So—how do you remember all the things you have to do on a given day? We don’t see many strings around fingers anymore, but as a high school teacher I saw more than one black magic marker applied to a palm or forearm—or a shirt. Now, of course, there are electronic memory aids like the wall-mounted Memo Minder that plays your recorded message when it senses motion: Don’t forget to lock the [****] door. All our buzzes and beeps keep us from doing the memory lapse dance of frustration.
Lately I’ve been thinking of reviving the old-fashioned tickler file to help me remember things. (How can you not love the name? Doesn’t it bring feather boas into our metallic lives?) In one of its incarnations, the tickler file relies on index cards in a recipe box with 31 tabbed dividers for the days of the month and 12 for the months themselves. You simply note on an index card the task you want to remember and slip the card behind the the divider for the day you want your memory tickled. There is something very satisfying about fingernail clicking through plastic-coated tabs and watching the card disappear behind a divider—out of sight and out of mind. It’s time not in a bottle but in a box.
I understand that some therapists now suggest people use a kind of tickler file to deal with attacks of anxiety. The steps are straightforward: write down on an index card the immediate cause of the anxiety and put the card in the tickler file with the promise to work through it at a specific time in the future. The simple act of setting a date may appease our reptile brains—we’ve thrown meat into the cage—and even if we don’t quite manage to fend off the anxiety as long as we’d like, we might still develop confidence in our growing ability to handle it. We keep playing it forward in the hope that its power will weaken, that we will remember to forget.
Is forgetting the future always the best strategy? Maybe not. But at least there are no strings attached.