MEMORIAL HALLS – Marilyn Armstrong

Every night, I fill up my glass with juice, grab my bag of medications, pet the puppies, and hike the hallway to the bedroom at the other end of the house.

After arriving, I put the bag where it belongs. Adjust the bed to its TV viewing angle. Turn on the television. He watches with headphones while I read or listen to an audiobook. I fire up my blue-tooth speaker. I put my medications into a cup which is actually the lid from a medicine bottle. Convenient and keeps little round pills from rolling off the table.

I never remember everything. Typically, I forget to turn off the fans or the lights. Or something. I sit on the edge of the bed trying to remember what I should have done but didn’t.

“Ah,” I think. “Didn’t change the dogs’ water.” I go back to the living room. Wash the pot, refill it with clean water. Pet the dogs. Assure them they are not getting another biscuit no matter how cute they are.

Back down the hall. Brush teeth. Sit on the edge of the bed. Oh, right. Need to refill the antihistamine bottle. It’s empty. Back to the kitchen where the big bottle is stored. Fending off the dogs, I stroll back to the bedroom with the nagging feeling I’ve forgotten something else.

Ah, that’s right. I didn’t turn off the living room lights. Back to the living room where I turn off a couple of lights. Pet dogs and go back to the bedroom. Garry shows up, having done whatever it is he does for however long he does it in the bathroom. He settles into watching highlights of the whatever sport is being played, followed by a movie or three. I turn on my audiobook.

Forty-five minutes later, I’ve got a headache. I’m not sleepy. Everything hurts. Why are my medications not working? There’s nothing more I can take. Panic sets in.

72-scotties-073016_034

Which is when I realize all my pills are in the cup where I put them. With all the walking up and down the hallway, I never got around to taking them. Which probably explains why they aren’t working.

I laugh. Continue laughing. Garry takes off his headphones long enough for me to explain why I’m laughing. I got to the punchline, he looks at me and says: “You hadn’t taken them?” He smiled. Nodded. Put the headphones back.

As our memory — collectively and individually — gets less dependable, we have substituted routines and calendars. If we do everything the same way at the same time every day, we’re less likely to forget. Alternatively, we may not be able to remember if we did it today, yesterday, or the day before.

Duke’s glorious tail – Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

The other evening, we were watching a show that included a dog. Garry assumes I know every dog breed at a glance. He’s right, usually. I know the breeds, but these days, I may not remember its name. I will usually remember the group — guarding, herding, hunting, hound, terrier, non-sporting (“other”), toy.

The Duke

If I remember that, I can go to the AKC site, find the group, scroll the list and find the dog. But they’ve changed the AKC website, so it’s not as easy as it used to be. I wish they’d stop fixing stuff that isn’t broken.

 

I knew the dog that Garry was asking about was the same as the dog Frasier had on his show. The dog’s name was Eddy. I remembered that. No problem. The breed name was on the edge of my brain, but not coming into focus. I gave up and Googled it.

Search for: “Breed of dog on Frasier TV show.”

Except I couldn’t remember the name of the TV show, either. So I first had to find the name of the show.

Search for: “long-running comedy on TV about a psychiatrist.”

Up popped Frasier. Phew. I could have also found it by looking up that other long-running comedy, “Cheers,” in which Frasier first appeared, but I couldn’t remember its name, either.

One of these days, I’m going to have to Google my own name. I hope I find it.

OPEN MEMORY – Marilyn Armstrong

A Wide Open Memory – RDP #46 and #FOWC

Just when I think I’ve finally figured out what’s going on with my body, something weird changes and I have to figure it out all over again. When I think I know what I look like, I take a peek in the mirror and wonder — “Who is that?”

When I know what day it is? It isn’t. Sometimes, I’m not fully clear on the year and recently, someone asked me my age and I said 22 without even a pause.

What would Superman have to say about today’s world? I’m absolutely sure he could fix it, aren’t you?

Now, it’s obvious I am not 22 … or for that matter, 62. I think my brain skipped a beat and made me — for that brief moment — the girl I was. Because in 1969, I really was 22. That was a great year. My best year.

The music was amazing. The news was upbeat and we just knew that somehow, everything would work out better. And it would do it soon.  It wasn’t that we didn’t have plenty of issues and problems, but we were positive, and absolutely, positively certain that we could overcome them and really be great. Americans.

Great Americans, not these tawdry pretend imitation creatures that mealy mouth Americans but act like Stalin’s cohorts.

We walked on the moon and the Mets — who had previously been not only the worst team in baseball but hilariously the worst team — won the World Series. My friends were alive, full of bounce, and energy. Nobody was trying to figure out where they could move so they could use public transport, avoid having to drive, and skip the hard winters.

