Reconstructing 1973

by James Wallace Harris, 1/5/22

[The photo above was probably taken in 1972-1973. It should do to show what I looked like in 1973. Jim Connell is on the left. I’m on the right. Connell was 6’4″ so I look tall and skinny. I’m much lower to the ground and wider today.]

How many memories can our brains hold? Is there a limit, like a hard drive? I know from experience there are limitations on accessing memories, so I assume there are storage limits. However, countless random forgotten experiences burble to the surface of my mind daily. And at night I have an apparently limitless supply of visual settings and characters to film my dreams.

I’ve always been obsessed with wanting perfect recall. Aren’t the things we obsessed over what we want and can’t have? 2023 is the 50th anniversary of 1973. I shall use that year for testing my memory in this essay.

This is not another nostalgic look back in time. In fact, I feel the golden glow of nostalgia is finally starting to wear off. 1973 is one of the least remembered years in my mind. At this moment I can’t recall anything specific I did in 1973. I know I was doing stuff, and some of my vaguer memories might have taken place that year, but for now, I just don’t remember what I was doing. I’m not even sure where I was living at the time.

Think of this essay as a cold case. I’m going to go through old drawers and paperwork looking for clues and use the internet to find out what was happening in the world at large to see if that triggers any memories of 1973.

Unfortunately, around 1975-77 I went into a Buddhist phase and gave away or threw away a lot of my possessions. I intentionally tossed most of my personal mementos because I didn’t want to be attached to them or be hung up on the past. I regret that now because I destroyed all my letters, photos, slides, 8mm films, and copies of my APAzines. When my mother died in 2007 I inherited all her photos and mementos. She kept a lot of my report cards. And over the years people have given me photos and old letters. Plus I have my college transcripts — if I can find them. Physical clues are theoretically slim, but I shall look for them.

I shall use full names in case some of my lost friends are Googling their own names. Who knows, maybe it might cause a reconnection.

Sadly, many of my close friends from the 1970s have died. My old roommate Greg Bridges has moved away and I’ve lost contact with him. 1973 was well before I met my wife in 1977. I’m still in contact with my old high school buddy Connell, and my sister Becky is still alive. Becky married in 1971 and moved to Dallas, so she won’t remember much of my 1973. Most of my relatives have also died, at least the ones I saw the most in 1973.

I did not remember a visit to Dallas in 1973 with Carol Suter and Jim Connell until after writing the first draft of this essay. The act of writing has caused memories to float to the surface. Sometimes it took hours, sometimes days to recall. I shall note these delayed experiences in italics.

I’ve written an essay like this before, in 2019, for the 50th anniversary of when I graduated high school. This time I want to go deeper into reconstructing the past. One of the best books I’ve read about being a historian is Jesus Before the Gospels by Bart D. Ehrman.

Ehrman covers all the sources of evidence a historian uses to reconstruct the past and discusses the effectiveness of each. Ehrman shows how memory is unreliable. He also shows how unreliable eyewitnesses are too. Even if I had lots of memories of 1973 I couldn’t trust them. Not everything I write here will be truly reliable. One of the most damning pieces of evidence Ehrman reviewed in his book was about a professor who had his students write down where they were and what they saw and felt the day after 9/11. Then a decade later he tracked down many of those students and asked them to write down what they remembered about 9/11. Several wrote something entirely different. But here’s the kicker. Some of those students who were shown their original essay written the day afterward claimed they didn’t believe what they had written. They believed their memory!

The first piece of evidence I found is a transcript from Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis).

I was a terrible college student. I dropped out many times. I hardly ever did homework, and it’s amazing I got grades as good as these. During 1971-1972 I attended State Technical Institute Memphis. There I majored in a two-year computer science degree. I loved computers, but the focus was on COBOL and getting a job in a bank. I decided I didn’t want that and transferred to Memphis State in 1973. This only came back to me as I studied the transcript.

Many of these courses are general requirements but the ones that weren’t, remind me of when I was searching for a major. I remember now I was considering history, sociology, English, and anthropology. Although, at some point, maybe even when I quit State Tech, I was considering getting a library degree. I needed a B.S. degree before moving to Knoxville to get an M.L.S. degree (Master of Library Science). I just can’t remember.

