Friday, 26 January 2018

Six years later

I began remembering every day that passes on 17 December 2011.

The sixth anniversary has passed and here we are in 2018, over 2200 days later.

I'm still going strong, though recently switched the nature of the long recall of days I do every month to refresh the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags.

Last time, I start on 1 January 2016 and went through the whole year, day by day. Then the same with 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 (much of 2011 is blank as there were few landmarks I was able to identify retrospectively).

I started with 2016 because in the previous strategy of jumping through the months, recalling two weeks chunks, was becoming increasingly confusing and I'd struggle to complete the final year or two in the time available before I had to start again. So I took it leisurely and sequentially, which makes it much easier to find the tags.

Then I started again with 2011. I'm currently up to August 2013 and fit in a few months each day, with no real pressure as to when I finish. I'd like to do so in less than a month, just because that is the longest I've ever left a memory tag before refreshing it. I'm not sure how well they will survive otherwise.

I still do the last month of tags, morning and night. Every now and then, I'll go through the past 6 months sequentially or two days per week, as of old.

There is still a lot I get out of the grounding of recalling these past days. Although as they have grown to over 6 years - over 10% of my life - the period I can remember day-by-day does not seem so different to the earlier foggy period.

The past is another world, even when I can revisit the memories.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Fitting it all in and playing the song

I can remember each of the 2000+ days since I began this process of remembering of every day that passes. Lembransation works, but I need to spend some time each day recalling the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags or they will fade.

The posts tagged with "how I remember" show how my methodology has changed over time.

Recently, I have made bigger changes to make it more relaxed. This is possible because I have confidence in the techniques I have developed over these five and a half years.

Every few days when I am waking up I will think back to the same date in past years. Today is 1st August, so I reviewed the memory tags for 1 - 4 August for 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. This takes little time. It serves as a useful reminder of upcoming birthdays and anniversaries. It is nice to be able to tell people, you remember this time two years ago we were....

Until recently, I was doing this review every morning, but to save time I use a larger window. It is often the case that I need to scan over adjacent days in any case to orientate myself, so this makes use of the effort.

Every morning, or at some point during the day, I will run through every day from starting a month ago. Every now and then, I'll extend this to a couple of months, or even longer, if I feel the earlier images are not a set as I would like. Sometimes I will resurrect an earlier strategy of reviewing a two or three day window for every week of the past 6 months, every Monday and Tuesday, for example.

Basically, I am flexible. I have this range of techniques and I'll fit in whatever I have time and feel the need for.

My long-term review now consists of reviewing half a month at a time from the start of this process over a period of half a month. So I am currently reviewing 28 of each month to 14 of the following month and have until 14 August to complete the process, though sometimes I'll overrun. Then I'll take 14 - 28 of every month until 28 August.

I do have the ambition to complete a year per day, but sometimes scrabbling around for memory tags means I get so far and then leave it for the next day. So far, every memory tag comes back to me eventually, though some are a little vague because they are little more than "I was in the office", which is more of a placeholder than something significant with details I want to remember.

I continue to tell myself that the longer the period is ago, the easier it should be to remember, because I have refreshed the images so many times. The landscape is familiar. Often there is a whole week I can cover in a fraction of a second, because I created interconnected images. For example, they may be on the theme of where I had lunch and who with. Once I have one image and remembered the theme, the whole sequence is there.

Philosophically, I'm trying to take this further. I am having another go at learning a musical instrument and can pick out tunes by ear on the keyboards and guitar (a skill I had not developed in past attempts). It amazes me how my brain has stored songs that I may not have heard for years, but are instantly familiar so that I can recognise when I am hitting the right key or plucking the right string.

What if each year of my mental calendar was a song, as easily remembered?

Monday, 31 July 2017

Time lost

I now have over 2000 days of my mental calendar with memory tags to help me remember them.

As I look back on events over the five plus years since I began this process of remembering every day that passes, it is increasingly striking how much of this time would have faded to nothing. As with earlier years, I may have only retained a sense of the year and a few key events. My sister's wedding and the death of my niece in 2013. Attending the Olympics in 2016. Just a few pegs, rather than 365 or 366 for every year.

Every now and then I feel maybe it is time to let it all go. Today is July 31. How important is it to me to remember what I was doing on this exact same date in past years? Let's see:

July 31, 2012: Taking my parents to see my mother's sister. This turned out to be the last time we saw her.

July 31, 2013: Taking part in a committee meeting - in my memory tag I go around the table and remember everyone who was there.

July 31, 2014: Visiting my parents and making them dinner. My mother has Alzheimer's and at this time it was only just becoming apparent.

July 31, 2015: It's hard to believe that 2015 is two years ago. In fact, all these years seem to fresh to be receding so far. On this day we too two of my wife's sisters for a picnic in a favourite country park.

July 31, 2016: On the way to the Rio Olympics.

