Sunday, August 21, 2016


While Jean is wrestling with household demons (more on that, hopefully, in weeks to come), Valerie reports:

Yes, that's a great big red and gold bow on my finger.  It's that old mnemonic device to help me remember...  uh... whatever it was I was supposed to remember.  We get to this age and we we start forgetting.  Could be our lives are simply too complicated to remember everything.  Could be most of it is too trivial.  Or could it be we don't remember what we had for breakfast because we were in too much of a rush to care, and it didn't taste all that memorable anyway?  I thought I'd write today about what I do to remember.  Or, more accurately, what I do so I don't have to remember more than once.

Like so many people before me, I keep a one year pocket calendar, and have for more than twenty years.  And I don't throw them away.  This one is dated 2001 in the upper right corner.  I can see I got my hair done, had a facial, probably did jury duty, and recorded the name of a book I wanted to buy.  (Not to put too fine a point on it, but you know those questions your gynecologist always asks you?  I could answer all of them, accurately, for decades, thanks to my annual pocket calendars.)  Even then, I was writing things down, and crossing them off when I'd taken care of them.   But the pocket calendar doesn't work for everything.

At one point I got into a cycle of paying my bills late.  Either I would leave bills in my pocketbook or lose them in the jungle of papers that is normally my desk, and I wound up getting second notices.  So now all that stuff goes in a charming red shoe box on my desk, and I never forget to pay bills in a timely manner.  The shoe box is also a great place to keep such other stuff as a comb shaped like fish bones.  You never know when you might need one of those.

I have to confront my mirror every morning - that's where my toothbrush is - so it's a great place for little reminder stickies.  These are things I need to do eventually, so there's no use putting them in the calendar: if the date passes, I won't look at that date again.  This way, I have to face my neglected tasks every morning, and I can write in new ones as they occur to me.  The one in the center reminded me to renew my passport.  Another has a possible blog topic, another reminds me to man up (so to speak) and finally toss or sell a vintage jacket I ruined, and am clearly (fifteen years later) never going to fix.  The white one is a label for a magazine I subscribe to.  When I called about it, I got a recording asking for my subscription number.  I didn't have it when I made the call, so when I found it, up on the mirror it went.

But what happens when you leave the house?  Sometimes I put stickies in my pocket calendar, but that's not good for highly time-sensitive matters.  For that, I use the back of my hand.  'Rent' reminds me to take a check to my agency by hand, because they've screwed up too many times (always in their favor, by odd coincidence) when I've given them access to my checking account.  'Dry' means pick up something at the dry cleaner before they close; 4:30 might refer to a phone call I have to make, or to something I want on Ebay.

Everyone pines for a valet like the ones we've seen on PBS programs about the old English aristocracy.  (Here, the wonderful Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie of Jeeves and Wooster).

It takes a lot of cheek to call this inanimate little frame a valet, but that's what we're reduced to 100 years later: a stand for one jacket, one pair of pants, and a little tray to hold whatever is fished out of the pockets.  But wait!  It gets worse!  Nowadays, a receptacle no bigger than a man's jewelry box can also be called a valet.  Jeeves might have said "For this evening, might I suggest, sir, the gold cuff links with the family crest on them?", and Wooster might have replied yes, not having the faintest idea where they had been stored until Jeeves produced them with a flourish.  Today, every man must fend for himself.  And for me it's worse still.

The holy trinity without which I cannot leave the house are my keys, my watch, and my office pass.  On too many occasions, I'd found myself at my place of work without my pass or my watch.  Since I can't lock my door without my keys, I unfailingly remember them before I leave, so I learned to put the other two more forgettable items with the keys.  But as I have no valet of any kind, they sit on my oversized television, which I disconnected four years ago, but can't bring myself to either store or throw away.

After you write your checks to pay your bills, you have to remember to submit them.  That's a whole other kettle of fish.  I leave them at the front door where (usually) I take note of them.  (Here, circled in green.)  I generally keep them in my hand till I reach the mail box because if I put them in my bag, there's no telling when they'll next see the light of day.

