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Actress Marilu Henner is one of the rare documented cases of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory in the world. It’s an ability that allows her to vividly recall every detail of every day of her life since childhood. Henner is a consultant to the CBS television show “Unforgettable,” in which the main character has the condition. Diane also speaks to Dr. James McGaugh who diagnosed this ability and studies people who have it. A discussion with Marilu Henner on what it means to remember your life in detail and what the phenomenon tells us about the brain.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. If you could remember every moment of every day of your life, would you consider it a blessing or a curse? Actress Marilu Henner can answer that question from her own experience. She has the rare ability known as highly superior autobiographical memory. Marilu Henner's new book is titled "Total Memory Makeover." She joins me in the studio. I look forward to hearing your questions, comments. 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Good morning to you.
MS. MARILU HENNERGood morning.
REHMYou know, you told me that before the show today you went running, walking, walking, walking...
REHM...around the memorial. Tell me about that.
HENNERWell, I, you know, woke up and I wanted to -- I always like to speed walk. That's one of my favorite things to do anyway, so I got up and I said to the concierge, well, you know, what's near, you know, and she said it's two...
REHMWhere are you staying?
HENNERI'm staying at the Ritz Carlton.
HENNERRight. And so I guess it's the one downtown, you know.
HENNERAnd so she said, oh, the Lincoln Memorial is about 2.2 miles from here, so just go down this road and everything. So as I was walking, I was thinking all my different trips to Washington D.C., and I just could start from the beginning...
HENNER...and just go through each one of them, and sometimes I would...
REHMHow many times have you been here?
HENNER...think -- well, I'm not like doing the math, you know what I'm saying, but it's about 15, 16 times.
HENNERSo, you know, I'd have to like really scroll through and do, but I can name all the different days, and...
HENNER...and the years and everything else. So it's been really incredible to kind of relive those moments.
REHMTell me about some of those moments.
HENNEROf those moments?
HENNEROkay. All right. So I arrived -- one of my favorite trips was with somebody that I knew from -- I was in high school, he was in college. We were dating. He went into the Army. He became friends with somebody who was friends with a guy in the Pentagon. So he -- I came in for Nixon's inaugural ball because we were invited -- he was invited through his friend. And it's so funny, it's like the whole trip starts coming back for me. So it was 1969. I arrived on Saturday, January the 18th. The inauguration was on Monday.
HENNERI'm positive that I'm right, and -- although now I'm a little nervous. Yeah. So this was 1969. I arrived, we went out dancing that night. I was staying in Falls Church, Va. Everybody was dancing to Sly and the Family Stone. I had on navy pants, a mustard-colored sweater. The night of the inauguration we were at the Smithsonian. I had a dress that was light blue with flowers. There's actually -- and I've never seen it again, but there was news footage because he and I were such good dancers, they pulled us out of the crowd and filmed and we ended up on the news that night.
REHMI love it.
HENNERSo I was thinking about that. I was thinking about performing "Grease" here at the National Theater in 1973. Arriving in Washington on March the 4th, which was a Sunday, and March 5th, Monday morning, I woke up in my hotel hearing for the first time the song "Killing Me Softly," by Roberta Flack, and it was like the first time I heard that song.
HENNERI thought it was so beautiful. And then I moved to the Sheraton Park Plaza Hotel. I just sprang for the extra money, even though I had no money, and I was in the national company of "Grease," and, you know, it was my first time really getting into speed walking in Rock Creek Parkway, and that was '73 -- 1973.
REHMYou brought us full circle.
HENNERWell, yeah. I've been here many times, so...
REHMMarilu, this is extraordinary stuff. Tell me about your childhood and how this stuff started happening.
HENNERWell, I was a teeny little girl, I was one of six children growing up in, you know, a lower middle-class neighborhood in Chicago. My family was very colorful because we had a dancing school in our backyard, my mom ran a beauty shop out of our kitchen, my uncle taught art classes next door at the Catholic school, and upstairs in his part of the house, and so there was always a lot of activity, and I, even as a tiny little child, I was nicknamed Ms. Memory, and the Memory Kid and Univac, you know, which is the old computer, because I just had this extraordinary ability to recall things.
HENNERAnd they'd say, what's with this kid? What's with this memory? So I became the family historian, and, you know, I don't know anybody out there listening who's from a big family. When you're from a litter of kids, you are looking for anything that distinguishes you from your brothers and sisters, so I loved having this memory.