I remember liking Byzantine history but not the course. It required too much real work. I don’t know why I made an F in “U.S. Southern History Since 1865” since I made an A in “U. S. History Since 1865.” I have absolutely no memory of taking that course. I took “Southern Literature” in the Spring of 1974 and got an A. I also took two Library Science courses that spring, which backs up my memory theory that I was thinking about becoming a librarian.

One course I distinctly remember is “ENGL 3501 English Grammar” because it was about grammar theory and was really hard. And I have trouble with ordinary grammar. What improved my grade was writing a paper on computer translation of languages. I was really into that subject and I impressed the professor.

I lived at 140 Eastview Drive in Memphis during that year because that’s where I remember writing the paper on computer translation. I was sharing a duplex apartment with Greg Bridges who was my science fiction buddy. We went to conventions and produced a fanzine on Gestetner mimeograph which the two of us co-owned with Dennis McHaney. Another buddy John Williamson lived next door in the duplex across the driveway. We got our friend Claude Saxon to move onto this street too, just a couple doors down. We pictured ourselves creating a hippie-like commune by getting all our friends to move to Eastview. It was a rundown neighborhood in 1973, and it’s worse now in 2022. Here’s what it looks like today from Google Maps.

One of the reasons why my grades were falling off was having so much fun at the time. I was into fandom and a member of two APAs – Spectator Amateur Press (SAPS) and Southern Fandom Press Alliance (SFPA). I was also going to lots of rock concerts and smoking a lot of weed with many friends. Two that I remembered a day later were Tom and Sara. I ended up dating Sara’s sister Alice in 1975.

It was while Greg and I lived in this Eastview duplex that he worked on the Programs committee at Memphis State and he got Fred Pohl, John Brunner, and James Gunn to come and do a two-day seminar. The three writers took Greg and me to lunch and we got to listen to them talk about the old days for a couple hours before Pohl and Gunn had to go to the airport. Then we spent the afternoon taking John Brunner around Memphis. He wanted to see the Lorraine Hotel because he was the president of the Martin Luther King society in London. This was before it was renovated. Then Brunner took Greg and me out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant on Union Avenue before we took him to the airport.

I was able to document this from a fanzine article Greg Bridges wrote for Memphen 279 in 2002. The internet has become my real auxiliary memory. Pohl, Brunner, and Gunn were in Memphis on November 22 and 23 1972. That’s before 1973, and earlier than I thought. I assumed 1973 or 1974. But, can I trust Greg’s memory. I hope he had some kind of physical evidence.

I’ve always told people I never lived anyplace longer than 18 months during the 1970s. His date puts me in Eastview in 1972 and I’m pretty sure I moved out in the summer of 1975. I remember 1975 because that’s the year Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen came out. If Greg’s dates are correct I lived on Eastview for almost three years, maybe longer. That completely contradicts what I believed for years.

To me, the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades seemed like the longest years in my memory. I went to three different high schools in two states while living in four different houses. There’s got to be more to 1973. I was twenty-one for eleven months of 1973, that should have been a special time. I suppose going to college filled up the time in a way that made it seem quick and not memorable.

I found a timeline I made years ago. It gives me a few clues. Jim Connell came to visit me and he, Carol Suter, and I drove in Carol’s yellow Gremlin to Dallis to see my sister Becky and her husband Skip Suter, Carol’s brother. That was when I first met Becky’s future second husband Larry Gamer. I was very impressed with him since he was a computer programmer.

Another thing I remember is making a trip to Cape Kennedy with Carol. Her mother asked Carol and me to drive her nephew and niece back home to Titusville. They had been staying with Carol’s mother. Their father, Carol’s uncle, worked at NASA and he took Carol and me to his job site at a communication facility on base. While we were there they taped conversations with Skylab 3, which operated from July 7, 1973, to September 25, 1973. This was when we were out of school and could have made the trip. After we dropped off the kids, Carol and I drove to Gainesville to see my old friend Jim Connell. I remember sleeping on the floor in a communal house. But I’m not sure of this memory. It might have been another trip with Carol. But Gainesville would have been close to Titusville. I do remember we went by Six Flaggs in Atlanta. That’s when I saw Helen Reddy in concert.

I made that timeline decades ago to help me remember all the places I lived. It confirmed the trip to Gainesville. It said the Helen Reddy concert was on 8/31/73. It also said Carol and I went to see Edgar Winter and Dr. John the next day, 9/1/73.

