or thinking at the time. I'll latch on to this idea, spend a good while thinking about it and fleshing out all the details, congratulate myself on my awesomeness, go back to whatever else needs more immediate doing... and promptly forget about my great idea entirely.

You'd think that after a while I'd either learn to write stuff down (god knows I have as many digital devices as I do pens to store notes on), or conclude that my ideas weren't impressive enough or important enough to warrant remembering. But the scale on which this happens can be staggering; I've fleshed out rough drafts for entire term papers in my head while on the road, and sat staring at a blank word processor for hours when I got home; I've had wonderful, inspired-feeling ideas for blog posts that are gone by the time I drag my lazy ass to a computer. I'm sure everyone's been through this.

AKA the ubiquitous childhood experience.
But the absolute worst part of it is knowing that a single word could bring that entire idea back in a flash, fully-formed, if only I could remember what the word was. Every once in a while I'll get lucky and an offhand phrase from a friend or relative will bring it all flooding back, but the vast majority of the time whatever I've come up with is given up for lost. It's a bit like being a kid and building something very intricate out of a bin full of Legos, and searching desperately for that one goddamn piece that you've had plans for for ages, and seen every time you didn't need it.

What a douche.
Ironically, it was scraping my mind to remember a previous, now-long-forgotten blog post that made me remember something Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki said years ago about occult students needing to carry a small tape recorder or pocket notebook to record these sudden ideas (or flashes of insight, as the case may be). I always assumed that constantly stopping to flesh out and record your ideas in public would not only be hugely inconvenient, but would make you look like an absolute prat. It wasn't until today that I realized that writing down less than a sentence (e.g. "Blog post, spirit offerings, annoying neighbor") would be enough for me to remember pages of text I couldn't pull out of my ass now if I tried. Honestly, why haven't I tried this before now?

Pretty much.
I think it's a matter of ego. In my undergrad years, a good memory meant I could simply listen to lectures without ever taking notes, read the book once (and only once, often near exam-time) without taking notes, and make awesome grades. Yes, I was that asshole. I'm not sure why the same recall doesn't apply to internal dialogue the way it does to external, but I suppose the idea of needing memory aids seems somewhat... vulgar to my most conceited side.

But you know what? Fuck it. This blog is suposed to be about "practical magic and self-transformation", and the most practical thing I can do today kill two birds with one stone, swallow my pride, and start taking notes. I'm sure it seems like a tiny step to some, but I'm working through 20-odd years of being conditioned otherwise. I feel accomplished today.

Now where's that damn notebook?