Like most people, I had a lot of time on my hands these past few years, and I spent most of it on my phone. This — in concert with anxiety medication and other substances legal and otherwise — has made my brain weak, like a puddle of slime. I’ve never had a very good memory, but by summer of 2021, I saw the little memory that I did have evaporate unceremoniously while Googling “ben afleCk brther bad 1.”
In time, I grew frustrated with how much of an idiot I had become. I couldn’t remember the name of Joan Holloway’s military husband from Mad Men without looking it up, or the name of the guy I went to college with who would come into my dorm regularly to talk about how much he worked out, or even the boiling time for a soft-boiled egg. None of this was especially useful or life-changing information, but I wanted to remember it without making a shameful mess of my search history. If people with good memories erect elaborate memory palaces through which to remember stuff, I lived under a bridge in my underpants.
Inspired by a desire to impress and wow myself and others, and to see if my brain was capable of neuroplasticity, a term people who do crossword puzzles are obsessed with, I decided to stop looking stuff up online and see what happened. When I couldn’t remember Greg from Mad Men, instead of instantly turning to my phone, I just sat there, thinking, very hard. And so my new skill was born. And I call that skill: Strong Brain.
For a few months — and during many moments of really wanting to remember stupid trivia and ephemera for whatever inane reason you would ever want to know anything at all, I can’t even begin to tell you why I was in so many of these situations — I didn’t make any progress. Sometimes I would sit without knowing something for hours, well after whoever I was with had looked it up and had moved on to knowing the next thing that I couldn’t remember. I was frequently laughed at and made to feel stupid for sitting with my arms crossed while smoke slowly started to pour out of my ears. I was mocked for not coming up with answers to things that no one on earth should know simply because I took a stance against looking them up. The periodic table and the horse it rode in on can kiss my ass.
But while the sounds of my haters got louder and louder, my brain beefed up in my defense and within months, it was markedly stronger. With friends trying to remember the name of the actor who played the mom in Jumanji, I blurted out without even trying, “Bonnie Hunt.” Around a fire pit for my monthly hot-dog club, I remembered something that no one else remembered that I don’t actually remember now, but the point is I remembered it. And I started to remember a lot more stuff, a lot faster, when I just gave myself a second — and sometimes several hours — to think about it without looking it up. The information would come to me, I’d say, seven out of ten times, which is a pretty good average considering the fact that I frequently Google shit like “worst thng to eat dor climate change” (typos mine) and the letter “p.”
There are many benefits to having a Strong Brain. I am routinely embarrassed by what Apple tells me is my screen usage for the day, so forgoing a Google in favor of just sitting and staring blankly has made my day-to-day less humiliating. It’s also doing some good for my brain’s longterm health, I think. And honestly, conjuring up a meaningless fact instead of instantly looking it up is a good way to wile away the hours. It feels downright Victorian. And I bet those bitches had strong brains. It took me a while to achieve Strong Brain, and I was often irritated by how much people liked to rub it in my face when I couldn’t remember the name of the witch sisterhood from Dune (it’s Bene Gesserit, sorry), but after six months, my brain is as strong as 40 horses when previously it was like a shriveled elderly worm wearing broken glasses.
If you’re like me and have always wanted to be the shiny, pretty person at a party that everyone is listening to and smiling at and wondering where she got her hair cut, I think Strong Brain is the party trick for you. I feel confident that the next time I’m in a social setting listening to some dork jabber on about their career milestones, it will be my turn to morph into that shiny, pretty person with a nice haircut that everyone is jealous of when I announce, to certain applause, “May I tell you about my Strong Brain?”
Dayna Evans is a writer in Philadelphia.