Monday, January 9, 2017

Hurry – before you lose your mind

Detail of Catiline, Cesare Maccari’s
fresco, Palazzo Madama
Doesn’t Catiline look as though
he’s losing his mind?
By Moristotle

If I don’t write about losing my mind now – before I’ve completely lost it – how is it going to be written?
    The first concerning thing that happened this morning – that is, second after the feeling, as I walked to the bathroom from bed, that I was a little more physically unbalanced than usual – was addressing Siegfried as “Cereal” when I signaled him that he could go ahead now and eat his kibble. I had just set my cereal bowl on the dining table and was in the act of sitting down (which had already let Siegfried know that the okay to eat was near at hand).
    Another concerning thing is that when I was out in the back yard putting out the birds’ thistle and sunflower seed hearts, and reached into a pant pocket for a plastic bag with which to pick up a pile of Siegfried’s poop I had just spotted, there was none. Back inside the house, I discovered that I had forgotten which pocket I had stuffed some bags into – it had been the left pocket of my jacket, from which I now extracted three plastic bags.
    Those “mental miscues” are concerning, but, then, as I was cleaning up the breakfast mess, I was able to imagine writing this piece, able to remember calling Siegfried “Cereal,” and able to remember forgetting where to look for the bags. But now I became a little concerned that, unless I hurried through the clean-up and started immediately to write this, I might forget about it, or not be able to remember what the two miscues had been.
    These concerns are real (in case you are finding them hard to credit). I even replied to a Latin-scholar friend who wants me to edit his book about the Roman Senator Catiline's conspiracy to overthrow the Roman Republic in 63 BC – when my friend finishes writing it – that while I am looking forward to editing his book, he’d better not take too long, “because the rate at which I am losing my mind seems to be accelerating. I will post a short piece on this later today, or tomorrow.”
    And this is it! I’ve managed it – not all of my mind is lost yet.

But what if I hadn’t managed it? What if I hadn't been able to remember?
    Well, I suppose that someone who knows me well – and has communicated with me enough to collect some evidence that I do seem to be losing my mind – could use what they know, and their imagination, to invent a plausible account.
    To the handful of correspondents to whom the preceding paragraph may refer: please be taking notes.

Copyright © 2017 by Moristotle


  1. you know this is my "thing", i take notes, my partner and i have mutual calendars, and ways of putting out notes on the hall counter that remind us of unusual occurances::move the car, appointments...dont sweat the small ones, save your terror for when you dont know the difference between the poop bag and your food leftovers...and ALWAYS check that the burners are turned off...

  2. Morris, don't be too shocked. Age also brings an enjoyable kind of irony.

    We are entering the world of James Thurber whose New Yorker cartoons of mad men with dogs and other animals, like the threatening and incomprehensible women, have amused the civilized world.

    Be our mad hatter in our fond looking glass, Moristotle.


  3. We are all losing our minds, gradually. My best defense is puzzles: crosswords and Sudoku. Both are useful but different, as they exercise different synapses, I feel. I’ve got no documentation about it, but I can sense it in my head, the way you sense a good stretch in your muscles. I suspect you do crosswords, but if not, give it a try.

    As long as twenty years ago, I got out of bed, but the cereal in bowl, poured milk into a glass, and then proceeded to pour orange juice on the cereal. The other day I threw the nearly full package of floss in the garbage, in anticipation I suppose of the used floss I was about to toss there. And think of the millions of people who have put their sunglasses on the roof of the car.

    I think Cereal is a perfectly good name for a pet.

  4. Susan, Rolf, Eric, thank you for the reassurance that, even if I AM losing my mind, I have company – GOOD company, if you are in it.
        I suppose pouring juice into one's cereal (instead of milk), or milk into one's hot oatmeal because one was having THAT this morning (instead of the much more usual granola), or even putting something into a different pocket can all be laid off to inattention (or attending to something "more important" than the cereal or the plastic bags) and not to ”losing one’s mind“ at all. Ha – maybe it’s losing one’s mindfulness! My mind is very often ”somewhere else.“ Sunglasses on the car roof? *I* have left my wallet there. I have left a full cup of coffee there. I have left a bag of pastries AND a cup of coffee there.
        It’s really quite funny, which reminds me: I meant to tag the column "humor," but I forgot.