The front door has its other uses, too.

These shoes needed new heels, so I left them at the door where I might trip over them, to remind me to take them to the shoe maker on my way to work.  When I do this sort of thing, I also set my alarm clock to wake me 15 minutes earlier than usual.  The next morning, when I see I've awakened 15 minutes early, first I'll say "what the [expletive deleted]?" and then I'll realize I've cleverly given myself enough time to do something extra.  When I get to the front door, I realize what the something was.  (Sometimes I even remember without any help.)

I am my building's volunteer to recycle the building's batteries.  They're heavy, so I take them in small amounts.  It only takes a minute to drop them off at the recycling center on my way to work, so I don't have to build in any extra time.  I just have to make sure to hang them on the door knob.

When Jean and I go out to some wonderful event to report on for you, we take our business cards with us.  They're large, so we carry a few at a time, except for special events.  If I remember to pull out the filing cabinet drawer in the morning, I'll see the cards on my way out in the evening.  Otherwise, I'll rush out without thinking about them.

NO WIRE HANGERS!!!!  They leave dents in your lightweight clothes and sag under the weight of your heavy clothes.  But they are good for bringing your dry cleaning home, so I return mine to my cleaner for recycling.   These are too large to sit on the door knob, so I hang them on my lamp.  They're an eyesore there, so I'm very motivated to get rid of them as quickly as possible.

The Boulevard of Broken Earrings.  I've previously written about organizing my jewelry box, so earrings by rights should be in it, and not on top of my chest of drawers.  But if I put them back in my jewelry box, I'll forget about them and they'll stay broken forever.  So I leave them in plain sight to force myself to deal with them.  If it were as simple as super glue, they'd all be fixed by now.  The black ones aren't actually broken - they're too heavy for their clasps, and fall off my ears.  What to do?!  And the fish tails need more drastic measures - one hinge died of metal fatigue.  For the time being, the broken one has been 'fixed' with an extra clip and double sided foam mounting tape, which after one wearing has proven to be a very iffy solution.  (Collage postcard of the Guggenheim hat by Elaine Norman.)

Similarly, when it was time to admit I could no longer wear my beloved yellow suit (see that post here), I put it out where I was forced to deal with it.  For the earlier blog posting, I hung it on the inside of my closet door to 'frame' it, but in reality it hung in the doorway of my bedroom, so I was forced to wave it out of my way several times a day until I finally got fed up and took care of it.

I was well trained by both of my parents to turn off lights when I left a room.  Both of them quoted my father's Depression-era parents to me: "What, are you trying to make Con Edison rich?"  So I turned off lights, until I realized I associated that with 'closure'.  Once or twice I awoke in the morning to see I'd left the ice cream out (oh, no!  not the ice cream!), or the dishes undone.  So now, when I turn off a light, I check to see if I have any unfinished business.  If I do, I'll leave the light on to make sure I go back and finish what I started.

So those are my tips for remembering.  Or forgetting less.  Now if I could just figure out what to do about people's names...


  1. You are so cute! Don't have a clue how to remember names either.

  2. Setting up systems that work for us makes life easier. You've done a great job at that. As for names...

  3. Thank you thank you thank you. I'm not the only one. Excellent tips. I already do a few of them. I still have not mastered the name thing. Sometimes associating them with an animal helps, but not if the I only remember the animal and not the name.

  4. This sounds so much like my life! I need so many cues, and sometimes they don't work. I may have to borrow some of yours!

  5. You have obviously found a system that works for you. Anything that I am planning to get rid of goes in my living room on the floor so I have to keep stepping over it til it goes out the door. I like the "Boulevard of Broken Earrings"!

  6. I love your glasses!!!! I want some just like them.

  7. It's great to know that I'm no alone in all the various ways I leave clues so I don't forget. As for names, I've now started saying, "It's not that you're forgettable, it's that I forget," - will you please remind me of your name again?