People often ask me how I'm able to remember so much about old-time Maui. The truth is, I don't. I have vivid recollections of certain childhood moments, but I've forgotten much more than I've retained. I don't think my memory is any better or worse than average, and I'm satisfied with that. Lately, however, I've been intrigued by the selection process.
I have no supporting data, but my uneducated guess would be that most - say, 80 percent - of the stuff in my memory bank got there on purpose: lessons learned in school, survival tips such as looking both ways before crossing the street, vital statistics like my ATM PIN. As for the other 20 percent, it makes sense that significant events and highly emotional moments would etch themselves into my head. But what about all those seemingly useless, random bits of information that my brain has chosen to retain?
Why do I remember the phone numbers of my father's first office (321-635) and my childhood home (72121), but not my mother's current landline? OK, I blame speed dial for that. But what about knowing all the words to the theme from "Milton the Monster," which wasn't even my favorite cartoon ("Five drops of Essence of Terror, six drops of Sinister Sauce . . ."), or the horoscope signs of all four Monkees and most of my high school crushes?
You'd think that the brain, being the marvelous wonder of nature that it is, would periodically purge itself of useless trivia like that, to make room for important stuff. Like cleaning and defragging your computer. Instead, it seems to hold on to the craziest little details, and I detect no method to its madness.
I have photographic images of long-gone Maui establishments in my head; I remember exactly where to find the Barbie dolls at Toda Drugs and in the old Ben Franklin store at Kahului Shopping Center. I can picture the layouts of Kress Store, National Dollar, even Kato Dry Goods and Ikeda's - the ones in Wailuku and Paia. I know my way around the stores I frequent today, but I often forget what I came in for. I have to keep a shopping list, even for just a couple of items.
My brain especially likes the written word, but I don't seem to have adequate control over which words it decides to keep. I can't recite more than the first few lines of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address or the Declaration of Independence, but I remember, word for word, half a dozen MAD Magazine song parodies. And lifestyle tips from 16 Magazine that haven't applied to me since before I turned 16.
My parents got me hooked on the morning newspaper almost as soon as I could read, starting with the comics and then the features; as a preteen, I was hooked on the syndicated columnists in The Honolulu Advertiser: Ann Landers, Herb Caen, Lou Boyd. Lou's "Just Checking" factoids fascinated me, yet only a curious few have stayed with me. Like shower statistics: most folks start by soaping their stomachs or chests, but the recommended method is to do your left shoulder and arm, if you're right-handed, and vice-versa if you're not. I don't remember whose recommendation that was, nor do I recall the logic behind it, but I've been showering that way since I was 10.
Some things that seemed to be crucial knowledge are apparently now obsolete. Like what to do if you find yourself in quicksand (don't panic, don't move your legs). When I was a child, I was concerned enough about quicksand to look it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica. I thought it was an ever-present danger, because people in books and on TV were always stepping into the stuff. You never hear about quicksand anymore, so I guess it's no longer a threat. Maybe it all dried up. In any case, I don't think my knowledge of quicksand will ever come in handy.
Perhaps now that I've written about them, my brain will finally release these insignificant memory bubbles. I hope so, because I need the space. Now where did I put that shopping list?
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.