And then I realise how important it is not to lose this time. There is pleasure and enrichment to be found when the days are not lost forever. Often when I am having a particularly good day, I think this is special and I look forward to remembering it in the months and years to come.

But this process requires an investment of time, which is time lost from other things. As the days have piled up I have had to adapt the process of reviewing the images pinned to my mental calendar to refresh them. I'll post next time about my current method.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Not dead yet

Anyone who read of the experiment I began in January 2016 of imagining I had 18 months left to live (the period David Bowie had lived after his diagnosis of cancer) may have wondered what happened when the deadline of 29 May 2017 arrived.

Well, I am still here, is the good news.

We were on holiday and it was with a little nervousness that I drove us to our destination on that Monday imagining it could be the last day of my life. It may well end like this - totally unexpected while pursuing other plans.

But I survived and now my mental calendar stretches before me once more, with a possibility of days and no arbitrary end followed by oblivion.

I have refocused during this period and looked at my priorities. I'm trying once again to learn to play a musical instrument, with the aim of being at least able to play a party piece. I've started using some inline skates I bought on a whim a few years ago and had never put on. I even took an online course in comedy and have been writing attempted comedic thoughts as a daily exercise.

I've also reorganised my working life to reduce stress and better manage demands on my time and will likely make a bigger change in career in the coming months.

How much is down to valuing the time I have left due to this death exercise, and Lembransation in total, and how much is just my willingness to reassess and try new things is questionable.

But what is certain is I am not dead yet and the days that are left are to be valued.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Thirty days

My memory tag for 11 January 2016 is learning that David Bowie had died of cancer. It was reported that he had a prognosis of 18 months to live before this and had spent his remaining days revisiting places with his family, recording a new album (to be launched a matter of days before he died), and preparing a stage show, Lazarus, featuring his music.

As a philosophical exercise, I wondered how it would be to know I had a similar period left and pictured my mental calendar coming to an end part way through 2017. At the start of the year, I put the number of 150 days on the time left. Now it is down to 30 days. Recently, I calculated the date of my hypothetical last day.

It has been an interesting exercise. At various times, things that might have worried or stressed me in the past have faded out of importance, because life is too short to worry about them.

I've reassessed aspects of my life, deciding to make some major changes to my working life, which I am in the process of putting into action over the final 30 days.

The exercise has focussed my mind to put time into activities, such as music, which I have neglected for many years.

I have tried to avoid seeing a developing digestive problem as a sign of what will kill me on the scheduled date. I warded off the paranoia and hypochondria by telling myself that these symptoms were probably nothing and it could be something sudden and unexpected like a traffic accident that is scheduled for my final day. I've had the tests anyway, and the problem is real, but not life threatening. I'm hoping that the change in my working life might make a difference.

So the final days are ticking by towards 29 May. We are moving country again and so I have seen all my wife's family to say goodbye and will be seeing all of my own over the coming 30 days.

It is important to value relationships. Although we do not know how many days we have left, they are numbered.

I don't really expect to die on 29 May. I certainly don't want or aim to make it happen. But I am approaching the day with a certain amount of trepidation, while making the most of the days until then.

I feel that something will happen on that day. Some change, even if it is only to how I look at life after it has passed and the future dates on my mental calendar stretch before me again, with a question mark hanging over how may are left.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The music of the calendar

I am trying to learn to play the guitar once again. I've never progressed very far with it. I've also tried keyboards, but again stalled.

I can follow music, but don't have an ear for music. My singing wanders around all over the place as I am not really aware when I'm in tune.

A singing teacher at a class for poor singers I attended one time asked if we had an experience when we were told we could not sing. Everyone had, usually around the age of ten, while the ear is still developing. Being shamed can put you off so you miss the next stages in development.

In my case, I used to love singing lessons at school and was very enthusiastic. When I returned after a week away ill, my friend told me the teacher had said how much better the last lesson had been because my awful singing was not present. Mrs Lees. That was you.

The singing class was a one off, but convinced me that I could still develop my ear.

The "sing true" app has shown me the same. The iphone version is here (this is an unpaid and unsolicited endorsement - see my advertising policy).

I am progressing through the exercises and developing my ear for relative pitch. The app also includes features for singing and hitting a note.

It struck me that my failing is I have no memory of pitch. When the app plays me a selection of notes, it is difficult for me to capture them in my mind. I have tried visualising them on a music staff as they are played, or picking them out on my guitar or keyboards.

Some people have chromesthesia where they associate colours with notes, which may help.

I don't and the visualisation process hasn't got me very far so far. In fact, I first tried visualising notes over two years ago, as described in this post.

It struck me this time around that what I really need to develop is a memory for sounds, not a cipher for them. This is an undeveloped muscle.

So it occurred to me that I could link sounds to my mental calendar to automatically run through the scales when I review the images pinned to it. To get used to hearing notes in my mind.

As a week has seven days, I can run through the scale C - B. Or as in the Sound of Music, Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti.