We still liked winter. We thought snow was fun. We went sledding and tobogganing even though they hadn’t yet invented Uggs. We went to the beach in summer and people got a suntan and bragged about it.

We got birth control and Roe V. Wade came down from the Supreme Court — and it was a real Supreme Court with honest-to-God the best in the world judges on it. They didn’t always agree and some of them were definitely strict constitutionalists while others were more inclined to change the law because the world was growing up.

But for all of them, the Constitution of the United States was the issue. It mattered. Law mattered. No matter where they fell, on which side of whatever issue was presented, they cared enough to be sure they made decisions they believed were in the best interests of the people they served.

Remember that? They people they served? They served us because we were the people. Even the politicians we hated were real Americans. They believed in this country. They believed we had a role in this world and it wasn’t just to become the richest, most corrupt global corporation on Planet Earth.

It’s not hard for my brain to take a bounce and get back there. I wonder what kids today will remember as their happiest days? I hope it won’t be how many different things they could do with their mobile phones. That would be too pathetic.

So just when I think I know something, it skitters away. Sometimes, it’s because I forgot. It’s easy to forget. So many things don’t feel important now. Values have changed. My understanding of reality has changed.

Remember growing up with The Lone Ranger?

I bet the Super and Lone could make things right! With maybe a hint of Crockett, just for the legend. You should always print the legend.

#RDP – Open

#FOWC – Memory

FORGETTING EVERYTHING IN A HURRY – Marilyn Armstrong

Younger people — even people just a little bit younger, like maybe 10 years — do not understand the whole “forgetting” issue. They think memory is linked to dementia, but that’s not the same as the standard “everything vanishes in 15 seconds” kind of forgetting that overtakes us as we pass into our 70s.

I don’t forget anything forever. I don’t forget everything ever. I forget bits and pieces of things. Dates. Titles. Phone numbers. If it’s really important, I will remember it — or at least remember to look at the calendar where I no doubt wrote it down.

I forget words, then remember them a few minutes later. I forget television shows and who starred in them. I forget the author of the books I read when I was younger. I have forgotten a lot of things that happened when I was younger, probably because none of them were all that important. Turns out, 60 years later, a lot of what seemed terribly significant wasn’t.

Bits of information that once would have found a nesting place in my brain, disappear. My theory is that if it was that important, I would have written it down. Like on my Google calendar or the whiteboard on the refrigerator. When I was working, I had a head full of information. I remembered it. Accurately, too.

I can’t imagine how I remembered so many things. I couldn’t do it now. More to the point, I wouldn’t want to do it now.

Garry is older than me, so we forget stuff together.

Tonight was a good one. I turned on the oven, but I never heard the beep that tells me it reached temperature. I used to easily hear the beep. Now, I can only hear it if there’s no other noise.

There’s always noise, at least a bit. An audiobook, the television, or a computer. Dogs. Telephones. Air conditioners. Fans. Or the slight roar of the microwave.

Today, I was sure I had put that meatloaf in the oven. I figured it was probably done so I should go cook the potatoes.

Except for the oven, which was warm, it was empty. I was positive I’d put the meatloaf in there. Positive. Well, maybe not so positive because I couldn’t remember the oven beeping. If I never heard the oven, then why — when? — would I have put the meatloaf in to cook? Oops.

Our oven, after I failed to show up to tell it to really cook, eventually turned itself off. I love timers. I don’t know how I’d survive without timers. I think I used to burn a lot of meals.

Why do we forget?

First, I think we don’t need to remember the way we did when we were working. Second, we don’t really care as much about keeping everything on schedule. If we don’t go shopping when we planned on Tuesday, we’ll go on Wednesday. Or Thursday. Or when we finally run out of something we absolutely need. If it isn’t a doctor we need to see or a date to meet friends for lunch, it’s not all that important. Most of my bills are paid automatically and the ones that need monthly updating show up in an email to remind me.

Most of life is on automatic or semi-automatic and that is fine. I’m delighted I don’t have the stress of constant things to do and schedules to meet.

Right now, there are indeed a lot of things to do. I’m trying to gear up what’s left of my memory to do what needs doing. It’s only for a few months. After that, I’m going to forget everything.

Life is easier that way.

One of my favorite lines is “I’ll remember it in the morning.”

But I won’t remember it in the morning. I might not remember it in 15 minutes. Or five. It’s possible I’ve already forgotten it.

CEREBRAL WAS WHO I WAS. Marilyn Amstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Cerebral

Who I was and who am I now? I was an intensely cerebral child. More visceral these days. But that’s only because I can’t remember anything for more than 15 seconds.

