activist, writer, and founder of the Feminist Press

Florence in Words

Memory, or how reading Iris Murdoch and Doris Lessing have made me think about it again

September 12, 2012

Tags: memory, family

I am headed from the kitchen through the living room to the bedroom on a specific mission, but when I get there, Iíve forgotten why I cameójust for a secondóand then I remember that I want to pick up my iPhone which I had parked last night on its charger which rests atop a radio clock that stands on a table beside my bed. Is this occurrence ominous? It happens perhaps once a day, in varying routines. Sometimes Iím headed to the kitchen from the study for a glass of water, and then have to think for a minute when I get there about why I came and what I want.

Perhaps this happens to all women and even men at 83, but I donít like it because it reminds me of my motherís fate. By the time she was my age, she didnít know much of anything, not only about time, but about where she was. And she had nine more years of not-knowingness before her death at 92.

Iíd rather be dead right now.

Still, while Iím doing the Sunday crossword, even when I have to go to Google to search for things totally out of my ken (usually new pop culture or most sports), I feel hopeful and try to remember what a psychologist told me once, and I am not quoting her exactly: Weíre all going to get it if we live long enough; only some of us are programmed to get it earlier than others. If weíre programmed to get it at 110, clearly we are more likely to die of other causes before then.
Yes, I found that heartening, not that I wish Alzheimerís on more people, but that perhaps the idea might allow me to free myself from the threat of my motherís fate.

Iíve also consulted a couple of doctors, asking for their opinions of the likelihood that I will succumb sooner rather than later to Alzheimerís, and have been at least temporarily comforted by their responses: not likely, one said, and not a chance, the other. Still, I canít eliminate the fear when a name canít come to my brain, though I know that if I wait, or if I run down the filing cabinet in my mindís eye, I will find the name. Sometimes I have to wait a few minutes; occasionally, more than that. But the name comes up in the end.

When I was seven, my grandfather taught me to read and write Yiddish and to read Hebrew. I could speak Yiddish then, and I learned to read and write it very quickly, perhaps within a month. It took longer for me to read Hebrew with the pace and the fluency he demanded. My grandfather died when I was 10 and Iíve had no lessons since.

Recently I joined the Jewish Community Center, chiefly, I thought, for the swimming pool, which Iíve been to twice already. But then I noticed that they offered Hebrew lessons, and I think Iíll register for them. Some additional insurance against the Alzheimerís blight? Probably. The fear is phobic, not easily evaded. Might just as well fight it on some level turf.


  1. October 16, 2012 3:50 PM EDT
    Hi Florence,
    The "forgetting" happens to all of us, and I am reassured when I find a young, former student who momentarily can't remember an item. I, too, run down the alphabet to search for a name. Our brains are so packed with information now, and we are multi-tasking most of the time, that I think missing a few names or reasons for going into the basement (was it to take the clothes from the washer or to get a bag of almonds)is not something to worry about. Sometimes I feel that people who have dementia have had a one-sided thought process all their lives, that although they may have been brilliant, they do not create the connections, or they are passive in their thinking. I'm sure someone will criticize me on this, but I remember my adoptive mother asking my dad constantly "What year was I born?" and not really bothering "to clutter up my mind with all those details."
    - Jane Morgan

Select Works

"Everyone concerned about global feminism, womenís contributions, and humanityís future will be enhanced and enchanted by A Life in Motion.ĒóBlanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume I and Volume II
Lecture delivered by Florence Howe on January 8, 2011, at the Modern Language Association Annual Convention
ďIt is impossible to imagine womenís studies without Florence Howe. Myths of Coeducation shows her vision and courage, insight and dauntlessness.ĒĖCatharine R. Stimpson, Rutgers University
A revised and expanded edition of the classic groundbreaking anthology of 20th-century American women's poetry, representing more than 100 poets from Amy Lowell to Anne Sexton to Rita Dove.

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