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?


  1. I use Stickies on my work mac and Notes on my iphone.

    Because my memory is just good enough to remember that it isn't very good at remembering.

  2. I got lazy to remember and saw how efficient note taking was. You will like it. Doodles make it fun.

  3. I carry a small notebook with me everywhere. Sometimes, the note or hint turns out to not be all that great, when you get a chance to flesh it out. And, sometimes, 6 months later, as you flip through old notes, you find a spurned one that turns out to be EXACTLY the right key to what you are thinking about now.

  4. I'm in the latter "must not been an awesome idea" category but has learned the awesome power of note taking. this post actually reminded me of an idea I wanted to work at.....damn you brain and your undiagnosed ADD. should really work on that memory palace I've been meaning to go at.

    these days, i use my iTouch "Notes" app for everything.....if I'll only remember to look at that damn list all the time though. :(

  5. Thanks for stopping by my place...and for your comment...

    I used a recorder for many years just to keep track of the many things needing to be completed...lost it and now have a note pad on the dash of the car...not as convenient believe me as it's difficult to write and drive simultaneously...

  6. I have run into this also and I used to also be able to memorize a book without needing to re-read it.

    So, for better recall I have notebooks now at my desk and in my purse. I have voice recorders on my phone. I am slowly reminding myself to use them more often but the habit of just sticking it in memory is hard to break. :)

  7. @Gordon: Now that I've (finally) settled into my new life, and I'm on my Mac the majority of my day, I'm really starting to appreciate the magic of Stickies.

    @Zanthera: Indeed. I've taken to leaving ridiculous side-notes and comments that will make me have a "WTF?" moment later. Silly, and makes for great mental anchors =p

    @Lavanah: I think my problem was always seeing the dross of note-taking, and never sticking it out long enough to have the "click" moment later on. A few accidental, spontaneous examples were all it took to convince me, though.

    @Mr. Black: ADD can work out wonderfully for blog posts, it's the homework/officework/housework/etc you forget to do in the meantime that comes back to bite you in the ass, lol!

    @Judy: I imagine the tape recorder would be useful in specific situations like that, I just know myself well enough to realize that I'd end up accumulating so many "notes" on one tape before going back to listen to everything that I'd end up never being able to find the particular one(s) that I needed.

    @MKA: It's definitely a habit, and forming new habits can be as difficult as breaking old ones. Three months after the fact I'm making this comment, and I still haven't got it down pat.