REHMBut how did that affect your schooling?
HENNERWell, interestingly enough, I was a very good student, very, very good student. I ended up with four scholarships to go to the University of Chicago so I was always an A student, et cetera. But a lot of the people who have this aren't -- weren't considered good students. It was either too distracting or something. But I happened to be one of the group in our group our H-Sammers as we call us, that was a very good student.
REHMOkay. So highly superior autobiographic memory is different from having a photographic memory?
HENNERAbsolutely. One of the questions I've been most asked on my book tour which I've been doing for a week now is, oh, so as an actress you can just remember your lines, you just read a script once, and I say no, no, no.
REHMNo. No. No.
HENNERIt's completely different.
HENNERIt's not just you look at lines on a page and you, you know, you know them. For me, I remember where I was when I read the script, how I was relating...
HENNER...the lines and what the character is gonna go through to my own life, you know. It's much more about using your life, your past for your memory, because I believe everybody's got your -- we all have our past in us, whether or not we're acknowledging it.
HENNERAnd why not use it to its fullest advantage.
REHMSo when you were a little kid, nobody knew what this was, they just knew you were a human computer?
HENNERThey knew -- yes. They knew that it was different.
REHMThat's all they knew.
HENNERThat's all they knew.
REHMSo how did you find out that what you have has a name?
HENNERWell, this is what was interesting. Leslie Stahl's been a friend of mine for a long time, and she called me in 2006 and said, would you go to lunch with my producer, Sherry Finklestein and me? I'm gonna be in town, because I live in L.A., she lives in New York. I said, oh, Leslie, I love seeing you. This is great. So September 20th of 2006, which was a Wednesday, we went to a restaurant, and Leslie starts asking me dates, you know.
HENNERWhen did we see, you know, "Evening Shade," when we did do -- it's like -- and I'm telling her the dates and stuff. And then Sherry, the producer...
HENNERYeah. She said, oh, yeah, I got married on June 15, 1998. I said, oh, really? How come you got married on a Monday, and she went, oh, she has it. Right? So I thought, oh, this is odd. Okay. that's all I heard about it. Then I -- people are telling me, oh, there's this woman on television on "Prime Time Live," she's got your kind of memory, they're making a big fuss over it. Blah, blah, blah.
HENNERI didn't see the "Prime Time Live," but I had heard that there was a woman, Jill Price, with Diane Sawyer, who was giving dates and talking about, you know, her life and world events and things. So then I find out that they had offered this story to Leslie and she turned the story down because she said, you know, it's not that unusual, I have a friend with the same memory, so I'm passing on the story, and she had wanted to prove it to Sherry that this was, you know, not that unusual. Then Leslie called me back in 2009 and said...
REHMThree years later.
HENNERThree years later. She said, okay. R Remember that story that...
HENNER... we talked about, blah, blah, blah. She said, so, we are gonna do it. It is unusual. They've only found a few more people. We are going to put you on camera being tested. So I was, oh, my gosh, you know, a little nervous, a little excited. I thought, oh, wow, what's this gonna be like.
HENNERYeah. Tested. So they came to my house on November 4. They shot B-Roll November 5. I met Dr. James McGaw, spent the entire day, answered over, you know, I've answered over 500 questions at this point, a lot more actually. They put me through an MRI. They took measurements of my brain. A month later, Leslie came to my house, did an interview with me. That was December 6 of 2009. December 7 I met four of the other people, and we were all, you know, filmed, and a year later, on December 19, 2010, we were on "60 Minutes."
HENNERBecause it took them a year to put all the information together...
HENNER...measure other people's brains. You know, there was a control group and, you know, I'm sure Dr. McGaw will tell you more about the measurements and stuff, but they supposedly over index seven to 10 times the normal parts of other people's brains.
REHMIs the size of your brain different?
HENNERWell, I don't know about the whole brain, but there is a section that is different, definitely different. So, you know, that's what the research has, and then I wanted to help other people so that's why I wanted to take what I do no naturally and put it into exercises and things that have happened to me since I was little, and I wanted to do that for other people.
REHMAnd do you think that people can learn that?
HENNERI don't know that I can ever turn anyone into H-Sammer.
HENNERI definitely think it's something -- a question of nature and nurture, and there's a strong nature component, but the nurture part, I'm not one of the H-Sammers who says, oh, I never think about, I never exercised it. Even as a child I would lie in bed saying, okay, what did I do a week ago, two weeks ago.