It really reduces my cerebrality. Is that a word?

MNEMONICS? JUST PRINT THE LEGEND!

What are mnemonics and why should I care?


I looked them up: mne·mon·ics (pronounced) nəˈmäniks is a noun — or more typically, a set of words that are designed to help you remember something. Like the strings on a guitar or ukulele, for example. I used to know them but I can’t remember them at all. Literally, they are gone from my brain.

Over all, I’ve found it harder to remember the mnemonic than the original thing I was trying to remember and these days, writing it down helps more than any other thing possibly could. At one point, when I was — maybe 10 give or take a year? — my parents bought “The Lorayne Memory Book.” Assuming you could master it, you were supposed to be able to remember anything by creating mnemonics for a huge variety of sounds that you could mentally link together to form words.

My mother read it, did a mental “screw that nonsense” and handed it to me.


“The Memory Book has 1469 ratings and 102 reviews. … Unleash the hidden power of your mind through Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas’s simple, fail-safe memory system, and you can become more effective, more imaginative, and more ….. Everyone who took those classes always got A’s automatically — it was a guarantee.” from Goodreads


“Maybe you can do something with this,” she said.

I got through the first chapter in where you create a mental image of each item in a list and you link it mentally with the previous image. So, say you want to go shopping. You need: bananas, coffee, cream, butter, bread, English muffins, strawberry jelly, chicken parts, and bread crumbs. I’m trying to keep it simple using the basic stuff people shop for rather than making it unnecessarily complicated.

So you look at the first two items: bananas and coffee and you create some strange image that mentally shows you these two items together. Maybe a coffee bean eating a banana. See the image? A little odd, but that’s the point. Then add the cream and have the bean that ate the banana bathe in a tub of cream, while rubbing it’s hair (hair? do coffee beans have hair?) with butter, then rolling around on a slice of (toasted?) bread …

You get the idea, right? Bizarre though it sounds, I managed to do it and after a little practice, I could memorize a list of maybe 20 to 30 items and I could remember them forwards and backwards. But it wasn’t easier than writing it on a piece of paper and wracking your brain for these images was significantly more effort that pulling the paper out of your pocket and reading it.

I never made it to the actual “mnemonic” part of the course which were in chapters two through 20 (or something like that) because it seemed like a lot more effort than it deserved. I could easily understand my mother’s “screw that shit” reaction and eventually, the “Lorayne Memory Course” hit the dust bin with all the other good ideas that we never used.

So how do I feel about mnemonics? I’m sure they must help someone somewhere but I lump this stuff into the giant trash compactor of great ideas whose time will never come — at least not for me. If the solution to the problem is more complicated than the original problem, what exactly is the point? My goal in problem solving is to strip away the complexity and find the uncomplicated middle — the simple center, as it were. When that doesn’t work, usually because there is no simple center, I’m pretty sure mnemonic isn’t going to fix it either.

Or, as the guy said in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” 1962, John Ford starring everybody you love to see in old westerns:


“No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”


You can be sure they didn’t bother with mnemonics. Just print the legend!

WHAT IF YOU CAN’T MARRY AN ARCHAEOLOGIST?

Agatha Christie said that if you marry an archaeologist, the older you get, the more interesting he will find you.


It’s a little late for me to marry an archaeologist, but a man who still thinks you are beautiful when every law of your universe tells you that you are not, is even better.

Beauty is not in the eyes of every beholder. Many people don’t find anything older than a 2-year old cell phone beautiful. Not everyone likes to wander the ruins of previous ages or gets teary-eyed while looking at a stone circle. There are many who look at the wilds of the arctic and only see places to drill for oil. They look at cities and imagine a bulldozer taking it down to nothing so they can build again.

None of us expects to get old. We might anticipate maturity. A mellowness, perhaps. A few gray hairs, the odd wrinkle that could still be considered a laugh line. None of us expects to get old and tired, full of aches and pains. No one thinks struggling to climb the stairs or even get up from the sofa is something great, to which we all aspire.

Climb every mountain – Photo: Ben Taylor

A few people will age with few complaints and some lucky ones will continue to have some of the powers of youth. Whenever I see one of these 90+ people who has been waiting his whole life to run a marathon, all I can think is:


Why?

Is that “it” for you? Now that you’ve run the distance, what’s next? You going to keep running until your legs crumple under you? If this was your lifelong plan, what waits for you in your future?

