Most people have probably heard of the woman whose amazing memory made the news a few years ago. Known only as AJ, she can recall what happened on any given date:

Asked what happened on Aug 16, 1977, she knew that Elvis Presley had died, but she also knew that a California tax initiative passed on June 6 of the following year, and a plane crashed in Chicago on May 25 of the next year, and so forth. Some may have had a personal meaning for her, but some did not.[1]

She was asked if she knew who Bing Crosby was. She said she did. Asked if she knew where he died, she responded, “Oh yes, he died on a golf course in Spain,” and then she also provided the date, including the day of the week. [1]

I confess—I can’t do that. I would have gotten the Elvis question right, and I can tell you where I was and what I was doing when I found out (and also where he died), but I suppose a lot of people of my era can do that. It was Elvis, after all.

But I do have an incredible long-term memory, the kind of memory that sometimes frustrates other people, since I often remember the events of their lives better than they do themselves, assuming I was there for whatever it was.

Short term memory?  Not so much.  My husband makes fun of me because I forget things all the time.  But long term, I remember all kinds of things, both important and unimportant, whether I want to or not.  Mostly unimportant, unfortunately.

Go ahead—give me a Top 40 song from the 70’s. Chances are pretty good I’ll be able to tell you who recorded it and when it came out. “Dancing in the Moonlight”? King Harvest. Late fall of 1972.

(After I wrote that, I looked it up. Wikipedia says it was a 1973 song. They’re wrong. It might have peaked on the charts in ’73, but it came out in the fall of ’72. I know this. I don’t know exactly why I know it, but I do.)

If you show me any American-made car built in the 1950’s or 60’s, I can tell you the make, model, and year.  I’m especially good at General Motors cars.

I can also tell you the birthday of just about every single person whose birthday I’ve ever known.

I don’t know why.

I can describe all of the classrooms I sat in throughout school from nursery to grad school. I can map the summer camps I went to.

I can remember the first time I climbed out of my crib—not just doing it but also the thinking process that went into it—and what my bedroom looked like, and what the curtains looked like in the bathroom. And even though we moved out of that house when I was five, I could sit down right now, fifty years later, and draw you a detailed floor plan, including furniture placement. I could tell you all kinds of things that happened there.

I could give you a pretty fair description of the inside of my paternal grandfather’s house, which I haven’t been in since before he died when I was seven.  I can smell my maternal grandmother’s service porch and the water in her bathroom and my aunt and uncle’s little convenience store on the shores of Ackerson Lake as if I’d been in them only a week ago, but the last time I was in any of those places, I was fourteen.

It’s not just a result of having kept a journal for so many years, since the memories go back much farther than the journals do, and it’s also not a result of having been an avid camera bug all my life, because although photos definitely can and do jog memories, I also have a crystal-clear remembrance of things for which there are no photos.  I have no photos of the store on Ackerson Lake or my grandmother’s service porch or the inside of my grandfather’s house.  I just remember them.  Clearly.

In fact, pretty much everything that has ever happened to me, everywhere I’ve ever been, and everything I’ve ever done, is available for total recall if I want it. And of course, as a writer, I want it.  Even the bad stuff.

In fact, this party trick makes it both very easy and very difficult to write fiction. Easy, because so many events are so readily available as potential fodder for my stories. Difficult, because I sometimes have trouble shifting between truth and fiction.

Until fairly recently, I assumed everyone else’s memory was the same as mine. I didn’t know it was just me until I read about AJ a few years ago and realized that although my memory is far from as amazing as hers, we’re actually more alike than different.

The researchers who studied her (and are still studying her) have so far identified only two hyperthymesiacs (she being the one they named the condition for), and they’re actively looking for others whose phenomenal memories might contribute to their research. They’ve devised a quiz, which is available for free online. I took it this morning and scored “Very Above Average.” I was given an additional battery of questions, and they requested my contact info for potential follow-up.

Do you have a fantastic memory? How does it affect your life, your work, your relationships, and your writing?

Do you think you might have hyperthymesia? Take the quiz here!