HENNERWhat did I do a year ago? Okay. At this point in the school year last year, what did I do? So I loved it.
REHMSo you were working it.
HENNEROh, because I loved it.
HENNERIt was like time travel for me. It was funny. It's like this morning, you know, going around the monument I'm saying, okay, when was I here last? Oh, yeah, it was March 18, 2010. I was there for the Child Nutrition Act, you know, and stuff like that. So...
REHMBut I'm sure people want to know whether any of this feels like a curse at any point?
HENNERNot for me.
REHMNot for you.
HENNERI know some of the other people feel that way. Not for me.
REHMReally? They do?
HENNERNot for one second. Not for one single solitary moment. I feel like, you know, my whole story is in me. It's helping me by being able to access it, I'm able to make decisions that worked for me with a little more clarity, and I feel like, you know, I don't want to be here just occupying time, you know. I want to fill up this space, and by carrying my story with me, and having it readily available, I get to do that for myself, and to me it's really like the strongest defense against meaningless that I think we all have, is to be able to really know our stories.
REHMDo you think you have strengthened yourself in this way?
HENNERNo question about it. I've gotten over, you know, loss and being overweight and a lot of other things -- issues.
REHMMarilu Henner. Her book is called "Total Memory Makeover."
REHMMarilu Henner is with me. She is certainly an actress that many of you know. She's talking now about not only her new book called "Total Memory Makeover," but she's talking about how this gift of memory has affected her life and she offers in this book ways that you too can help yourself. But I wanna talk to you about your acting career and especially your memories of being an actress in the movie "Taxi."
HENNERIn the -- oh, the show was five years of my life. It was incredible. It was, you know, I always say that we did...
HENNERFive years on a sitcom.
HENNERI would say we did 112 shows, even though some people say, oh, you had 114, but one was just a compilation. I mean, you know, two were like one. So we did 112 shows. We had 112 parties.
HENNERThis group adored one another. We still hang out to this day. I just saw Tony Danza the other day. Anderson Cooper surprised him on the show. That's why my voice sounds a little hoarse 'cause I screamed. I was so excited to see him, even though I'd seen him two months ago. But, you know, it -- we just loved each other. They happened to write -- you know, Jim Brooks and the whole team over there, they happened to write really interesting characters and then cast actors that fit those roles and we just -- something just came flying off the page.
REHMLet's hear a clip from "Taxi" that aired in January, 1980.
HENNEROh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. I have to tell you the story of that. First of all, it was the last week before Christmas that we shot it. It was shot December the 21st of 1979, a Friday, 'cause that's when we shot. We're all about to leave for two weeks. And by Tuesday we knew we had a two parter on our hands, even though whenever we shot a two parter, it was a week and a week, but we had to get this episode done.
HENNERSo Danny and I worked so hard and we got our choreography down and everything. Every single time he said that word stallion, he would add a look, a snarl, a gesture, a foot, a whatever. I could not get through that scene without laughing. So next time you see it, notice how I'm not laughing and it's only because I have on the most painful shoes I could possibly find in my life...
REHMTo keep you from laughing.
HENNER...to keep myself from laughing. He was so...
HENNER...Danny is so delicious and so funny that whenever people say what is your favorite "Taxi" episode, I always say "Shut It Down," parts one and two and it was that scene.
REHMI love it. And there we have it. Now let's turn back to the whole question of memory, because joining us from his home in California is Dr. James McGaugh of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California at Irvine. Dr. McGaugh, good morning.
DR. JAMES MCGAUGHGood morning.
HENNERGood morning. How are you?
MCGAUGHHi, how are you?
REHMTell me about this condition of highly superior autobiographical memory. When was it first discovered?
MCGAUGHWell, the first hint that I got was in the year 2000 in the late spring when the first subject who's already been mentioned, Jill Price, contacted me to say that she had a memory problem and asked if I could see her. Well, I worked at a research institute, not a memory clinic, so I told her that I could direct her to a clinic if she had a memory problem. I thought it was dementia or something.
MCGAUGHAnd she said, no, no, she doesn't forget. I'd been working in the laboratory all my academic career on the brain conditions that lead to strong memory, so I thought at the very least I ought to meet with her. And so I met with her and began to test her and found that she did in fact have a remarkable memory of most of the days of her life.
MCGAUGHBegan in 2000.
REHMWow. So what kinds of tests do you give somebody who may have this kind of gift?
