Hello again, Mr. Uh--!?
If you think about all the people whose names you’ve forgotten in your life, it can be quite embarrassing. Especially for the people you’ve forgotten. You run into them years later without recognizing them, and they have to remind you that you once saved their life by providing a kidney.
Now, I can’t tell you how many people have been after me to sharpen my memory by using creative little tricks called mnemonics to help my brain remember things, even when it’s been out late drinking the night before. The only trouble for some people (that would be me) is that mnemonics don’t seem to work.
A teacher once told me that I could easily remember, let’s see… I could easily remember… uh, yes, the musical notes on the treble clef with the sentence, “Empty Garbage Before Daddy Flips.” (Or maybe that was to help me remember the countries of Central America?) In either case, it didn’t work. It was always Mommy who flipped when the garbage wasn’t taken out, while Daddy just kept piling it up. If I had to depend on that mnemonic to remember the notes on the treble clef (or the countries of Central America, whichever the case may be), my brain would just wander off whistling. In fact, I would probably need other mnemonics to remember the first mnemonic. And that could take me back into counseling.
What’s worse: I don’t think I am particularly skilled at making up mnemonics.
Just the other day, I met a charming German man named Albert Wolfischlegenstein. Instantly, I tried to take his name apart in my mind’s eye so that I could remember it. I pictured an owl-shaped bird (Albert, get it) chasing a Wolf and a Fish with one Leg and a Stein of beer. Now, that little cartoon seemed to work just fine until I couldn’t make up my mind if the Wolf or the Fish should have the one Leg. I also couldn’t decide who should be carrying the Stein of beer. I tried putting the leg on the fish and imagined the fish hopping about with the beer and being chased by the wolf. But then this started me thinking that the whole picture didn’t make any sense, because fish don’t actually have legs (unless you consider the fossil record, which I did, and it only confused me further, since I don’t know anything about the fossil record).
So I tried to start my mnemonic again, this time putting the leg on the wolf and leaving the fish… well, just a fish. (I don’t remember what happened to the beer.) But by this time, a concerned Mr. Whatsisname was shaking me and asking how many fingers he had raised.
“Oh, hello again,” I said, hurrying out from behind a blank stare, “Mr. Wolfdownyourfishwithyourbeer.”
I never saw the man again.
I think everyone should simply prepare a list of excuses for forgetting names: “Too much on my mind today.” “My hearing’s awful.” “Sorry, Allison, you just look more like a Brenda.” I just wish I could use a mnemonic to remember my list.