I never expected to become ill or too damaged to do the things I’d always managed to do. I was damaged early, but for a long time, I did it — whatever “it” was — anyway. When age and ill-health crept up, I gradually recognized no amount of will or determination was going to make the days of youth return. Age was not a number. Age was a reality and now, a big part of my reality. Age wasn’t going away or even taking a long vacation. But I can live with it. Getting older is not willing yourself to keep doing the same things you did thirty years ago. It’s creatively figuring out what you can do that you will enjoy and will find worth doing.

Surprisingly, there’s a lot of that. Arts and crafts and painting and writing and thinking and talking and learning don’t have to disappear.

Take pictures of – but do NOT forge – every stream.

Dealing with age is not forcing yourself to do the things you did when you were younger. Dealing with age is recognizing what you can’t do and probably should not even try to do … while simultaneously figuring out what you can do. Even when you were more fit, not everything worth doing involved running, strength, speed, or agility. Your brain is part of your body too — and it needs a lot more exercise than you imagine. Even if you can’t remember the name of that person you used to work with — how important is he or she? A lot of the things we forget as we get older weren’t important anyway. For the small stuff, we have lists. Just to be fair, I’ve always needed lists and that included when I was a lot younger!

And have a good gaze at the beauty of the world

As for the people whose names we’ve misplaced? Ted Kennedy, famous for his inability to remember names, used to say to everyone: “Hey, it’s YOU!”

Not being a politician I have a different mode: “Excuse me. I’m sorry, I’ve misplaced your name! It’s an old person thing. Could you remind me?”

Surprisingly, it works. Try it. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life looking at people and not knowing who the hell he or she is? Won’t that make you feel stupid? When they give you their name, but you still have no idea who they are … well … maybe they weren’t all that important. I’ve had people give me their names, what we did together in High School, mutual friends … and I still don’t know who they are. That really is embarrassing.

And yet … life goes on. Go figure, right?

THE UN-GOLDEN PAST

How come what I remember of the past bears no resemblance to the memories of the people I knew while I was growing up? I get notes from people with whom I went to school. High school — even elementary school. I’d swear they went to different schools than I did — or knew someone who they identify as me, but who was not me. Not the me I know.

They have wonderful memories of our relationships. What I remember is them as the mean kids who wouldn’t even talk to me because I wasn’t one of the “cool kids.” I recall them as petty tyrants. Bullies. Yet they swear we were practically best friends. Interesting since I’m pretty sure I wasn’t invited to their parties and I’m sure we never had a civil conversation. I remember kicking one of them in the leg with the heavy, orthopedic shoes I wore — that they were making fun of. Because anyone who wasn’t like them was someone to torment.

Is my memory damaged?

I grew up in the 1950s. I get a dozen emails a week extolling that decade as “the best of the good old days.” I do not remember the 1950s as a better time. Different, but not better. Racism was rampant. Sexism and ageism weren’t even part of our vocabulary. Women and old people were treated horribly and no one was trying to fix the problem. No one thought it was something that needed fixing.

It was not a simpler time. We had less technology, but we were constantly embroiled in trying to get whatever it was we did have to work.  Our refrigerators were layered in ice. Our ovens couldn’t maintain a constant temperature. Our televisions barely registered a signal, even if we were lucky enough to have a real antenna.

In fact, everyone was so happy, they were building bomb shelters in their backyards so if someone nuked us, we might survive. I doubted it. I thought I’d rather die in the big explosion than live in a hole in the ground for the rest of my life.

Clearly, those were better days.

GoodOldDays

To my mind, the social issues were at least equally complicated. As far as climate goes, we were busily polluting it. Enthusiastically polluting it, I should say. We are still cleaning up the mess we made in those good old days.

Life wasn’t easy. Assuming you had a decent job, your pay probably allowed you to live reasonably well, but a lot of people — anyone of color, for example — was lucky to get a job at all, much less one on which a family could be supported. Nor was childhood sunlight and roses. Abuse was common. Society had silent, cultural agreement to never talk about the things that happened at home. No laws protected children and no agencies interceded. As far as that goes, it hasn’t changed all that much. We’ve got laws and agencies, but essentially, kids are still on their own.

A few years ago, Garry went to his 50th high school reunion. He came back shaking his head, wondering what school they went to. It obviously wasn’t the same one he attended. I skipped my high school reunion. I kept getting notes from former classmates about the great years we enjoyed at Jamaica High School. I don’t share those memories. I remember a racially divided school with bigoted teachers and bullying classmates. Cliques of privileged kids who ostracized anyone who was different. Sad teenagers, lost between childhood and a frightening future. Looking for help from counselors who denied the existence of the problems many of us faced. They did not care.

Is it me? Am I the one who’s broken? Or am I just someone who can’t find the rosy glow of the past. I keep remembering what really happened. It ruins everything.