MCGAUGHWell, these days we give all kinds of tests, but in those days when she arrived, I just pulled off my bookshelf a book that somebody gave me at the turn of the century, a coffee table millennium book that had a day by day series of articles about what happened in the last century. And so I just pull that out and I ask her about a well known public event and ask her the date and the day or I would give her a day and a date and she would have to give me a public event. And it only took a...
MCGAUGH...half an hour before I realized that there was something that was very different certainly from my memory and the memory of anybody that I knew because she was just remarkably accurate.
MCGAUGHAll of our tests since then are built on that same idea...
MCGAUGH...that we have to have some knowledge about an event, whether it is a private event of the subject or whether it's a public event, in order to do the testing, in order to be assured that the individual really has a memory of that event.
REHMSo how does Marilu's memory compare with others that you've tested?
MCGAUGHIt's superb. She's in a top group. Let me explain. When we appeared on "60 Minutes" that night later we learned that 18.7 million people watched that program and it re-aired in the spring and another 8 million people watched it. So you figured some of those were repeats. Maybe 25 million people watched that. I had -- I received after those programs showed a total of about 600 inquiries -- email inquiries of people who said either that I have this ability or I know someone who does. We have screened all of those people, by the way, that continue to come in three or four a week. We screen all of them. And we now have a total of 20 out of the say 25 million people...
MCGAUGH...who have seen the program. That's a pretty small number.
REHMSo tell me about what it is you notice about the brains of these folks.
MCGAUGHWell, what we've done is to scan the brains using MRI structural scanning. And we've looked at every region of the brain in these people who have this remarkable ability, including Marilu Henner of course, and we also scanned the brains of people who are of the same age, both males and females of the same age. And what we've done is to compare each of the brain regions of our control subjects who lacked the ability and are subject to have this ability. And what we have found and we're just publishing now is that there are a number of regions of the brain that in our subjects who have the memory differ in size, shape or in what we think is conductivity between pathways.
MCGAUGHAnd we are now in the process of making sense out of what this means, but it's clear that the brains of subjects who have the memory are different from those of the rest of us who do not.
REHMNow, would you call those folks gifted? Do they succeed more in life than those of us who don't have that kind of memory?
MCGAUGHWell, certainly they're gifted. You already know the enormous talents of Marilu Henner.
REHMI do indeed.
MCGAUGH...she was a straight A student and went to the University of Chicago on a scholarship. Not many people get that opportunity. Some of the subjects are also gifted, some do not have this extraordinary degree of achievement outside of their memory ability, so there is a range. But we have a radio news announcer. We have a TV producer. We have a high level musician in New York City and so on. So we have in the group people who have been successful in their careers, quite successful in their careers, and so there has to be something to it. That is it's not as though...
MCGAUGH...this is a memory which is a, let's say, a school type memory...
MCGAUGH...for all people, but it is helpful. It is helpful. Most of our people have above average employment and are doing well in life.
REHMMarilu, does anybody else in your family have this same kind of memory?
HENNERWell, everyone in my family was always very, very smart, very good students. They couldn't, you know, go immediately to dates because I just see it. I see the whole life -- my whole life on a kind of time continuum so it cues up immediately. Nobody else has that. But the person who is closest to it is my son, Joey, who is 16. And when he's 18, Dr. McGaugh's going to test him. Unless they figure out ways to test children before that.
HENNERBut one thing I do wanna make clear, it may have started with Jill Price and a book about dates and historical dates, et cetera. But the testing has gotten so sophisticated that it's really about our lives as well so that no one thinks that, oh, we're just -- we just happen to be great trivia...
HENNER...experts or historical date people. Wouldn't you say that, Dr. McGaugh, that it's not...
MCGAUGHYeah, yeah, let me...
MCGAUGH...let me comment on that because in order to have true autobiographical memory, it should not be just about when the plane crashes occurred and when Princess Diana died. It has to be about memory of one's life, as you were describing about having been in Washington, D.C. a number of times and what you did. And so our testing today delves rather deeply into the personal autobiographical experiences of people apart from the public information. For that...
REHMAnd here's what I want to know, how far back does your memory go, Marilu?
HENNEROkay. Well, recently I really came clean about what it was and then I said, oh, but people will think I'm a little crazy if you put this on. And of course they put it on. But let me explain why. I was a two, three year old child with an unbelievable memory. I said -- this is all they showed. I said I remembered my baptism. And the thing is that when I was two, three, four years old I have always had this extraordinary memory. My godmother was a nun, Sister Mildred Joseph, who talked about my baptism and I remembered it as an infant child, so it's information that I took forward with me.