  5. Oh, Eric, I forgot. Sudokus are my passion. I used to do crossword puzzles, but they became too frustrating for me (Scrabble too, and chess). I also like the KenKen number puzzles in airlines magazines, and the "brain teasers" (or whatever they are called).

  6. It's happening here, too. I've been a Potty Old Fart for a long time. Every day is a new beginning. Suduko and piano for exercises, but I know of little actual evidence that they help. Just enjoy your decrepitude like the...what was I talking about?

    1. The NY Times article ”How to Become a ‘Superager’“ mentions Sudoku as lacking such efficacy, and takes a stab at explaining why. I took from it the solace that working really hard on this blog is helpful. Excerpt:
      The big question is: How do you become a superager? Which activities, if any, will increase your chances of remaining mentally sharp into old age? We’re still studying this question, but our best answer at the moment is: work hard at something. Many labs have observed that these critical brain regions increase in activity when people perform difficult tasks, whether the effort is physical or mental. You can therefore help keep these regions thick and healthy through vigorous exercise and bouts of strenuous mental effort. My father-in-law, for example, swims every day and plays tournament bridge.
      The road to superaging is difficult, though, because these brain regions have another intriguing property: When they increase in activity, you tend to feel pretty bad — tired, stymied, frustrated. Think about the last time you grappled with a math problem or pushed yourself to your physical limits. Hard work makes you feel bad in the moment. The Marine Corps has a motto that embodies this principle: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” That is, the discomfort of exertion means you’re building muscle and discipline. Superagers are like Marines: They excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort. Studies suggest that the result is a more youthful brain that helps maintain a sharper memory and a greater ability to pay attention.
      This means that pleasant puzzles like Sudoku are not enough to provide the benefits of superaging. Neither are the popular diversions of various “brain game” websites. You must expend enough effort that you feel some “yuck.” Do it till it hurts, and then a bit more.
      In the United States, we are obsessed with happiness. But as people get older, research shows, they cultivate happiness by avoiding unpleasant situations. This is sometimes a good idea, as when you avoid a rude neighbor. But if people consistently sidestep the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion, this restraint can be detrimental to the brain. All brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
      So, make a New Year’s resolution to take up a challenging activity. Learn a foreign language. Take an online college course. Master a musical instrument. Work that brain. Make it a year to remember.

    2. Interesting you describe Sudoko as a "pleasant puzzle". About once a week I say "the hell with it" and look for something more productive to do.

    3. Yes, I see that the article‘s author does say “pleasant puzzle," and I think that is fair: my level of success in solving them has reached the point where I derive mostly satisfaction from working on Sudokus. And whenever I screw up, I can usually blame my error on my visual difficulties, not on my logic. Solving a difficult Sudoku is an especially "pleasant" activity on a day when mostly nothing else has gone well.

  7. On another note about age, I guess; I found myself in front of the TV last night crying as a great man said goodbye. I realized he was probably the last real president I would ever see.

    1. I watched too. No tears - I don't do that for politicians - but I felt that I owed it to a good president to hear him out one more time. May we live to see another half as good.

  8. Ed & Chuck, as you already know, I watched our good President Obama’s speech last night, too, all hour of it. I appreciated seeing TV views of individuals in the Chicago audience, some in tears – or near them – many seeming to burst with pride and gratitude for his eight years. I‘m glad to know from Ed‘s comment that he was among those weeping. I was with Chuck, though, no tears, but with a few heart throbs, I think.

    I so wish President Obama could have again stated one of the most urgent truths we heard during the election campaigning: ”Donald Trump is not fit to be the President of the United States.“ But no, for, alas, the President’s statesmanlike following of the protocol of ”peaceful transition of power“ prevented him from doing so. And we know it’s true, anyway – we don’t need to be reminded.

    But the Trump campaign was hardly peaceful, now, was it? All the encendiary lies and verbal abuse the petulant egomaniac threw....

    As my journalist friend of 50 years, Sara Foley Fox, said in posting a transcript of our President’s speech on Facebook, ”read it not as a partisan, but as an American." Though *I* will continue to bash Trump, the President did not do so last night.

  9. PS, Ed & Chuck: as you also know, I even tried to watch Pussydent Trump‘s "press conference" this morning, but I really WAS going to vomit, so I turned off the TV.