So far I’ve been able to prove I took 12 college courses and visited Dallas, Atlanta, Gainesville, and Cape Kennedy in 1973. That’s something but not much.

I have found one letter from 7/29/73 that I wrote Connell which he returned in 1980. I wrote Connell hundreds of pages of letters, which he kept in a box, but his mother threw out sometime in the 1970s. I’d give anything to have that box now. Here’s the letter:

There’s something woo-woo in that letter. In the third-to-the-last paragraph on page one, I asked Connell to imagine a future where he has a daughter born deaf. Connell’s stepdaughter went deaf several years ago after having to take some major antibiotics.

This letter is also weird because it sounds like me now. But then I was trying to imagine the future and now I’m trying to reconstruct the past.

I had Connell read the letter to see what he remembered. He didn’t remember the letter but he thought we thought many more thoughts per second back then than we do now because the letter impressed him with my stream of ideas.

I don’t remember taking any photographs from 1973. I don’t think I owned a camera. That really limits my recall.

A day later I remembered that not only did I own a camera, but so did Greg Bridges and John Williamson. That we had built a darkroom, in the living-room closet at the house on Eastview and considered ourselves amateur photographers. I still don’t think we took pictures of ourselves. We were all into nature photography and macro photography. I did take several rolls of film using Carol as my model. Plus we made super8mm movies. Williamson was into various creative hobbies and even made silkscreen images. He made a silkscreen cover for my SAPS apazine After the Goldrush. I through all that out in my later Buddhist phase.

I’m now out of physical evidence to prove my existence in 1973. Wikipedia’s timeline of major events of 1973 triggers little for me. Neither the 1972-73 nor 1973-74 TV schedule triggers any memories. I’m not sure we watched TV at the Eastview house or even owned a TV.

In my letter above I review a movie. I can’t remember where I watched it. I sometimes rode my bike over to my mother’s house to watch TV there. Today I had a vague memory of a black and white TV in an old wooden cabinet sitting in a tiny living room that had one ugly couch. This memory was in black and white. All my memories of that Eastview living room are in black and white. I think it must have been dark and dingy.

In this post about 50 albums from 1973, I remember many of them, but most of them I bought later. The only ones I think I bought in 1973 were Brothers and Sisters by the Allman Brothers Band, ‘Pronounced ‘Leh-‘nerd ‘Skin-‘nerd’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Over-Nite Sensation by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John, and Piano Man by Billy Joel.

I was able to verify going to a few concerts by recalling them and verifying the dates on the internet. Carol Suter and I went to see Elton John on October 11, 1973, at the Mid-South Coliseum for the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road tour. We also saw him one other time, but I can’t remember if it was in 1972 or 1974. Carol hurt my feelings because she said she would go with me to see Billy Joel during the Piano Man when he was at Lafeyette’s for several days but then went with someone else. I now wished I had seen Billy Joel before he was famous.

I also saw Frank Zappa twice during the 1970s. He was in Memphis in March of 1973, but I can’t verify I was at that concert, but I think it was around the time of Over-Night Sensation. I and my friends went to a lot of concerts during these years. It seemed like every week some big act would perform, often two or three at a time. And the tickets were less than ten dollars back then.

If I would go to the library and look at the microfilm of the Commerical Appeal for 1973 I could verify all those concerts probably. I might even dredge up some other 1973 events I remembered or attended.

Here are the most remembered science fiction books from 1973. I don’t remember reading any of them during that year. Greg and I were both science fiction collectors. I’m pretty sure I subscribed to F&SF that year because I had collected over 200 back issues. But I probably also subscribed to Galaxy, Analog, Amazing, and Fantastic. I also remember building several large bookcases for my collection. They were the same size as a sheet of 1/4″ plywood. I used 1 x 8-inch planks for the shelves and plywood for the backing. They were huge. Greg used giant metal shelves in his room. We even had bookcases in the hall and living room.

Greg and I also published fanzines, traded fanzines, and subscribed to fanzines. Our favorite was Richard Geis’s Science Fiction Review. A few years ago I bought most of them again on eBay and scanned them for the Internet Archive. Probably if I reread the 1973 issues it would trigger many memories.

