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My memory. My memories. They are elusive at times, and at other times, random memory flash to front of my mind. On the bus home, I thought of two metal snakelike belts that I had about 30 years ago, one silver, one gold. I can remember the feel of them in my hands. I can remember when I had to stop wearing them because the clasp was bent in an irreparable way. They weren’t particularly special and I’ve owned hundreds of articles of clothing. So why would that just pop into my mind as I gazed at the mountains? It makes me think that everything – everything – we have done, experienced, thought, dreamed, smelled, or felt is stored in our brains, if we could only access it all. As my memory tends to fail me more often than I’d wish – because of concussions, West Nile, Dengue, or overload – I find the thought that it’s all in there, stored in the gray matter, quite a comfort, and a beacon of hope. I keep that dim fear of Alzheimer’s, which my mother had, though she remained blessedly asymptomatic until the end, tucked away in a corner pocket of my consciousness somewhere, but I wonder, if it were ever to strike me, would I have more access to those seemingly insignificant memories, like the feel of a belt in my hand?

If objects have memory (and I suspect they do), imagine the memory of this bannister, of the hands that touched it over the last 250 years.

IMG_6288
Beaufort, North Carolina.

Quote of the day: “There are too many books I haven’t read, too many places I haven’t seen, too many memories I haven’t kept long enough.” — Irwin Shaw

Daily gratitudes:
The man who rescued the terrified cat from the side of the speeding eight-lane interstate
Early evening light
Clean sheets
Sending my daughter to do the grocery shopping when I don’t feel good
Outlander

The fact that my Mother had Alzheimer’s when she died niggles at my swiss-cheesy brain sometimes.

I have always said that I have a mind like a steel sieve, especially since that unfortunate head injury on Easter Sunday some 20 years ago. (Only Tug, the best dog in the universe, was there to witness it, and he took my secret to the Rainbow Bridge.) But sometimes, I am more aware of my inability to retain things than at other times.  It’s been an interesting adjustment for MKL, who has the memory of an elephant (and elephants have 10 1/2 pound brains with large, multiple-fold temporal lobes). He must be frustrated by the apparent empty space between my ears.  He’s a grand storyteller, and often says, “Do you remember when I told you about….” or “I think I shared with you….”  My unfortunate response is (way too often) “I don’t remember that!”  On the plus side, it means that most things are new over and over again, and for me, that’s okay. But I do hate that it seems like I haven’t been listening to him, because I have. I love love love his voice. And his stories.

While I have grown comfortable with my forgetfulness, my brain is offering up a new twist lately – mistaking words.  For example, on a Comcast commercial tonight, they were advertising a “Multilatino” package for those viewers who wish to see more channels in Spanish.  I saw that word and read it as “Mutilatinos” – as in a combination of the words “mutilated” and “latinos” – which is awful all by itself.

And here’s another example. In that first paragraph, where I was talking about elephants? I originally wrote “elephone”. And where I wrote elephants? I wrote “elephonats”.  It’s corrected now, but seriously….WTF?

This is just the most recent example of something that seems to happen to me all the time.

And while this one is not my fault, it is one of my current favorites.

I prefer my wi-fi to have bacon. Actually, I prefer everything to have bacon.

These days, if I’m going to comment on something, or read it aloud, I always make sure I do a double-take before I say anything. Better safe than stupid. Or with a besocked foot in my mouth. Either way.

This could just be a normal aging thing, like my increasing tendency to look for my sunglasses when they are on my head, or double checking to be sure I’m still wearing earrings – both of which, now that I write that, indicate that perhaps I am just unconsciously checking to be sure that my head is still attached. I’m not ruling that out.

As I am within licking distance of the half-century mark, I wonder if this is more of a problem or a symptom, than a quirk. I’m pretty sure I should start journaling in a more detailed fashion, and doing crossword puzzles. That’s what seemed to keep my Mom’s brain clicking. Not Sudoku, though, because not only do I not know how to pronounce it, it makes me want to shoot everything in sight. Not good.

Of course, I can’t recall any more recent incidents even though they happen often (there’s some irony for you, huh?)  Which doesn’t make for as interesting post as if I did remember them. But you get what you get.

So what about you? Are you “of a certain age”? Do you have similar word foibles? Don’t worry, share away…I most likely won’t remember.

Lost: One Small Brain

One small brain has gone missing in an extended flash of bright light around 11:30 pm on Wednesday, July 27.  Last seen eating Mint Milano cookies in copious quantities in a dimly lit room.

Distinguishing characteristics:  Squishy and sensitive.  High spikes of creativity are noticeable on occasion.  A pleasant pink color, but will assume disguises when motivated.

Be on the lookout for it wandering around unfamiliar neighborhoods with an empty water glass, one shoe, and an iPod headset with no iPod attached. May be in the vicinity of an airport.

If found, please return to this blog.  No reward offered, as it is priceless.

I am indulging myself with The Bonnet Channel on this windy Saturday morning.  It’s one of my favorites – The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn.  Big sigh for Errol Flynn – if only he hadn’t been such a dissipated rogue, although I guess that was a large part of his charm.  (I’ll write more about Erroll, and about Robin Hood, one of these days.)

Watching this film, set in 13th century – though I must say Hollywood seems to think that fashion in the 13th century was much more regal than I imagine it actually was – I started thinking about how and why the world has changed in to the last 900 years.  (Cue “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy” intro narration.)

