Did Anyone Happen To Notice Where I Set My Brain Down?


I never had a great memory to begin with. For years, I relied on my sister and mother to fill in significant gaps in my childhood memories, and my sister continues to be a great help with this. I apparently lived a vibrant and active life as a youngster, and I do remember significant portions of it, but other parts are long gone and have been for some time.

As I age (62 currently), I have become more and more aware of lapses in memory mostly because it is awfully inconvenient at times and also because my family tree is pretty heavily infested with dementia, and I sometimes get concerned as I feel the memories drift away.

However, I’ve gotten reassurance from a number of sources. I have a lot of younger friends who all report similar memory experiences to the ones that I have had. Ever noticed how easy it is to walk out of some movies and 30 minutes later be unable to really explain what it was all about? Need to re-read the chapter you just read last night to remind yourself what’s going on in the book you are totally into? Or have you ever had to to search your mind frantically to list the critical things you accomplished during the day when confronted with the question, “So, what have you been up to?”

So when something slips my mind, I don’t feel so bad anymore. In fact, I’ve come to sort of enjoy my coping mechanisms. I almost always remember to put my keys and wallet in the same place every night before I go to bed. For the first time in my adult life, I not only write things down on my calendar, but actually check it regularly. I often post a big note on the bookcase that is directly across from my bed with a list of any appointments or things I need to get done the next day so I see it first thing in the morning. Since my car lacks GPS, I use directions like those below to get me on my way.


However, some of the slips can be maddening. I cannot count the number of times I have marched into my garage, straight from another room of the house, and stood peering about in the heat absolutely knowing that it contains an object that 10 seconds ago I had a critical need of. I will stubbornly stand there for minutes at a time searching the room for… what? No clue. The only solution is slink back to my previous location where somehow, magically, my memory snaps back and I know exactly what tool, hardware, or device it was I needed.

I have become almost used to the fact that when introduced to someone new, my brain will vaporize that person’s name within 3 seconds of the introduction.  Even when I make a conscious effort, preparing myself to remember a new person’s name, something erases it upon arrival. I’ve become so resigned to this that I am less and less bashful about breaking in with, “I’m sorry, and you said your name was….?”  I take some comfort in the number of times they too have had to ask me my name.

Maybe we are simply so overstimulated by the barrage of information that we have to process that our brains just can’t keep up.  I tell myself that often because I often forget what I’ve already told myself.

I have, however, become convinced that I do have one particular memory disorder so unique that I have named it—displacia. It is a condition that causes me, most frequently in the kitchen, to search for a needed object in the cupboard or drawer exactly one cupboard or drawer over where the object lives. If I need some Comet to clean the sink, I will find myself staring dumbly at baked and canned goods wondering what in the hell I am looking for, knowing I have no interest in baking or cooking. But if I should need some corn meal, my first stop will likely be next door where we keep all of the cleaning supplies, again staring, stumped and confused.

So I now look at memory as a sort of game, even as a battlefield, where I know I have to use my wits to keep my life in order and to fill it with moments that are landmarks I simply must not lose. I do not want to become an unmoored boat that simply slips away from the dock, having forgotten to load up with memories that make me who I am.


Hating the Heat


This is a re-post of one I wrote last September.  The heat is back.  Time to share the misery once again.

Living in Southern California (San Diego, specifically) leaves me so little to complain about when it comes to seasonal weather that it is downright discouraging.

I mean, how can I complain to people from the rest of the nation who year after year live through blizzards, followed by “mud season”, the spawning of Mosquitos of Unusual Size, and locusts for all that I know. Outside of my SoCal bubble, there seems to be a brief period of lovely spring-like weather followed by monsoonal storms, and then tornados, blistering summer heat, and mind-numbing humidity. I hear fall is nice, but can the beauty of fall colors get a person through the inevitable knowledge that the blizzards are on the way once again?

I get it. Even throwing in our occasional earthquakes and wildfires, my meteorological complaints can’t compare to those of the average Nebraskan or Upper Peninsula Michigander.

However, as the climate changes, a fact universally acknowledged by any everyone except the 30% of Americans who get all of their wisdom and opinions from Fox News, summers are getting longer, hotter, and more miserable here in paradise. For me, it means longer periods of frayed nerves, slothfulness, and despair.

