Monday, February 1, 2016

Memory loss ... or panic?

I know my Third Third brain has more wisdom in it, more experience, more calm reasoning. What it’s missing is retrieval, which makes sense because it’s full of so much more stuff. Sometimes the retrieval problem is a tip of the tongue issue. I know what I need to retrieve, I may even know what letter it begins with, but it’s just … elusive.

Other times, the retrieval problem is a total freeze-up. No sputtering, no flailing around trying out consonants, sounds, and mental images. It’s just a blank. Thought? Gone. I stand there like a hull missing innards.

Billy Collins has a wonderful poem titled “Forgetfulness.” It captures the retrieval problem perfectly:
    “as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
    decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
    to a little fishing village where there are no phones.”
If you haven’t heard it or read the whole poem, click on this right now.

While in New Orleans, we discovered a performance called “You Don’t Know the Half of It,” and it was their fourth anniversary show.  It’s comedy improv with a twist: one person in the on-stage pair has a script, and he follows it. The other person is clueless.
Okay, I’ve acted, I’ve been on stage a lot. I’ve done monologues, I’ve done comedy, but improv? No, that requires synapses that jump, really jump. I don’t think I’ve ever had that. Mostly people think I’m quick because I laugh really loudly at other people’s quick-wittedness.

The show was terrific. I laughed really loudly at everyone’s quick-wittedness. One person would come out knowing he was a refugee from an alien abduction, but his “son” had no clue. He fished around mightily for some thread he could follow, and the hilarity lay in how his efforts mismatched with the scripted actor.

But what was truly hilarious was the woman who hijacked the whole thing. If they didn’t give her a script, she’d create her own world and let the poor scripted guy try to catch her. It was a major ambush, and she pulled it off. I laughed really loudly at her quick-wittedness, too.

So there we were Saturday, our usual group of four women for the Alaska Literacy Program’s annual Scrabblers Scramble. The only relation the evening has to Scrabble is that we use the letter tiles on a board. Each round has a different rule and is only minutes long. Give me a time limit, and it might as well be improv. Jump, synapses, jump!

The first round was World Languages. The only words we could put on the board were World Languages. In five minutes.

Total freeze. We started with Mandarin, and we got Spanish and Dutch. I groped around the world, looking for countries and their languages, but the world had vaporized. Every language that emerged from the vapor required an H, and we only had two of them. Norwegian made it, and some others (which I can’t remember now). We tried frantically to open our mental file cabinets, but the keys were missing. The file room was missing. We tried looking around our interior maps of the world, but our brains had mysteriously emptied.
Of course afterwards, languages floated back. How could we have forgotten Japanese or the Alaska Native languages? Welsh! Persian! Korean! At least this confirmed they were still alive in our memory banks; it was just a retrieval problem. Either that or we were in shock.

I tried it on Tim: “Quick! Come up with any ten-letter word beginning with J.” Amazingly, he answered, “Jambalaya.” How did he do that?

I was surprised, but I did manage to count the letters. “That’s only nine.”

“Jambalayas,” he said.

Ha, ha, ha! (really loudly)

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