I was driving home from work the other day and I heard a piece on National Public Radio about professional musicians who forget their instruments. I didn't hear the whole thing, but they mentioned stories about symphony musicians who leave expensive instruments somewhere (the Stradivarius left in the cab, for instance).
They asked a mental health professional who also happened to be a musician why people do these things. The mental health talking head said it happened because the musician was "hyperfocussed" or so concentrated on the upcoming performance that everything else was driven out of the mind. He also speculated that performance anxiety was expressed as an unconscious wish to lose the instrument. What he didn't mention, but the first thing that popped into my head, was sleep deprivation or just simple absent-mindedness.
We all do absent-minded things at some time in our lives. We lock our keys in the car, or ourselves out of the house, or we forget to pay a bill or to mail a bill that's already been paid. We forget birthdays and anniversaries and other important dates that we (and our loved ones) really expect us to remember. Fortunately, we also forget anniversary dates of things that are better left forgotten, although I think it will be a long time before anyone forgets dates like 9/11. (Do young people know the date 12/7? Isn't it amazing what we, as a collective national memory, forget?)
Yet we don't consult mental health professionals about why these things happen. Remembering things, and forgetting, are a natural mental process that happens continously outside our awareness. If the problem becomes too severe---if we start forgetting the names of our spouses or children or where we live, or if the memory problem becomes associated with other brain problems like writing or reading or talking, then it becomes a disease.
Age-related memory changes may concern older people, but they are not necessarily a sign of progressive disease. It can also be a sign of clinical depression, in which case memory problems are temporary and reversible.
Of course, none of this explains why I keep forgetting to take my iPod out of my my car when I get home. It must be an unconscious fear of listening to My Three Shrinks. What I want to know is, what's the unconscious wish for forgetting to pick up your kid?