HENNERSo it's a very long time.
REHMWere you dipped or...
HENNERNo. I was -- it was more even the water, it was being put on the altar. It was just remembering the surroundings, everything. But it was definitely something that was reinforced over time as well.
REHMMarilu Henner, her new book is titled "Total Memory Makeover."
HENNERAnd Dr. McGaugh wrote the foreword for my book.
REHMAnd Dr. McGaugh, James McGaugh, of the University of California at Irvine. I will bet, Dr. McGaugh, you'll get more calls after this program.
MCGAUGHI'll check my emails.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for joining us.
MCGAUGHBye, thank you.
REHMI want to ask you, Marilu, are you hoping to help with this book other people to learn how to remember more things?
HENNERWell, most books about memory are about pneumonic devices, memorizing lists, people's faces, a deck of cards, you know...
HENNER...different things. This is about using your life. You know, I have theories in this book that are based on experiences that I do naturally and experiences that I've had teaching people. I've done memory classes throughout, way before "60 Minutes" was on or they even approached me. I've been teaching memory classes online at marilu.com or at different seminars around the country. And there were some things that came up with people that I started to notice. One of them is that everyone has, you know, a primary memory track in their lives, something on which they have embedded their memories and they remember especially well.
HENNERIt could be a sports track, a travel track, relationships, jobs that they've had, hairdos. I've heard bats even. I've heard unbelievable things. Everyone has something they remember especially well. So I believe in playing to your strengths, using that memory track to sort of bring back other things. I've also noticed that people are sense dominant. They always fire up one of their senses as they are taking in information and by playing to the strength of that sense, memories can start flooding back if you use that sense in a dominant way.
HENNERAnd so I have different exercises in the book based on that, based on your track, based on your sense dominance about memory retrieval. Because I feel like there are four different ways memories come in to you and trying to control them is like trying to control a dream or something else. And by understanding the four ways that I think of memory perhaps you will say, oh, I'm definitely a horizontal type memory person, I'm a vertical, I'm a mushrooming or I'm sporadic.
HENNERSo there are different theories in the book that I've turned into exercises and there has been no one that has read this book or that I've worked with that couldn't remember more than they thought they could.
REHMInteresting. I want to hear a clip now from "Unforgettable."
REHMAnd that is someone who is on the verge of Alzheimer's.
HENNERRight. That's how they've played my character on "Unforgettable," I'm a consultant on the show. And Poppy Montgomery's character, Carrie Wells, has my kind of memory in real life.
REHMAnd we're back with actress, teacher, memory expert Marilu Henner. You know her from the television program "Taxi." Now, she has a new book. It's titled "Total Memory Makeover: Uncover Your Past, Take Charge of Your Future." Lots of folks want to know, number one, about your memory and music, whether you play any instrument, can you remember musical passages?
HENNERWell, I don't play any instrument. I'm a singer, you know, I sing. And I have a whole section of the book on music and memory because music is such a powerful part of our memories.
HENNERAnd especially if you're an auditory dominant person. I would say that my most dominant sense is smell and second, right behind it, is auditory. So I'm better at, like, hearing directions and then imaging my own, kind of, image of how to go about. But there isn't a day go by where I'm listening to music and it flashes me back to something. I think, music is one of the most powerful things. And, of course, they've proven with Alzheimer's patients that they might forget so much about their lives but entire musical passages come back as soon as they're exposed to a song that they knew, etcetera.
REHMI find myself wondering whether the work you're doing with Dr. McGaugh and the others who have this kind of beautiful memory might be of help eventually to those with Alzheimer's.
HENNERWell, Dr. McGaugh definitely says so because he feels that by understanding how our neural pathways fire up and what happens in our times of -- you know, what our brains look like during memory retrieval, that they will be able to target certain areas in Alzheimer's patients. So he definitely feels that the research we're doing will have a tremendous impact. And I'll tell you something, I have two boys, 16 and 17 years old, my sons, I'm just so happy that this has all been discovered during my lifetime because I would hate, years from now after I'm gone, for my sons to be saying, oh, my gosh our mother had that.
HENNERYou know, I didn't...
HENNER...it was so rare. So I'm thrilled to be able to be part of the research and, you know, be able to help with anything. And, you know...
REHMSo how are you helping people?
