I’ve always been a person who forgets words, who is awful with the details of any novel, article, or nonfiction book I’ve read but haven’t taught, and who has a hard time keeping track of multiple conversations happening at the same time (“Okay, what led us to talk about tabouli? I know I had something else I wanted to say about the previous point!”) I’m the world’s worst at crossword puzzles—again because of the necessity of coming up with certain words or who wrote a certain novel I read back in 1989. Trustworthy reporters (namely Biffle and Eliza) back me up on these observations about myself.

These have never really bothered me all that much. I’ve always spoken and written quite effectively, so the fact that I’m often replacing the ideal word with whichever one I’m able to come up with hasn’t been a big deal. I remember very clearly when I got my Ph.D. in English feeling like, “You know, I have a Ph.D., so if I can’t remember a certain book, that’s by definition a book that it’s okay for a Ph.D. in English to forget.”

Now, however, anytime one of these phenomena happens, I immediately leap to the tumor or the surgery. Immediately. Consistently. Sometimes with a little bit of a jokey edge, but often that’s just trying to cover up the worry. For instance, Eliza was in town last week, and anytime she made reference to a book we read in grad school that I didn't remember, I'd say, “Ack, it’s the brain tumor!”

The fact of the matter is, it might actually be the brain tumor. Because I have a low-grade glioma, very slow growing, I’ve had it for years, and I might well have had it in grad school. Or much, much earlier.  My uncle talked with me about the fact that my brain has been compensating for this tumor but that the tumor has been causing problems, like with verbal memory and verbal processing, among other things, problems that we didn’t recognize as problems because we didn’t know about the tumor. He made a comment about the fact that we have no way of knowing how smart or competent I might have been if I’d never had this tumor.

But another fact of the matter is that these problems haven’t actually been problems. I mean, look at me. I have a career I absolutely love. I get to teach students, work with brilliant colleagues, administer a WGS program, and write books. My latest book (which came out, thank goodness, before the seizures happened) is doing quite well—it’s getting critiqued a little bit on the blogosphere for being too academic, not for being a book written by somebody who obviously had no grasp of the English language. And at another level, it’s pretty clear that the ways my brain has been compensating for the tumor over the years have been very useful, because they seem to be helping me recovery from the surgery.

So, this is my goal now:  to reframe my current pathologizing of my functioning in the world. The fact that I can’t sometimes find exactly the word I want, or that I can’t remember the details of Dorothy Allison’s Cavedweller—it’s much more useful for me to see these as characteristics of myself, quirks, not as symptoms, problems, damage. I don’t need to feel guilty or fucked up or defensive about any of these things. They’re part of the package that got me where I am, and I’m significantly happy where I am.

Not to mention that Eliza and Biffle independently noted that, given that I seem to be the person I’ve always been, my continual tumor-apologizing is getting a bit annoying.

Editor's note:  More on this coming tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Reading this post, I had an instant flashback to the time when you, Eliza I were talking about Shakespeare (during RAD training), and I could not for the life of me remember a single detail from the play even though I had read it as an undergrad. Even now, at several years remove, I vividly remember feeling like such an idiot because I couldn't remember something that I had read in a class that I did well in.

All this to say...I don't think this kind of misremembering is pathological or a sign of reduced intelligence. (at least I hope not) I think it has more to do with personality types, with a different kind of remembering, a different kind of storing away and recalling information. I could be totally wrong here. And, I recognize that the fact that I share this characteristic doesn't make my thoughts conclusive in any way. But I want to go on record here in saying that I think this is just part of being who you are then and now. In a good way.

The Mom said...

Amen, Deandra! As I read this blog post I began to think that maybe I had a brain tumor, too! I'm probably at least as bad as Alison at remembering details, but I had put it down (once I had learned about the possibility, that is) to being an INFP in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (or whatever that's called!), and had excused myself. Of course, I don't have a PhD, so the expectations of others toward me are perhaps a bit different than for you, Alison and Eliza.

Christie said...

I find myself remembering Biffle's old advice about assuming you're just fine the way you are, that what you said was fine, etc. unless you get feedback that tells you otherwise. Of course, that wasn't about the tumor back then, but it fits, don't you think?

Alison said...

Hmm, all very interesting--thanks, y'all!