Tuesday, September 27, 2011

When the Cup Runs Over, Get Another Cup

I woke up this morning realizing that the autumnal equinox wasn't kidding -- the fresh smell of damp greenery wafting through my window is here to stay for awhile. The fiercely hot weather of two weeks ago is really gone and we're back to clouds and intermittent rain -- a bit of warmth and sun now and then, but I know where we're headed.

I'm still getting over the loss of the summer before last. This makes me feel like one of J.R.R. Tolkien's immortal Elves, who after living for thousands of years see "the years fleet by -- it is a sorrow to them."

Aging around here is a real experience. Western life has been all about youth since the 1960s, and I discovered last week that even if I can pass for mid-to-late 30's, and I can, my eldest child just turned 28 and I would have had to be nine when she was born and that's just weird.

Besides which, I'm still mad at Nixon and if I were 38, I wouldn't remember Nixon.

Ah, youth! This is turning out to be any age under 40. (Remember "don't trust anybody over 30?" Now anybody under 30 is a kid.) Youth is obsessed with reproductive issues. Puberty, contraception, biological clocks, pregnancy, PMS. Thank God I'm past all that kid stuff. And it's not just women who have to deal with hormonal issues. I just read that when men have children and begin to take care of them, their testosterone level drops. You do know that the fluctuations in crime rates correlates to the percentage of young men in a society? More young men, more crime? It's not the guys' fault, it's their hormones. If less testosterone makes a guy less aggressive and more community minded, that might be a good thing.

Not that it ever looked good to combine inexperience with brains bathed in hormone soup. I taught middle school and I know what I'm talking about.

I think I've been afraid of aging because I've been stuck with outdated information. One hundred years ago, the average life expectancy for a woman was 48. Die in childbirth or of exhaustion after having 15 kids, oh boy! When Social Security was first established, half of all Americans died by the age of 62. This generation's 60-year-old looks like last generation's 40. Better diet, better exercise, and in many women's cases, the right hormones at the right point in their lives all have contributed to a completely new version of middle age than we're used to.

So now we have the luxury of finding out what it's really like to live a long post-reproductive life. What's it like to have a whole second adulthood?

I just read in "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains," (an inflammatory title bestowed on a well-researched book on neuroscience by Nicholas Carr) that memories are laid down in the hippocampus and then, over time, are enriched and connected throughout all the different parts of our brains, including the olfactory, auditory, and linguistic centers. Memories are embedded into our brains as a whole. We synthesize new neural pathways as our memories become part of our thinking process. Then the unneeded "first draft" memory is erased from the hippocampus. So what I wrote in this space last week is wrong -- your brain can never be full. In fact, your ability to think deeply increases the longer you live and the more experience and knowledge you amass (that is, if you haven't fried your brain on drugs, such as too many hyperlinks).

If you're over 50, you might know what I'm talking about. Haven't you started to feel more centered, more confident, more...wise?

And if you're a younger adult, say, 30 or 35, and you're worried about getting older, don't be. The combination of knowledge, skills, memory, and a clear mind feels great. I know that might seem like a poor trade for the loss of (ah!) youth, but you'll see. I'm coming to believe that the difference between adults over 50 and adults under, say, 35, may be as significant as the difference between adults and pre-pubescent kids. Yes, aliens are among you and they are us.

And if you are already here with me, well into your second adulthood, keep eating your vegetables and walking and getting to the gym. You want to enjoy this good deal as long as possible.

I don't know about you, but I'm already planning my 100th birthday hike in the Italian Alps. If I can get my grandkids to go with me.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Memory Full

Okay, sports fans, here's the deal.

My brain is full.

It's so full, I don't seem to have the wherewithal to write regularly for this space.

And that's not the only problem. There's the it's-not-good-enough syndrome, so I never post anything...and when I do, it's too long to read in one sitting.

So this is what I'm going to do. I'm going to write a little bit, several times a week. That will toughen me up, not make me lower my standards exactly, but maybe I'll get used to the idea that a blog is a web LOG -- not essays for the New Yorker.

And I'm going to empty out some memories that I don't need any more. They do seem to create mental clutter and use up synapses that would be better used for things like, say, remembering the name of that thing on the counter that makes the bread brown...I had that word yesterday...oh, that's right. The toaster.

Ready? What follows is what I'm putting in the Goodwill bag for my brain...

646-5873. That was my phone number in 1972.

292-5368. Another phone number, that of my best friend in the second grade. Her birthday is July 7, one month after mine. I haven't seen her since 1984.

I lived in a pink apartment building in Beaverton when I first moved to Portland in 1981. It was the same apartment building I lived in back in 1965. (I do want to keep a few memories of that apartment, all from 1965: My baby brother riding his tricycle around and around the courtyard, learning to bake bread, pie and cake at the age of nine, and the clown costumes my mother made for Hallowe'en that year. I cheerfully relinquish the memory of flunking fourth grade math twice and stepping in cat poo in my bare feet the day we came back from the beach.)

How to clean the toilet and how to iron a dress shirt. I have found that when I look my husband in the eye and declare that I really don't know how to do something, he will do it for me. I'm cheating on this one...he already cleans the bathroom and does all the ironing. Do you think he would believe me if I said I don't remember how to wash the dishes? If I still wore lipstick, I could probably manage to ruin some laundry by forgetting to take it out of my jeans pocket.

I do not need to know how to use a mimeograph machine anymore.

That IBM Selectric Executive typewriter that cost $2,000 in 1977? I know that to erase a capital M, you must backspace five times. Once for a lower-case "i." I know the backspaces for every single letter and number. I give it all up.

I no longer wish to know how to make Fast Rabbit (a cheese sauce made with condensed cream of mushroom soup and cheddar cheese) or Raggedy Ann salad (canned peach on lettuce) or a Hot Dog Round Up (slice a hot dog almost through, sideways, four times so it curls up when you cook it. Put it on half a hamburger bun and fill it with mustard and ketchup. I knew you wanted to know, so I told you.)

The number to call the police in Baltimore, pre-911. 222-3333. It probably doesn't work anymore. But it sure came in handy when I lived just below the hookers on Chase Street.

The sound that the first video game made that my neighbor Pete had in 1976. The one with the little round monsters floating down? You're lucky this blog doesn't work with your sound card. Pete voted for Reagan, too, back when Reagan was just a B movie actor. But I will keep the memory of the Ernie Kovacs re-runs that we watched on his static-ridden black and white TV. I give up the memories of the cockroaches in Pete's shag rug, though.

I would like to forget the sound the Addressograph made. I would like to forget that such a thing as an Addressograph existed.

That mean manager at lunch rush in the Eugene Farrell's restaurant in 1974? She used to plate my orders on really hot plates fresh from the dishwasher and then shout my number, "Five THOUSAND!!" I give up all memory of her.

I want to keep sleeping in the "way back" of our Volkswagen bug when I was little. Likewise sitting on the flat folded down seat of my Dad's 1963 Porsche with my brother while he cruised at 80 mph from Portland to my grandparent's house in Southern Oregon. This was before seat belts were mandatory and a good thing, too. Would have messed up the card game.

Also I want to be careful not to erase the memory of the fresh peach ice cream that seven cousins, my brother and I made under the direction of my Uncle Weldon in 1965.

Thanks, folks. I feel my mental processes clearing up already! That thing on the counter...it's a toaster! And that other whatchamacallit...it's a...microwave!

More soon. Thanks for sticking with me this far.