A memory that came to me on the second day of writing this essay was about my Raleigh 3-speed bicycle. I didn’t have a car that year. When I needed a car I’d ride my bike over to my mom’s house and borrow her car. I rode that bike all over Memphis. Once, and I don’t remember when I visited Connell in Miami and he told me to bring my bike on the airline. I did. And we rode it all over Coconut Grove, where I used to live. I loved that bike. I have no idea what happened to it. That saddens me.

Well, this research is running too long for a blog post, but I think you get the idea. We can remember a lot. Especially if we have triggers. I often have vivid memories of the past pop into my head unbidden. It makes me wonder if everything is recorded and if the bottleneck is the mechanism of recall.

I’m sure if I kept at this experiment I could write a whole book about memory and what I could eventually remember from 1973. I doubt many would want to read it. I’m not even sure anyone will want to read all that I’ve written here. Most people don’t seem very interested in remembering the past. I even know people who say they intentionally try to forget the past and throw away anything that makes them recall it. That horrifies me. I hate that I went through that Buddhist phase.

How much can you remember from 1973?

JWH

In Control, Losing Control, Out of Control

James Wallace Harris, 12/10/22

[Don’t worry, everything is fine. The essay below might sound like whining, but I write to think things through. I’m aiming to sound comic but I’m afraid it might sound like bellyaching. But putting thoughts into words is very therapeutic for me.]

I’ve never thought of myself as an anxious person. Alfred E. Neuman was my self-help hero growing up. I had anxieties but I never thought much about being anxious — that is until I got old. Now that I’m retired and obviously aging I realize that things beyond my control might be creating new feelings to experience, and one of those new feelings might be anxiety over anxiety. Right now, that sensation is minor but I can see where it could become major.

This got me thinking about the nature of anxiety. If you’re a two-year-old and you can’t get the toy you want, throwing a tantrum is a way to communicate your anxiety. If you’re a teenager and feel like you don’t fit in socially anxiety might reveal itself in countless ways, such as a fear of where to sit in the cafeteria at lunchtime. As an adult and you feel overwhelmed at work, anxiety might manifest as a good old-fashion coronary.

I’m not sure what I’m feeling. It might be the existential angst of aging, the looming dread of civilization’s collapse, or the plain mundane fear of dying. Or maybe I just don’t have enough to do. However, I’m starting to think what I’m feeling is wimpy anxiousness over dealing with house repairs and visits to doctors. Components in my body and home keep wearing out.

I’ve always been pretty laid back, a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. I think that was because we moved around a whole lot when I was a kid, and so I just got used to things always changing and being up in the air. I never lived in any house longer than eighteen months until I was in my forties. I just solved problems as they showed up.

I also have the kind of personality where I avoid conflict and stress. I got a job in 1977 that I stuck with until 2013. And I got married in 1978 and have been married ever since. I don’t like rocking the boat. I think all of that has led to a low-anxiety life, which I was lucky to find and grateful to have.

But now I’m 71, and I realize I’ve been living in the same house for fifteen years. That has made me very comfortable and I worry more and more about losing it. And the body I’ve depended on for 71 years is becoming less dependable, and that’s freaky too.

Something is changing. Besides my body and house needing more frequent repairs, Susan is getting some health problems too. Susan and I both hope we can die in this house. I realize that I’m trying to control three big things. My health, Susan’s health, and the house.

Now, this anxiety is nothing compared to a family that’s lost their home in Hurricane Ian, or being the president and worrying over the national economy. But it is a feeling that I’m having to deal with, and I’m trying to figure out how to deal with it, and what exactly causes it.

In 2022 I had one operation, two ER visits, four ultrasounds, three CT scans, one MRI, and countless other medical tests. My doctor is talking about three additional operations I might need. Also in 2022 I had to replace the outside AC unit, replace the hot water heater after it flooded my computer room, had to have dead limbs removed in February after a falling limb speared a hole in the roof last December, and now I’m having to spend another three thousand having the trees cleared of diseased branches again after a giant limb fell across the back on the house.

I’m still a fairly la-de-da kind of guy, but I realize this slight background radiation of unease is not going away. I realize it’s because I’m trying to control things that are hard to control. I worry about Susan, but neither I nor her doctor can nag her into exercising — so I have no control over her. And there’s only so much control I have over my body even though I am willing to diet and exercise to help myself.

