Maddenation

Fluidity and Memory

This morning, before I woke up, Pato was pooping. He doesn’t yet do a good job wiping his butt, so we like to help him. We’re caught between the importance of teaching independence and the desire for results. So far we choose results. But this morning he was calling for Karina, who was busy with something, and she couldn’t get there right away. She yelled out to him, “Wait one second!” and promptly forgot about him until he showed up in our room, where Karina had recently woken me up. Soon enough Karina checked Pato’s wiping job and determined that it wasn’t quite thorough enough. Pato pleaded, “But I call you and you don’t come.” To which Karina replied, “I told you to wait one second.” And Pato, not yet learned in the art of fluidity, answered, “But one is like this—One!—See? There’s a one.”

I chuckled gleefully, not only because I, too, have suffered at the hands of his ever unpunctual mother, but because he was making sense of language, thinking, right there in front of me. I determined to remember exactly what he had said so I could write it down as soon as I got up. I figured I’d have to hold it in my brain for ten or so minutes. [I guess this is the last point I saved at. Meanwhile I wrote a couple more exact, beautiful sentences, and the electricity went out. No luck with Word’s autosave.] Then I started answering Karina’s questions, making plans for the day, tickling the kids (while Pato and Karina played “give me five!” “give me three!” “give me two!” etc.), and slowly forgetting Pato’s exact words. So that now I’m stuck not knowing whether what I’ve reproduced above is what Pato actually said. I’m sure that it’s close. I’m sure he structured it with two short phrases interrupted by a “One!” in the middle. I’m pretty sure there was a “there’s a one” at the end. But did he say “there’s a one” also at the beginning? As a literary person, I want him to have used two different phrases to avoid redundancy. And I’m pretty sure he did, but no longer completely sure. And with a phrase this short, I have a fairly good chance of having combined memory (of exact words and of meaning) and guesswork to come up with what he really did say. Only there’s no way to be sure.

I could go off on memory and uncertainty and meaning. I could think about how we reduce things to their essence to avoid the labor of verbose memorization (how verbose is probably not the word I’m looking for; I want a word that means “exact-worded” but I can’t think of it. Later: verbatim is the word I wanted.), how that’s good enough usually. How it’s sometimes distressing to think that I remember only a handful of fragments of conversations as they happened exactly, and how that makes me doubt even those I think I remember exactly. How language is fluid and inexact and it’s a miracle we ever communicate or remember anything.

PatrickObservations06/21/03 2 comments

Comments

Dad • 06/22/03 1:20 PM:

Give Pato a hug and kiss for me, and tell him I too lament the abuse of language that, “Wait a second” represents. Even “Wait a minute” is often abused, when “Wait until I get there” is more honest, and more indicative of the unreasonability of the request. Sadly, we often dismiss others’ time as less important than our own, especially that of our children. Pato will learn to be fluid soon enough, but alas, by the time that happens, he will have lost some of the charm of innocent youth. Maybe we should rage against that as well.

David • 06/26/03 12:31 PM:

Pat,

I accept your apology. Your apology for making fun of me when I was simply “reduce[ing] things to their essence to avoid the labor of verbose memorization” because, frankly, “that’s good enough usually.” I agree with you, and I don’t harbor ill will against you. Anymore. It’s about time you realized what I was doing all those times as a kid when I would simply save some memorizing in favor of the gist. And to think, it only took you 32 years to realize all this. Thanks be to Pato for pointing it out. :)

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