It is hard to separate the idea of native intelligence from the intelligence of this technology-driven world in which we live.  I am certain that the men and women of the year 1266 were just as smart as we are today.  So why could they not figure out the things we have been able to in subsequent centuries?  We have always had the basic resources – which really come down to the four elements of which everything is composed, and from some variant/combination of which everything has been developed: earth, air, fire, water.

So were we just new enough that we were spending our evolutionary childhood figuring stuff out like infants and children do? I can’t get a peg on how long humans have been on earth; some sources say 200,000 years, others say 4,000,000, and still others guess any number before, after or in between.  If we’ve been around for four million years and we were still in our childhood 900 years ago, then we’ve had a serious growth spurt in the last few centuries.  Or else we’re now in our adolescence and we have an absolutely astounding adulthood before us.  Unless we burn ourselves out and leave a decent-looking corpse.

Anyway, the question is, were people intelligent enough 900 years ago to figure out things like how to make plastic or microchips or cars?  If so, why didn’t it happen then?  Were they just too busy trying to subsist from day-to-day?  I know most farmers don’t have the opportunity to spend their days or nights trying to create new inventions.  It seems that the issue is less the intelligence of people 900 years ago than it is their lack of leisure time.  But then the idle rich weren’t the ones who invented things – isn’t necessity the mother of invention?

Do you get what I’m thinking?  I’m not sure I’m expressing myself very well, but I’m going to put it out there for discussion as is.  I may come back to it later, once my brain has chewed on it some more. 

It’s nice having deep thoughts again for a change.  But it does help to have a dialogue about them.

When my Mother died, she had her brain autopsied.  This is not customary, even in cases of extreme cancer, such as she had.  She had been part of a long-term brain study and the last piece of the study for any participant was to agree to have this procedure done upon death.  I knew about it on a surface level, but when she died, it was the farthest thing from my mind.  Fortunately, E-Bro knew what needed to be done and did it – putting ice packs around and behind her head until the funeral home people came to take her away.  I assume that E-Bro then gave them some instructions, but after helping get her into the body bag, I really lost track of everything.

All maudlinity (yes, thanks, it’s my own word) aside, this brain autopsy showed that she had Stage 4 Alzheimer’s Disease.  Alzheimer’s has 7 defined stages; Stage 4 is considered to be mild or early-stage.  In this stage, according to the Alzheimer’s Association website, symptoms may include:

  • Forgetfulness of recent events
  • Impaired ability to perform challenging mental arithmetic — for example, counting backward from 100 by 7s (hmm, could I do that now?)
  • Greater difficulty performing complex tasks, such as planning dinner for guests, paying bills or managing finances
  • Forgetfulness about one’s own personal history
  • Becoming moody or withdrawn, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations

My Mother didn’t really have any of these.  A couple of months before she died, we noticed a few things – she would forget what color piece she was in Parcheesi or something like that, but we’d laugh about it.  We both figured it was just a matter of normal aging.  She lived for three months after her massive cancer diagnosis, and it wasn’t really until the last few weeks that I noticed something odd.  I remember us discussing if perhaps the cancer had spread to her brain.  We both considered it a possibility, but decided there was no point in finding out.  It didn’t matter.

In hindsight, I can see that all of things we laughed at and thought might be brain cancer were symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  Due to her excellent mental hygiene, we never even considered it.  My Mother was an insatiable reader and never failed to do the crossword puzzles in every paper.  She was one of those people who could do the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink.  She also kept a journal every day for decades.  She noted conversations she had, what she did, what we kids did, what she ate, thoughts, appointments.  She made a point of remembering everything.  She was always learning, keeping her brain fresh.  This is one of the things I’ve heard – that keeping your brain awake and buzzing keeps things like Alzheimer’s and dementia at bay.  I hope that’s true – I wonder what the rate of Alzheimer’s is among writers?

Well, as you’d imagine, my Mother’s diagnosis is a concern for me.  I had a mild closed-head injury many years ago, and after that, I went through a long period of forgetfulness, and an occasional inability to remember words.  I would look for a word in my head and it was like someone had literally erased the word from the blackboard on which my brain kept it written.  That improved over time, but I’ve noticed myself being more and more forgetful over the last two years.  I am assuming that it is stress – the same thing that’s made me put on weight and get depressed.  But with my Mother’s diagnosis, as I say, I wonder.

I’m not concerned enough to get myself tested for the Alzheimer’s gene.  I need to be doing all the same things to keep my brain sparking, regardless of whether I have the gene or not.  I would hope no one would make a decision to be or not be with me based on my having the gene.  So there’s really no point.  Is there?

The thing that disturbs me the most about the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s is the pain it causes the people you love.  I can’t imagine not being able to remember Kelsea.  What would that feel like for her?  We’ve actually talked about this, and I’ve told her that if it ever happens to me, to just remember that I’m in there somewhere, knowing and loving her until (and past) my last breath.

I’ve recently become fond of the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy”.  One of the characters on the show is in a similar position, although her Mother’s Alzheimer’s was much more severe than my Mother’s was (and she’s fictional).  But in a scene the other night, when she was searching her bag for the house keys that were in her hand, I was reminded of myself. 

And I felt a light chill.

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