HENNERWell, I think, by teaching the classes and by writing this book and coming up with exercises and trying to tap into a memory approach that's never been done before.
REHMGive me an example of one exercise.
HENNERWell, first of all, I tell this little story about my father and how he was someone who always said, there are three parts to every event, anticipation, participation and recollection. And the greatest of these is recollection because that's when the experience really gets seared into our brains. And so...
REHMBecause it's gone so quickly.
HENNER...it's gone so quickly that if you really take the time to say "OK, I just went through that, lets recall it and lets really remember it." So I, even as a tiny child, saw my life in this APR way. You know, my family would throw these big events. We were very social in our neighborhood. We'd throw these big events and we'd always clean up afterward with a recollection party. You know, we'd call it a recollection party. People would come over and we'd talk about, oh, could you believe how that -- those two flirted and what a good dancer that guy is.
HENNERAnd so it was just really -- and then the next recollection party from some party six months later, we'd say, oh, and remember them at that party last time? You know, things like that. So APR is a very important part of our lives. Every single person listening out there is anticipating something, participating in something and recalling something. And if you are more conscious throughout your day, if you live your life with a little more attention, I call it your attention units, if you have a little more purpose, a little more mindfulness.
HENNERIf you're a visual person, every once in a while, take a very strong mental snapshot of where you are and what you're doing. If you're an auditory person, do a sound check, you know. It's like, there are so many different ways to note your life and to not let it just go whizzing by. You know, it's really important not to just mark time by just skidding through your life.
REHMAll right. To Sandy (sic) in Rockville, Md. You're on the air.
ANDYIs it Andy or Sandy?
REHMSandy. It's you, Sandy, go right ahead.
ANDYThank you. It's Andy, A-N-D-Y. But it's okay, you can call me Sandy.
ANDYAnd I listen to you all the time. But I -- it's so great to be on the show. I have the same thing. I didn't, you know, it's great to know that somebody's working the problem. But I just wanted to ask, I've been listening, but I've been doing a project at the same time. So if you've already said this, I apologize. But I know, when I was growing up, my siblings, other people, you know, I would talk about things that we had shared and obviously had happened and they would look at me and they'd say, that never happened.
ANDYAnd then I would say, oh, no, I'm sure it happened, exactly like this. And I have really good, both, visual and auditory memory. So I would give them the exact, you know, transcript and then we would go check with our mother or our father or some other adult that had been a participant. And then the mother or father or adult would say, oh, yeah, that -- I don't remember exactly but yeah I remember that happened. Did that happen -- I mean, I just assumed everybody was, you know, like when you was a kid you used to assume everybody's like you.
ANDYI was surprised, you know, that almost nobody else...
HENNERRight. You should go be tested by UC Irvine. You know, I'm sure -- maybe it's up on your website, but I know at "60 Minutes" they have it (unintelligible) ...
REHMWe've got it at -- our website.
HENNERIf you have it. Right, so you should go to Diane Rehm...
REHMGo to drshow.org and you may be one of those rare people.
HENNEROne of those people, sure. Yeah. It happened all the time. But, you know, after a while, people knew that they weren't going to fight my memory, so.
REHMLet's go to Rockford, Ill. Good morning Janice.
JANICEOh, hi, good morning. Hi. Marilu, I had read your other book on diet and nutrition. I loved that one (unintelligible) ...
HENNERThank you so much.
JANICEYou were talking about being, remembering your baptism. I remember being in my crib. I remember the feeling. I'm an auditory essential person too. I even have a poem I wrote called "Memory smells," how I remember things. And I have to tell, when I was young, I had a photographic memory, my teachers would say because reading a book and then see the page in my mind, I'd read it back.
JANICEI've had migraines all my life and really horrible ones. So I don't -- I can't do those things anymore. But I remember, as a child, being in the crib, how it felt, how it smelled.
HENNERSure, I -- yes. I know, I can totally relate to that.
JANICEHow I laid there looking through the crib and out at the window and the bright sun and how that felt on my skin. And I was, you know, a baby in a crib. So I just thought I would -- with my memories, that was a memories of babies and then the next memories were all of abuse. And my memories, I could tell my sisters and family too, the exact things that they said, exact places they were. I'm not as good on dates because I don't pay attention to that. But I always had to forget.