I'm starting low on the Monday of the first full week of the month. The next Monday is an octave higher. Five octaves, the range of my keyboards, is enough to cover a month.

At present, my focus is on trying to hear the note in my mind's ear - to audiate - as I step onto the day on the calendar and move up in pitch as I step to the next day. Whether the intervals or the absolute pitches are correct doesn't concern me at moment.

For the time being, I'm working on audiating the sounds. I can do it, but it is very forced to hear a note in my mind. Hopefully practice running through scales as I conduct my reviews will help. Then I can refine to assign the correct notes to the calendar days.

My aim is to be able to play by ear. To be able to identify the notes in a tune just by hearing it - and being able to hit them when I sing.

Assigning them to the calendar is only to make the practice routine, not to provide a way to visualise the notes. Just as I use Lembransation as a memory palace to remember people's names, the names of their kids, the names of trees and birds, when I saw particular films for the first time and other facts, I hope to improve my memory for notes.

It may be the extra association will also help my refresh process by giving another way to place an image with the correct date.

I don't expect hearing music to trigger recall of different memory tags - numbers do not trigger the images tagged for those days of the month to come to mind.

Early days. Let's see where it goes.

If anyone is willing to share how their memory of notes and tunes works, please do leave a comment.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Across the years

In my last post I wrote about pros and cons of my current method for refreshing older memory tags pinned to my mental calendar. The method has changed over time. Currently I recall images for a two-week block of days from each month since I began this process of remembering every day that passes. I don't spend long doing this, just covering several months of my calendar every day.

This gradual progression over the five years I have filled since beginning this process rarely reminds me of what I was doing a year ago as the dates don't coincide. So I have missed birthdays.

The solution is a simple change to my morning review of more recent days. This review passes a two-day window over every week of my calendar for the past six months. To finish, I review the images for every day of the past month.

The change I have made is to add a short review, recalling the images on the same date from when I began this process over five years ago.

In fact, I'm doing this as a two-day window to benefit from the association between adjacent days. So today being February 22, I have recalled the images for the 22nd and 23rd of each month. If there is a birthday tomorrow, I'll remember.

Navigating my mental calendar is now a familiar exercise, so it is easy to locate the day of the week on which these dates fall. Today is Wednesday, February 22, 2012 was also Wednesday. I already recalled the image in yesterday's review so it is familiar to me. A conversation with a particular friend. The image for the next day comes easily to mind – I have been reviewing this sequence for five years, after all. A bike ride.

And so to February 22, 2013. I know this is a Friday (the patterns are clear to me). The image tag is the sound of the security chain running through my cycle helmet as I lock up a different bike in a different city on a different continent. The next day the tag is a particularly important conversation with my wife.

February 22, 2014. A Saturday (the progression is one day when it is not a leap year). It takes a moment to orientate myself on this day. I need a sense of the year. Where I was. What was the theme of this part of the year. When it doesn't come to me instantly, a quick scan of nearby days reminds me, and I know this was a day I had my haircut with my 80-year-old barber in the city I was in at that time and then took the car I had borrowed to check the tyres and oil. The next day's tag is driving to my sister-in-law's to return her car.

February 22, 2015. Sunday, obviously. This part of the year is marked by the illness of a relative. I was visiting and on this day, after a cross-country run in the morning, other relatives dropped by. I left for the city I was working the same day. The tag for Monday comes to mind because it is also about running, this time in a forest near to where I was staying. My landlady's daughter called by when we were chatting in the kitchen, on a run of her own. I learned of a nearby nature reserve for the first time, despite living on and off for over 20 years. My memory tag for the next day is running to visit it.

This was two years ago and I am shocked it is not more recent.

February 22, 2016. Monday, of course. I'm still not fully used to the idea that 2016 is now history set in stone.

The hardest tags to remember were those from 2016. In fact, the tag for February 22 eluded me yesterday. I had to stop worrying at them and let it float into my mind today. It did so while I was having my hair cut (tag for today!). On February 22, 2016 my wife and I went for breakfast in a café we had not visited for some time. She forgot her sunglasses, so I ran there on February 23 to collect them.

This journey across the years is a new addition to my refresh technique and the fabric of my mind is still flexing under its impact on my perceptions of the passage of time.

If I had not begun this Lembransation process, these years would be as indistinct now as those that lay further in the past. The memory tags can transport me back, but sometimes the tag is all I remember. It is really a proxy for the memories of the day. My mind has otherwise let it go, it seems, as with so many of the earlier days in my nearly 52 years.

And yet... this flexing of my mind feels like exercising a new muscle, perhaps strengthening abilities to be able to step into the image and relive the moment, exploring from there. This has happened unexpectedly a couple of times already.

There is a philosophical aspect to this as yet unclear. The person I was five years ago is not the person I am now. I travel back not only through time and space, but through the layers that construct me. I'm not a stranger to myself, but the younger version is different.

On the monthly cycle of these visits across the years, I see my younger self recede, yet it is my present self that is moving forward.