I think my memory is rusting, and I don’t trust it anymore; I can’t exercise it like my legs on daily walks. Maybe the neuronal paths grow over like unused trails, and forever seal the route to those word-filled glens that were once so important in my life. I used it a lot, though -perhaps too much; perhaps I wore it out; perhaps I patched it even after its best-before date. Of course, maybe the person who thought that, is no longer me, just like my face isn’t nearly the me it was a few years ago. If you continually repair something, continually add a fresh board here, and a new nail there, at what point does it cease to be the original object in anything but name?
So then, who am I, if not what I remember? A patchwork quilt? A composite of sundry materials that happened to be at hand when I had need of them…? You see what age can do to a brain when certainty flees along with purpose -perhaps I have I have lived long enough. Has my way of life fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf? Is that which should accompany old age, as honor, love, obedience, troops of friends, now something I must not look to have, but, in their stead, curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honor, breath which my poor heart would fain deny and dare not?
Sorry, but I just love that quote from Macbeth. Actually, I’m enjoying maturity –although there are those around who would contest the maturity part. One of the best things about age is being able to forget things –or at least pretending to forget- without anybody being able to complain about it. Still, I do forget things, and I’d rather not. I remember there was a time when I didn’t, though –or is that, too, part of the kluge that an aging brain cobbles together to maintain a sense of continuity through the years?
I run, I write, I read –the veni, vidi, vici of retirement planning- but in the black dog darkness of the 3 A.M. soul, I have to wonder if there’s something more I should be doing. I’m not on a Ponce de Leon quest for youth, you understand, nor do I hold with the Transhumanists (if the concept actually deserves a capital letter) that death is not only the enemy, but also unnecessary. I don’t want to be uploaded into a digital code, and I suspect I’d be terminally bored with immortality.
No, rather, I agree with Oscar Wilde when he says that the tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young. I suppose, when you come right down to it, I’m looking for some corroborative evidence that, no matter the task at hand, I can improve.
And, in the currently trendy impression that the only evidence we are interested in is one that accords with our confirmation biases, I think I’ve found some that fit in nicely with my prejudice: an article by the journalist David Robson http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170828-the-amazing-fertility-of-the-older-mind
It’s amazing how the older mind finds these things, isn’t it? Especially when it wonders if Sudoku or crossword puzzles count as a way of life.
‘The prevailing, pessimistic, view of the ageing mind can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks. In his treatise De Memoria et Reminiscentia, Aristotle compared human memory to a wax tablet. At birth, the wax is hot and pliable, but as it cools it becomes too tough and brittle to form distinct impressions – and our memory suffers as a result.’ My friends –the younger ones anyway- have already told me that, of course. But, then again, ‘extended neuroplasticity also seems to be reflected in more recent studies of the brain’s anatomy, revealing that the adult brain is far more fertile than expected, and more than capable of sprouting the connections necessary for profound learning.
‘Keeping in shape seems to be particularly important for maintaining that plasticity, as exercise helps to release a flood of neurotransmitters and hormones that are known to promote the growth of new brain cells and synapses.’ Good, so far I’m on track.
But then, the passage that convinced me they had already been talking to my friends about me: ‘A simple lack of confidence may present the biggest barrier – particularly for older learners, past retirement, who may have already started to fear a more general cognitive decline.
‘Through a string of recent experiments, Dayna Touron at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro has shown that older adults (60 and over) frequently underestimate the power of their own memories, leading to some bad habits that fail to make the best use of their minds… Touron has shown this habit of “memory avoidance” may limit their cognitive performance in many everyday activities. Older people may be more likely to rely on GPS when driving, for instance – even if they remember the route. Eventually, that lack of confidence may become a self-fulfilling prophecy – as your memory skills slowly decline through lack of use.’
Okay, I admit that I did recently buy a GPS, but I always have trouble programming it, and anyway, it just blocks the windshield and I can’t read the signs. So I think I’m okay on that one. But, even more interesting for me was another study done by Denise Park at the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas. She took 200 people and divided them into two groups, one of which was required to learn a new skill… and the other a more passive intake such as listening to classical music…. Overall, the more active pastime of learning a new skill led to the more efficient brain activity you might observe in a younger brain, while the passive activities like listening to music brought no changes. Crucially, these benefits were long-lasting, lingering for more than a year after the participants had completed their course… The essential point is to choose something that is unfamiliar, and which requires prolonged and active mental engagement as you cultivate a new set of behaviours.’
I did consider quilting at first, but… well, I think it was the wrong kind of challenge for me, and the very idea of extra laundry was not a plus. And photography? I’m already happy taking pictures with my phone.
At any rate, in the spirit of carpe machina, I thought I’d learn to fix my bicycle. I bought a new inner tube in the spirit of the adventure, but I had trouble getting the tire off because the chain threaded through the gear cog-thing. Also, I kept losing the little screws that adjusted the wire that loosened the brakes enough to let the wheel go. I mean they put them in an awkward place, for a start… So, I’m going to keep the bike in the garage until my son comes over.
I’ve decided to go back to carpe sudoku – each one is different, right…? And anyway, I’m varying the colours of my pencils.