Although I can have the house repaired I realize I’m slowly losing control over our home (as I hear another small branch hit the roof). I can no longer do most of the repairs myself. I gave away my big ladder because I don’t think I should be getting on the roof anymore. Before I would have just gotten on the roof, sawed the big limb into pieces, and tossed them down to the ground. Now I have to wait for the tree people to clear it off. However, that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The tree guy spotted numerous diseased branches that need to be cut out, and some of them are giant and could cause significant damage to the house. I now have falling tree limb anxiety, to add to my flooding floors anxiety.

In a fantasy of gaining control, I considered having all the trees near the house cut down, and having an addition put on the back of the house so I could move the water heater and HVAC out of the attic so there would be no water lines above us. And since we have a few days of power outages every year, I’ve also considered getting a standby natural gas generator. However, all those considerations might be overkill.

In 2023 I’ll probably have more maintenance done on my body, and I’ll replace an ancient dishwasher, and a refrigerator that leaks, and have some other plumbing problems fixed. And there will be other unforeseen things to fix too. I’m amused that my body and my house both seem to be breaking down equally as often.

I sometimes contemplate moving to a retirement complex. A friend is investigating assistant-living apartments for their parent and the assistant-living facility they described sounded super-attractive. I would no longer have to worry about controlling a house, just my body. But I think we’re too young yet for such a facility.

Still, I realize that between now and oblivion I’ll be fighting to control my health. That’s nothing I even considered when I was young. For now, I’d say I was in control, but I can foresee losing control, and even being out of control.

All kidding aside, I’ve always felt anything I was anxious about I could fix myself. One aspect of this new feeling of anxiety is a sense that I can no longer fix my problems myself. I must hire people. I’m becoming more and more dependent on doctors and repairmen.

My sister Becky once observed that we start off life in one room with people taking care of us and end up in another single room with people taking care of us. (I think she said it more graphicly, with references to butt wiping.) Maybe I didn’t feel particularly anxious most of my life because I felt I could fix my problems, and these new anxieties I’m feeling because I’m getting more and more people to take care of my problems and I’m spending more and more time in fewer rooms.

JWH

“Why Are All Your Friends Women?”

by James Wallace Harris, 11/17/22

While my sister was visiting last week we socialized with five of my friends. At one point, Becky asked, “Why are all your friends women?” I answered defensively, “I have male friends too,” but actually not that many. Well, two, if you don’t count several guys I interact with on the internet.

I’m writing this essay because this morning I was reading Flipboard and saw another article about how modern men don’t have friends. That made me think about Becky’s question and wondered if I had more female friends than male friends because guys don’t make many friends with other guys. I thought of bull elephants and male orangutans that spend most of their time alone in the jungle. Is it just natural for males to lead lonely lives?

One reason I don’t see more guys I know is that I don’t like leaving home, and neither do my male friends. My longest-running friendship is with a guy named Connell. We met in March of 1967 when we were in the 10th grade at Coral Gables High School in Miami Florida. We struck up a conversation over science fiction and astronomy. I moved away from Miami in 1970 but have remained friends with Connell ever since. But we’ve both stopped traveling and haven’t seen each other in more than twenty years. However, we do talk on the phone a couple times a week.

I met my other close male friend, Mike, in 1980 at work. He lives in Memphis. Susan and I are friends with Mike and his wife Betsy ever since then. We used to socialize more with them, and even travel together, but both Mike and I have become homebodies, especially after Covid, but also because we’re getting old and our health is in decline. Only my wife Susan still likes to go out or travel. I’m quite impressed with her for that.

I had many more male friends, but they have died, moved away, or I just lost contact with them.

Somehow I’ve been lucky to make several female friends which I’ve known for over twenty years. I see and talk to them all fairly regularly. Counting Susan my wife, and Becky my sister, I think the number of my women friends is eleven. Becky got to meet five of them, not counting Susan. I guess that’s why she asked her question.

Several of my women friends I met through Susan. Susan was and is much more social than I am. She has run around with several social groups over the course of our marriage. For a decade Susan took a job out of town and only came home for the weekends, and sometimes not even that. This forced me into socializing again. I started going to the movies with some of her friends or having them over to watch TV, and they became my friends. Two of my women friends were ones I made at work before I retired. And two were ones I made on my own. Our shared friendships were mainly based on movies, TV shows, books, and liberal politics.