If you aren’t from around here and you keep an eye on the weather pages, you might regularly curse the seemingly endless reports from San Diego of temperatures that never exceed 85 degrees. Please understand that those temps are being recorded on the coast, in the shade, and I suspect, in an air-conditioned room, so that San Diego will have an endless appeal to tourists. Each mile inland from that thermometer means a one degree increase in temperature, so that in my corner of the county, 85 on the coast usually means 100 degrees in my inland valley. The thermometer seems to be stuck there for long stretches from June through the middle of November. It is becoming increasingly popular to plan Thanksgiving as an outdoor picnic.

I try to adjust. I really do. I get up earlier, get my walk done before the worst of the heat begins or take late evening walks. I blow through my outdoor chores sometimes as the sun is just coming up. As soon as the sun goes down, if the heat has not beaten the life out of me, I try to enjoy the warmly comfortable evening out on my deck or at a nearby bar that features an outdoor, big-screen TV with endless sports coverage.

As summer comes on, I become obsessed by the daily forecasts. None of them accurately anticipates the suffering I’m going to feel the next day. I recently bought a digital indoor/outdoor thermometer so that I continually, throughout the day, can check the exact temperature so that I know EXACTLY how miserable I am and EXACTLY how much I should be able to complain about it. My family has grown weary of my constant updates as the heat climbs toward triple digits.

My self-esteem sinks on days like this as my motivation to accomplish anything wanes. Sweeping out the garage seems like a monumental task. Watering the roses?—Herculean. I stare at the phone but the idea of actually picking it up to make an appointment to have my car serviced is just too much. On such a day, can’t watching 5 episodes of Scandal be considered an accomplishment? My lethargy weighs on me.

Essayist Joan Didion described this phenomenon brilliantly in her essay on the effects of the Santa Ana winds, a weather condition that brings high temperatures and hot, dry winds howling through the inland valleys, frequently in September and October when the tips of the palm trees turn brown and we start to hope for fall. It’s good to read her words and know that my desperation at day-after-day heat is not isolated. She recounts the effects as the populace senses the onset of the super-heated winds: “The baby frets. The maid sulks. I rekindle a waning argument with the telephone company, then cut my losses and lie down, given over to whatever is in the air.” She further quotes Raymond Chandler who wrote about the winds saying, “On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.”

It gives me comfort to know that external forces are toying with my actions and emotions. I know that I will rise again once our three weeks of winter begin some time in January. Until then, I wait in quiet desperation for the sun to go down. I give thanks for Netflix. I lie in bed at night waiting for the first cool breeze of the day to come drifting in my window, listening to the sirens wailing and the coyotes singing in the canyons.







Montreal Afternoon


On a recent trip that included a visit to Montreal, my wife and I stood outside the Basilica de Notre Dame trying to decide if it was worth 5 bucks each to go inside and look at a church. As we rested, standing together near a fountain in the church square across the street enjoying the shade on the warm and humid day, I started to notice a street musician with his electric guitar hooked up to a practice amp. He had just begun singing a song that I recognized, but did not know the title or the original artist.

The song (I later found out) was Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game, and as the tune echoed out over the square it began to lift me as I took in the milling crowd, the façade of the church, the feeling of my wife’s hand in mine. It was as if I had entered a movie where time had slowed and everyone around me was moving at half-speed. The warm breeze was a caress as the tune soared and echoed and leaves from the trees fluttered down over us. My wife didn’t understand when I refused to move until he had finished the song because, of course, this my moment. The song had made that fleeting moment perfect for me and there were no words that were adequate to explain.

I felt a longing for the song to go on, for the moment to continue, but of course, it did not and life sped up again and the momentary magic disappeared. When he finished I went over to drop a couple of bucks in his guitar case and tell him that I had enjoyed the song, but it was an inadequate tribute.

If I had heard the same song on Wednesday night instead of that Tuesday afternoon, or if I had been walking through a subway tunnel instead of in front of the church, it might have been distracting or annoying. If it had come on the radio, I might have changed the station.

But sometimes music has the power to simply stop me in a moment, to define that moment and freeze it in my memory. For me, a Montreal afternoon will always belong to a mournful song and a solitary singer.