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Fallibility of Memory

What if there existed a span in your memory that wasn’t really your memory at all?

Jeff Ewing goes through this in “Impermanence,” his account of experiencing Transient Global Amnesia (TGA), “a temporary condition marked by the sudden onset of anterograde amnesia, a disquieting inability for a period of 5-12 hours to make any new memories.” During this time, “the brain resets every 30 seconds or so, the slate is wiped clean, [ . . . ].”

Due to TGA, Ewing loses eight hours of his life. While his body moved around an ER and underwent tests, he doesn’t really remember it. And the faint memories he does have may not even be his. Ewing goes on to talk about the ways our memories fail us. We perform “memory thefts,” sometimes subconsciously taking someone else’s memory and believing it’s our own. What he remembers could actually just be what has been told to him. Suddenly intimately aware of this fallibility of memory, he tries to savor moments in his life post-TGA, to “fasten it all down for good.”

This piece of nonfiction is an interesting look at memory and TGA, something I had never heard of before. Ewing’s writing style is inviting, and he casually yet carefully explains TGA and memory, making sure the reader is following along. He doesn’t bask too long in the emotional, but leads us there gently, wrapping up this piece with a reminder to take stock of what it is we’d want to “fasten down” in our own memories.

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

Impermanence” by Jeff Ewing. Zone 3, Spring 2021.

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