If Susan had never worked out of town, I don’t know if I would have made all those women friends. I guess loneliness is the mother of socializing. I do wonder now that I’m in my seventies and want to socialize even less if my women friends will still want to stay friends. When Covid hit we all stopped going to the movies and eating out, and that put a big dent in what socializing I had left in me. By then Susan was back home and we hunkered down keeping each other company for those social distancing years.

If I had never gotten married I would probably be an old guy like those in all the articles. I think some of my women friends were friends with me because they considered me safe because I was married and unthreatening. I think women also like me because I’m willing to listen, and I have a high tolerance for lady chatter. I know that comment will irk some, but I’ve known a lot of guys who told me they broke up with women because they talked too much.

I would like more male friends. Actually, I would like more friends of any kind who share my interests, but that tends to be old guys. Before I retired I thought I had several male friends at work that I would stay in touch with after retiring. But it didn’t work out that way. Some of those guys were just too busy with their families, or they lived too far away in the suburbs. And a couple of them I just stopped seeing when politics got too polarized. Guys love their hobbies, and unless you’re friends share your hobbies, we seldom make the effort to meet up. Many men are just not that social.

When I was young I joined clubs, like the astronomy club, science fiction club, or computer club, and I made casual friends. But I’m just not a hobby club kind of guy and dropped out of all of them. I might have stayed in them if the internet hadn’t happened. The internet is probably the biggest reason why so many guys don’t have friends today.

And when men are social, the driving force behind it is to get laid. Once I got married I began losing interest in going out, especially to parties. And I have to admit that I made friends with so many women because I was also attracted to them. Nothing happened in that regard, but I believe I enjoy the company of women because I’m programmed to chase after women and to consider them pleasant company. I’ve wondered if I would keep up female friendships if that programming had been turned off.

Unless we have a shared interest I’m not sure guys have a reason to get together. I’m not sure we crave each other’s company. We like to compete with each other, and we like to work together on a project, build something, be on a team, work towards a goal, or fix something together. Women seem to have the ability to just be friends without a purpose. To just hang out. All those lonely guys in the articles seem to be both unlucky in love and without a purpose.

I do have shared interests with all my female friends, but it’s at a smaller percentage than I have with Mike and Connell. Actually, many of my interests and all my hobbies bore my women friends. I wish my female friends had more male-like qualities. Probably all of them would call me sexist if I said why. But then I’m often called sexist by my women friends because I like to make generalizations about males and females.

I do wonder about all the men in these articles who can’t make any friends. Maybe they never leave their apartment. You have to leave the house to make friends. That’s probably why I haven’t made any new friends in the last decade. And I have to wonder why men don’t make more female friends. Guys who are married probably are like me and gave up socializing after getting married. But unmarried guys should be out there socializing – especially if they are under fifty and still want to find a wife. However, I’ve known a lot of guys who told me they don’t like being friends with women, and once they gave up on getting married or getting laid, just gave up on women.

The internet has allowed me to make a lot of online male friends. But that’s because I get to meet people who are interested in my exact interests without leaving home. For example, I like science fiction magazines that were published from 1939-1975. I and two online friends, one from Great Britain and the other from South Africa, created a Facebook group devoted to science fiction short stories and it now has 642 members. Many of them love the same old science fiction magazines that I do. I used to have two friends that loved those magazines that lived in town. One died, and the other moved away. Sometimes it’s hard to find friends with the same exact interest.

JWH

Is It Worth the Effort to Create a Database to Store Memories I’ll Forget?

by James Wallace Harris, 11/16/22

This weekend, while my sister was here visiting from Florida, we watched The Automat. It’s a lovely nostalgic documentary about the Horn & Hardart Automat restaurants that were in Philadelphia and New York City from 1902 to 1991. What made the story so charming is it combined history with sociology, pop culture, and interviews with famous people who related fond memories of visiting the Automats. The Automat portrayed a unique subculture.

I told my sister this documentary reminded me of another I liked very much but I couldn’t remember its name or even its subject. That was rather frustrating. After she went to the airport yesterday, I began struggling to remember that documentary. I got on Google and tried search terms such as “nostalgic documentaries” and “quirky documentaries.” I went through many lists, discovering documentaries I had seen, liked, and forgotten, but didn’t find the one I wanted. I had a vague sense it involved a household fixture. During the hours of trying to dredge up what the documentary was about, I recalled it dealt with music, but not normal music, maybe it was about jingles in ads. Then the word “Broadway” popped into my mind.