HENNERWell, I always feel that the ones you most want to forget are sometimes, you know, they become emotional boogie men in your life because Dr. McGaugh actually proved that memory is tied to adrenalin. So a lot of those highs and a lot of those lows, you're going to remember anyway, why not cushion them with some of these sweeter our-town moments that we've lived throughout our lives and why not get a different perspective then just seeing the black and white of something horrible that happened. Start to see, you know, the -- I used to say, shades of gray but now people -- that means something different...
HENNER...during this book tour.
HENNERBut, you know, you start to see the whole panorama of things that happen and you can -- it sort of defuses the bomb in a way. The more you, kind of, look at your memories, even the darkest ones. You know, it's like saying I'm going to read this book, but I'm not going to read chapter 10 because the character goes through something bad. But it's like chapter 10 informs the rest of the book...
HENNER...so you're whole life has been informed by that...
HENNER...why not really explore it and don't shy away from it, but really see it for, you know, the different panorama of what happened.
REHMA lot of therapist, a lot of friends, a lot of acquaintances urge us to live in the moment. Do you have any problem with that?
HENNERYou know, people always say "Well, does this mean you're always flashing on your past?" No, it's kind of like this pilot light that's always there that I can turn it, crank it up when I want. And it -- sometimes it comes in, you know, just how I'm listening to music or whatever but it doesn't keep me from living my life in the moment. If anything, it makes me live it more in the moment because I'm recording new information and I'm taking things in and I'm so appreciative of every single thing that I'm seeing and doing.
REHMAre there any blank spots?
HENNERNot that I've uncovered. But, you know, somebody will say, oh, we did this, and I'll be like, I'll scroll through it and so it might take, maybe, a little bit longer and then all of a sudden, boom, it's there.
HENNERYeah, it's just -- you know, because I really think there's so much more that people remember then they give themselves credit for. And you just have to prompt them, either with the right questions, exercises, tips, whatever. It's -- autobiographical memory is such a new frontier and so, you know, just using what just happens to me naturally, I thought, wow, I bet I could help other people.
REHMHow do you think it strengthens you?
HENNERWell, I think by bringing your story forward it teaches...
HENNER...you -- oh, me, Marilu?
HENNEROh, I've gotten over a lot in my life. I -- my parents both died very young, I was very young. I took the lessons that I learned from them and changed the entire, the habits of myself and my family members. I used to weigh 54 pounds heavier than I do now. My cholesterol was way up. And by, sort of, bringing their deaths forward, really understanding who they were, what their health habits were, my own health habits had to be looked at. And once I figured it out, I would never go back to what I was before. So, you know, in -- it...
REHMBut you wouldn't erase that? That (unintelligible) ...
HENNEROh, not at all. Erase it? Oh, no.
REHMIt's part of who you are.
HENNERTotally. And believe me, I would rather think of my parents deaths everyday then to lose them for even one day because even though they both had horrible deaths, their deaths informed the rest of my life. And to me, having a great memory is kind of an insurance policy against loss.
REHMNow, as we age we know memory slips. Are you fearful that that could happen to you?
HENNERWell, I think that would be the cruelest joke but somebody said that, you know, for me I'd probably just end up like the way most people think of memory, I don't know. I hope -- I, you know, I do everything I can to make sure I live a very healthy lifestyle. I'm vegan, I, you know, have a plant based diet, no dairy products since August 15, 1979 which was a Wednesday.
HENNERSo nothing's clogging my brain.
REHMAll right. To Newberry, Ohio. Good morning, Rita.
RITAGood morning. I have a question. Can you write backward?
RITALike, do mirror writing?
HENNERNo, not at all.
RITAOh, okay. I just wondered what kind of brain correlation are -- these things did that we don't see.
HENNEROh, no, I -- no. Not.
REHMI guess not.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Grand Rapids, Mich. Good morning, John.
JOHNGood morning. I've been listening all day long and I just love this show. And Marilu, I've always liked you in "Taxi" too.
HENNEROh, thank you.
JOHNBut I want to say, I have learned that you can train your memory.
JOHNAnd how I got started with -- I like writing and I started writing about a couple things that happened in my life. And that would trigger other memories. And I found, if you write them down real fast...
JOHN...just a note, anything, okay. You can get back to it and it triggers other memories.
HENNERAbsolute, that's one of the exercises in my book. In fact, I talk about, you know, the different -- people learning lines or whatever, like writing them down. They become part of you. And, you know, I recommend that people do three little bullet points at night if they get a chance or fill in a page in a diary.
REHMAbout the day.
