How to forget

During the first year of my undergrad I took a course on introduction to psychology. The class was so big that it was conducted in a theatre with about 500 seats. I was sitting at the back of it when the lecturer at the end of a lesson gave us a piece of homework. By way of a projector he wrote a number big on the silvery screen behind the rostrum. "My class, here is a number. You have seen it now. What you are going to do is try every means of yours of to forget - forget - this number before you attend this class again next week. So long." I took this challenge seriously. The first thing I thought of is to get my head confuse it with its adjacent number. I picture the dummy number before my eyes, imagining this number was the one put up by the lecturer. But it did not work well, as I was too conscious of my plan, so I adjusted the tactic slightly, to flash the two numbers alternately before my eyes ... 108, 109, 108, 109, 108, 109 ... I never told my classmates my method, nor had I asked theirs. Perhaps I should. The ability to forget is as important as, and more difficult than, the ability to remember; in the same way as we learn subtraction only after we have learnt addition in arithmetic.

After ten years, a similar task is thrust upon me. It was last month, I wished to forget a person. There can be a host of reasons why we would wish to drove a person into oblivion: anguish, hatred, pride, revenge, resignation, or a thirst for new life. In my case I think I am not the fittest to judge what my motives are. In two or three years things which now cloud my eyes like choking smoke in the corridor on fire will be dispelled by wisdom, or something close to it, i.e. self-knowledge, which, or at least the necessity to feign having it, often grows with our age.

A clever scheme I have devised and I did believe it was an ingenious thing absolutely backed by sound psychology. Step one: find a song which describes your mental state perfectly, which really touches your heart and pricks the wound every time you listen to it. This is no difficult step, considering the abundance of love songs in the pop music market. Step two: make the song played repeatedly back to back every morning, every night, in other words every time you think of the person and do allow and force yourself to think of him or her more, more, more and more until saturation - you had better ensure that your stereo has an auto-repeat function for the best therapic effect. Then step three: after 100 or 200 plays, which work as rubbing your wound against a file 100 or 200 strokes, when you cease to sense any pain from that part of you, out of weariness or damage of sensory cells, you can stop the song and lock up the record until the end of your days. My theory was, according to the theory of association, your memory has been associated with the song so much so that your ability to recall this moment and revive your memory is dependent upon you hearing this song. As you can deduce, it is necessary to choose a not-too-popular song for the whole therapy - or you risk sudden unwelcome off-guard encounters with your old problem sometime somewhere in a bar, a shop, an airport or at a party - and it will be perfect if the melody of the song is not easy to memorise.

Did it work? As there is no way to find out what would have happened if I had not tried, just like we would never know whether we would be happier had we not loved this or that person, the choice is absolutely yours whether it is worth your while. It suffices to add that, I think, that I will do the same if I am to forget a person again.

I can no longer recall whether the number at the psychology class was 108 or 109. It is more a result of the passage of time than the success of my scheme: as I recall that I still could tell the number four or five years after that class. Time has helped me to confuse 108 and 109, but it's the nature's joke on me that I have to remember these two numbers for many more years or may be all my life just because I wanted to forget one of them. I would not be silly enough to say it's my victory over memory, rather I should be humble to confess it's memory's triumph over me in a crooked sense. So I shoved a burglar out the kitchen's window by open-arm welcoming him and his accomplice at the front door.

My last salvation is in Proust. Sometimes I ask myself, as I will never be able to remember and mourn the departure of love as beautifully as Proust has done in those hundreds of pages of sublime highness, is it an act of profanation for me to indulge in mine?

Sam Mok