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“Fish Tracks in the Study”

It’s funny the things that stay with you.

The quote I used for the title of this post is from an episode of Quantum Leap. If I remember right, the episode was called “A Portrait for Troian.”

Now, I watched Quantum Leap pretty faithfully, but for some reason this quote—in which Sam tries to convince a girl (the titular Troian, who believes she’s being haunted by her dead brother) that ghosts are not real and not “leaving fish tracks in the study”—has stuck with me over all these years. That episode, and the one that ended with a young Stephen King, and of course the Man of La Mancha episode . . . Those are the ones that stick out in my mind.

But the point of this post is to consider what stays with us and why, and what the things our brains hang on to say about us. I don’t have an answer for that; I’m just posing it as something to think about. Why do I remember this quote? Perhaps it’s the frequency I have for recalling it: I think of this quote every time I walk out of the shower or bath and find myself leaving wet footprints on the tile.

That may explain the one thing, but there are other instances of particular remembrance. My chief memory of Stephen King’s Needful Things is Alan catching the glass when Polly drops it. Huh? Why that of all things?

What we don’t remember probably also says a lot about us as individuals. My best friend mentioned that I once said I was going to sail around the world alone and write and never talk to anyone. I don’t remember ever saying this. Doesn’t mean I didn’t, of course, but it clearly made an impression on her and none on me. (I once wrote that Sherlock Holmes tossed words out like stones thrown from his pocket, and if one was a diamond he had no more use for it than any other rock . . . I guess I feel the same way about my own words. Other people are often reminding me of things I’ve said or written that somehow meant something to them, but these words, once I’m rid of them, seldom stay with me. Only very occasionally will I recall something, wonder where it came from, then realize I wrote it.)

So why? Why do we remember the tidbits we remember? Why this or that line from a poem? This or that scene in a book when the rest of the plot falls right out of your brain? It’s an interesting exercise, worth thinking over.

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