Wednesday, April 30, 2014

You Must Remember This. Or Possibly Not.

By Mike Nettleton 

The other morning at the gym, I was watching the Today show on one of the overhead flat screens they provide. Since my I-pod was pumping Sly and the Family Stone into my headphones (boom, shakka lakka lakka, boom shakka lakka lakka boom), I had to follow the show with the text crawl on the bottom of the screen. Mental multi-tasking as it were. (Since the young thing with the dreadlocks on the elliptical was wearing an interesting new leotard, it moved the degree of difficulty into the stratosphere.)

Featured were a gaggle of Hyperthymesiacs, including the actress Marilu Henner. Hyperthymesia, as it turns out, is the condition of possessing an extremely detailed autobiographical memory. These folks, ranging in age from about 10 through serious geezerage can bring back specific memories the way we…the way we…uh, can’t.

They gave the ten-year old a date, say July 17, 2010 and asked him what day of the week it was. He knew instantly that it was a Tuesday (random example), could tell you what he wore and what he did that day. In great detail.

If hard pressed, and after due deliberation, if someone asked me what I wore yesterday, I could probably come up with “clothes.”

Apparently the Hyperthymesiacs have the ability to instantly retrieve stuff from the part of the brain that stores memories. We all have that stuff stashed in there, but most of us can only bring back small percentages of it. Some of us go in looking for it and need help finding our way back out.

Memory is tricky. While I can memorize my lines for a play I’m performing in and recite them at the proper times, there is almost always one word or short phrase that hovers at the doorway to consciousness and refuses to enter, no matter how often it’s invited. At those times I rely on a mystical and ages old actor’s technique. I say something else. Trying of course to keep it near the topic at hand. For example, if my line, as Christopher in “Shadowlands” is supposed to come out “Congratulations, Jack, you seem to have found a soul mate,” and I couldn’t retrieve “soul mate” from the vaults, it would probably be detrimental to the show if I substituted “female praying mantis.” But, if I inserted “Interesting match,” no one would notice.

Once, when living in Eugene, a man of about my age bustled over to my aisle in the supermarket and started telling stories of things we had done together in college. (Several might still involve outstanding warrants in Jackson County.) As he told the stories, with my bemused wife standing by watching, I simply nodded and smiled. After he wound down, he shook my hand, told me how great it was to see me again and hurried off.  

“Who was that?” My mate asked.

 I shrugged. “No clue.” I admitted.

“Did any or all of those things actually happen?” She reached up for something on the shelf and put it in the cart. 

“Possibly,” I said. “The part where everybody at the party took off their clothes and sang boom shakka lakka lakka, boom shakka lakka lakka, boom, sounded vaguely familiar. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Geology, Wonder, and Lunch

Carolyn J. Rose       

Recently I spent a week in the Catskill Mountains where I was born and raised. I visited with friends and relatives and, on an amazingly clear and warm day, walked along the edge of North Lake with my brother Lorin, his wife Shirley, my cousin (and book cover designer) Dorion, his wife Jeanine, and their dog Chanel. 

 I’d proposed this walk for research purposes. The third book in the Catskill Mountains Mysteries series will feature an erratic—a boulder carried along by a glacier. The area around North Lake, according to Robert Titus’s book on the geology of the Catskills, is the current resting place of several of these massive chunks of rock. (I say “current” because the next glacier could shift them again.)

I’d seen pictures of some of them, but I wanted a more personal experience. I wanted to press my hands against an ancient boulder and wonder where it came from and how far it traveled before the glacier retreated and abandoned it. I wanted to see furrows sliced into rock by pebbles dragged along by a towering sheet of ice. I wanted to feel the weight of the past, imagine the landscape as it was more than 20,000 years ago.

Winter in the Catskills had been long and cold. Patches of snow still lingered among the trees, and frozen cascades of water marked the outflow of hillside springs. Except for a few open patches, ice still gripped the lake. Geese stood on the slushy edges of that ice, calling across open water.

 The sun was bright and the sky a brilliant blue. A breeze whisked across the frozen lake and soughed through the pines. Dorion snapped photos and, knowing it might be years before I returned, I filled my mind with images, scents, sounds, and sensations.

I felt insignificant. My lifespan wouldn’t register as even a second on a clock marking the passage of geologic time.

And I felt small and powerless. Like those boulders, forces beyond my imagination and understanding plucked me from somewhere, shaped me, and dropped me among those blue hills.

The why of it all was far beyond me. So I put that wondering aside and focused on the glorious day, on stories from our youth, and on the deli sandwiches my brother brought along.

Life is short and time is fleeting. But good food and good company seem to add hours to a warm afternoon.

To see more of Dorion Rose’s stunning photographs, visit:http://brokencork.blogspot.com