HENNERAbout their day or while you're brushing your teeth, run through the, you know, the two minutes, run through a montage of what you did that day. And if it helps you to write it down, of course, it's going to sear it into your brain a lot more, you know, indelibly because it kind of goes through the pen, up your arm, into your brain, etcetera and then back and forth.
REHMBut you know, let me tell you what I go through. I get off the air each day and I'm onto the next thing.
HENNERTo the next, sure.
REHMAnd that almost obliterates what I've already done.
REHMSo -- because I've got to concentrate on the next thing.
HENNERBut what do you think your track is? Do you think that you remember mostly the places you've traveled or where you've...
HENNER...lived? So maybe...
HENNER...travel is your main track and that's what your memories...
HENNER...are being seared.
REHMSo what you're saying to individuals is, find your track.
HENNERFind your track. It's like in the jigsaw puzzle of your life, what are those hard edged pieces to help you make a bigger picture? Or as my brother-in-law said, in the murky forest of your memories, what pebbles have you dropped along the way?
REHMDoes anybody else in your family, not your two children, but your own family of origin have this same ability?
HENNERThey don't. They all are very, very smart. They all have very good memories but nobody goes...
REHMAnd they're all envious of you.
HENNERNo, they, you know, we all have our thing -- we have our...
HENNER...you know, things that we're good at.
REHMAll right, let's go to Greensboro, N.C. Good morning, Ray.
RAYHi, how are you Diane?
RAYIt's great to talk to you two. And Marilu, I just -- as you've been speaking throughout this whole program, I've been chiming in and every other thing that came out of your mouth, I was like, oh my God, that's me. Oh my God, that's me. Oh, my God, that's just like me.
RAYAnd I'm freaking out. And I heard the other callers, but I want to touch on something like from a different angle. I want to say that, it was like really hard for me throughout high school to get by in my classes because everything that I read, you know, then they want -- they want you to put it back on paper. And I could never do that. It was really weird, but yet I could tell my mom, I remember the scent of her first perfume she ever wore in front of me or I could remember, you know, my first dream or my first day of preschool, what I wore. And she always thought that was neat.
RAYBut yet schools didn't -- they don't chime in on that. They don't want to have you excel in the things -- like, okay. This is (unintelligible) ...
HENNERYou were at the wrong school.
HENNERYou were, maybe, at the wrong school. You were, maybe, at the wrong school.
RAYYeah, exactly. Well, this is what I want to touch on, too, real quick before you let me go. Is that, my cousin just dropped out of school. He's only 16 years old. My aunt thinks he has Asperger syndrome because he is the same way as me. He can, like, he can look at a bike, take it apart, put it back together and he can, like, he creates his own little movies. He chimes in on all these little tiny things and all these little idiosyncrasies and he's wonderful, but then he's in school and he's flunking out.
HENNERWell, I mean, there, you know, there might be other issues there. I don't know. And -- but maybe if you want to be tested, you should go to UC Irvine or you know, I -- that's all I can say about that. I mean, I think that some -- they've compared -- I know a lot of people who have Asperger's have a lot of these memory things as well.
HENNERIssues and, you know, abilities.
REHMAnd gifts, yep.
HENNERRight and gifts. So there's -- they're figuring all of that out.
REHMSo what's it like...
HENNERFiguring it out.
HENNER...to be in a room filled with other people like yourself?
HENNEROh, the other -- when I met everybody?
HENNERThe other four people on that day, December 7th. It was great. I mean, everybody was kind of fired up and, you know, they would give us a date and we'd all say it and then -- and for me, I always go back -- I see it like a little movie screens, almost like on scene selection on a DVD, that's the closest thing to it. So I'm scrolling through my own life, like all the time. Like, all of a sudden I'm thinking, you know, being here today in Washington and going through all the times that I was here and what was happening on the news and -- but what I was wearing. It's sort of all comes in at once, in different ways.
REHMYou know, watching you, you seem perpetually in motion. Do you think that's your brain too?
HENNERThat's so funny because...
HENNER...the name of my company is Perpetual Motion.
HENNERThat was my nickname as a kid, too. That's so funny.
REHMMarilu Henner and the book is titled "Total Memory Makeover." You can reach her at marilu.com.
HENNERYes, I've been teaching classes for a long time on there and every month I have a different class and...
HENNER...we do a memory class quite often.
HENNERThank you. This has been so wonderful.
REHMI'm so glad you were here.
REHMI'm going to work on mine.
REHMThanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.
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