I put the word Broadway in IMDB and came up with Bathtubs Over Broadway. It was on Netflix and I went and watched some of it again. It’s about a writer, Steve Young, who wrote for The Late Show with David Letterman. Part of his job was finding oddball records for Letterman to make fun of on the show. Young discovered that during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s corporations would spend huge sums of money putting on musicals at their conventions, and they made commemorative soundtrack albums to give to their salesmen. Sometimes these corporations spent more on producing these shows than some famous musicals on Broadway. Again, this documentary combined history, sociology, pop culture, and interviews to document a unique subculture.

Now, this essay isn’t about those shows, but about remembering those shows, or remembering anything. I often struggle to recall a name of a person, book, movie, album, TV show, event, etc. I’ve done this all my life, but it seems to be getting worse now that I’m older. And, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention, I’ve been wondering if there is a technique or system I could develop to help me remember.

My first thought was to keep lists. My second thought was to make flashcards. My third thought was it had to work with my phone. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has a feature that allows registered users to keep lists, so I started one for documentaries I’ve watched. Weeks ago, I also started a list in Notes on my iPhone for movies and TV shows I’ve seen, but I might move it to IMDB.

One reason I feel the pressure to remember books, TV shows, movies, and documentaries is that whenever I talk with my friends, one of the main topics is what we’ve been reading or watching. And during my weekly get-togethers or phone calls, I often forget what I’ve seen or read during the past week.

However, is all this list-making worth the effort? I’ve tried it before and failed. It takes a bit of time, a little effort, and discipline. I have faithfully maintained a books-read list since 1983 and that has paid off in many ways. I’ve often wished I had started that list with Treasure Island, a book my mother read to me in 3rd grade in 1959. So a log of all the TV shows and movies I’ve watched would have been just as handy.

But how practical is it to keep lists of everything we want to remember? What about a list of everyone I’ve ever known? Or a list of everywhere I’ve ever lived, including vacation spots? They wouldn’t be impractical long lists.

Most of my memory struggles could be solved with five to ten good lists.

Have I just come up with a new idea for a social media service or an extra feature for Facebook? When do kids get their first smartphone or tablet? How young can you start entering data into your memory database?

It’s amazing that we have memories at all. I have no idea how molecules in the brain record what we experience. It’s amazing but unreliable. What if we had a reliable external memory? How would that change us and society?

What if we had photos and video clips of everyone we’ve ever met? Or at least got to know? You know those videos of people whose fathers took one picture a day or year for decades to make a speeded-up version of their growth? What if we all did that with our family and friends over our lifetime?

What would this take to make this happen? We have some of the technology right now. It would just take discipline and maybe ten or fifteen minutes a day. I started with my reading log in 1983. Several years ago I began using Goodreads. Now I’m using IMDB. None of these methods is perfect. What’s needed is software designed specifically to be external memory, with features that helped with recording and retrieval.

All of this makes me wonder just how much we want to remember? It might not be that much. Theoretically, we could record everything we see and hear to video, but I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t want that much. It would be nice to just have a few minutes of video of our peak experiences. Isn’t what we really want a finite number of concrete facts? A handful of lists, a diary, and a collection of photos and videos might do the trick.

So, how much of our life could be remembered in one terabyte?

JWH

Dang, I Broke My TV Watcher

by James Wallace Harris, 11/5/22

I seem to be losing my ability to watch television. In the past year or two, when I try to watch TV by myself, I have the hardest time getting into a TV show or movie. If I’m watching television with Susan or a friend I have no trouble settling into the show, but if I’m alone, I often abandon a show after five or ten minutes. Because I’m a lifelong TV addict used to filling my evenings with the boob tube, this is disturbing.

I’ve got sixty-seven years of solid practice watching TV, so why am I losing this skill now? Some of my earliest memories are of watching TV when I was four. I started watching television with the 1955-1956 season, but sometime in 2021, I began noticing I had a problem, maybe even earlier, but it’s painfully obvious in 2022.

The TV watcher part of my brain has broken. And it’s not for trying. Every evening I try getting into several movies and TV shows. Every once in a while, I find one that my mind will latch onto, but it’s getting rarer. So I’m developing some theories about why my brain is broken.

