Don’t forget to remember to forget so you can remember

Burt's Eye View

Today’s column was going to be brilliant.

I laughed out loud at the silly thought that popped into my mind. I sprinted through the house to relay the hilarity to Terry.

“Oh, there you are,” she said. “What was the date of your cousin’s wedding?”

“It’s, uh…” I sighed and dug the cellphone out of my pocket. “I don’t remember. But I think I stored it in here somewhere.” I flipped through screens and apps and pages. “Here it is. Oct. 12.”

“Oct. 12,” she said. “I better write that down or I’ll forget.” She scribbled in the margin of her newspaper. “Now then, what was it you wanted to tell me?”

“Oh, yeah, that. So, I just thought of the most wonderful idea for this week’s column. You’re gonna love it!”

“Tell me.”

“OK, see, what happens is… What I mean is… While I was, uh…”

Terry leaned forward. “What’s the column about?”

I groaned. “I forgot.”

“Did you make a note of it?”

“No. As soon as it exploded in my brain, I ran right in here to tell you, and now…,” I shrugged. “It’s gone.”

“Well, at least you know your cousin’s wedding date.”

“If we got my cousin a wedding gift already, return it.” I smacked the sides of my head, trying to shake the idea loose. Nothing. Except for the beginnings of a headache.

“Hey, look at this.” Terry waved the newspaper on which she’d written the date. “According to this article, your brain just dumped the memory to make room for an even better idea.”

“It’s not here yet.”

Terry tapped the paper. “According to this story, we need to forget to remember.”

I slumped against the wall. “I’ve got the forgetting part down. When does the remembering start?”

Terry read on. “A guy named Oliver Hardt, who studies forgetting at McGill University in Montreal, says if the brain remembered absolutely every detail, our heads would be jammed to the cortex with all kinds of unimportant junk — like the color of the shirt you wore on the sixth day of school in fourth grade.”

“Blue,” I said. “Robin’s egg blue, with tiny gray diamond shapes.”

“Um, right.” She read on. “Anyway, Hardt says at bedtime, all the memories of that day can flood our brains. So the brain begins to sort through all the details and erases the stuff it thinks we’ll never need so that there’s room for new memories.”

“Aha, so I was right a few years ago when I invented the term Crammed Cranium Syndrome. Remember that?”

She shook her head. “No.”

“Yes, you do. It was my great theory about limited space in our gray matter filing cabinets, so every night, random information overflow leaks out our ears and soaks our pillowcases. On laundry day, all those memories are gone with the Tide.”

Terry rubbed her chin. “Doesn’t ring a bell. Are you sure that was you?”

“I don’t forget my columns.”

“So what are you writing about this week?”

I glowered. “I forgot.”

“I wonder what exciting new thing you’ll remember now that you forgot,” she said.

I didn’t answer. Because I’d just remembered the red pony on the pocket of that fourth grade shirt.

— Write these down: You can reach Cole at, on the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or @BurtonWCole on Twitter.