The Gilligan Island Effect

I loved Gilligan’s Island back in 1964 when it first aired. But as I got older I could no longer watch it. My friend Connell and I use Gilligan Island as our example of being young and stupid. Whenever I catch it on TV now I cringe and wonder how could I ever been so easily amused. That feeling is also true for The Monkees. It embarrasses me to recall those were once among my favorite shows. Now I understand why my dad used to pitch a fit when they were on, telling me and my sister we were morons.

As we age we become more sophisticated in our pop culture consumption. I assumed that development stopped when I got into my twenties because I pretty much watched the same kind of shows for the next several decades. However, with The Sopranos, TV jumped a level in sophistication, and for most of the 21st century, I’ve been consuming ever more sophisticated TV content.

What if my TV-watching mind has gotten jaded with all TV? So everything now feels stupid like Gilligan’s Island did when I got a couple years past twelve?

The TV Buddy Effect

As I said, I can watch all kinds of TV shows and movies if I’m watching them with other people. And looking back over my life I realized I watched a lot of TV with other people. With my family growing up. With friends when I was single. With Susan for most of my married life. With my friend Janis when Susan was working out of town Mondays through Fridays.

When Susan retired and Janis moved to Mexico, things changed. Susan now wants to watch her favorite TV shows from the 20th century and I don’t. So she sits in the living room with her TV and cross-stitches while watching endless reruns of her favorite shows. She likes old shows because she doesn’t have to look at them while she sews. I sit in the den and try to find something to watch on my own. Over the last few years, I’ve had less and less luck until I’m starting to wonder if I can’t watch TV alone at all anymore.

Susan and I do watch some TV together. Around 5:30 we watch Jeopardy and the NBC Nightly News that we record. It’s a family habit and the cats sleep in our laps. On Wednesdays we watch Survivor.

This year I was able to binge-watch Game of Thrones. I had watched it as it came out, and when two of my friends living in other cities each expressed a desire to rewatch the entire series I joined them. I discussed each episode with Linda and Connell in separate phone calls.

The YouTube Effect

Let me clarify something. I can watch about an hour of YouTube a day, and I can channel surf trying to find something to watch for another hour. (By the way, that drives Susan crazy. Another reason she likes watching TV by herself.)

My dwindling ability to watch TV has coincided with my growing love of watching YouTube TV. I have to wonder if watching endless short videos and constantly clicking from one subject to another has broken the TV watcher in my brain, so I can’t stick with longer shows.

The Relevance Effect

Last week I binge-watched A Dance to the Music of Time, a four-part miniseries based on the twelve-novel series by Anthony Powell. I had seen it before, but because I was now reading the books I wanted to watch it again. That seems to suggest if I have a good reason to watch television that I have no problem sticking to a show. My mind isn’t completely defective. I’m now on the fourth book in the series, and I’ve bought a biography of Powell and a character concordance to supplement my reading. The series has over 300 characters.

Knowing the Magician’s Tricks Effect

Another theory I’ve developed deals with my studies in fiction. As I read and think about how fiction works, I’ve paid more attention to how movies and television shows are constructed too. I’ve noticed that I often quit a movie or TV show when I spot the puppeteer. I can hardly stand to watch a mystery or thriller nowadays because they seem so obviously manipulated.

Male Aging Effect

I remember now how my uncles as they got older stopped watching TV except for sports, and even then, still not often. My male friends stopped going to the movies years ago, and I’ve finally stopped myself. I’m now doing what Susan and I used to laugh about her father – going to sleep in his den chair after dinner. Since we bought Susan’s parent’s house when they died, I’m going to sleep in the very same den, around the very same time – 7:30.

Conclusion

Because I sometimes find shows that hook me, I figure my TV watcher isn’t completely broken. I do worry that it will conk out completely. Right now I spend my evenings listening to books or music, and I worry that those abilities might break if I overuse them. I’m thinking my TV watcher needs new kinds of TV content to watch, but I have no idea what that would be.

With so many premium channels cranking out so many kinds of quality shows for the last two decades, I worry that they’ve done everything to death. One reason my mind responded so well to YouTube is the content is very different from regular streaming TV content. But I feel like I’m about to reach the end of YouTube too. I’m starting to think TV shows and movies are like clickbait, that once you’re used to all the variety of bait, you become jaded and stop clicking.

JWH

p.s. I’m using DALL-E 2 to generate the art for my blog.

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