When brains go bad….

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: [to Igor] Now that brain that you gave me. Was it Hans Delbruck’s?
Igor: [pause, then] No.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Ah! Very good. Would you mind telling me whose brain I DID put in?
Igor: Then you won’t be angry?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: I will NOT be angry.
Igor: Abby Someone.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: [pause, then] Abby Someone. Abby who?
Igor: Abby Normal.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: [pause, then] Abby Normal?
Igor: I’m almost sure that was the name.
(Young Frankenstein)

My mother likes to tell a story about a time, when I was a teenager, that she came in to wake me, and swears that I mumbled, “Brain and brain, what is brain?” Like Spock, my brain had apparently gone on the fritz. Or on the lam. I don’t remember saying any of it, and I don’t normally somnambu-vocalize, but I used to be one of those people who didn’t function in the morning. I’d be up, late at night, drinking coffee after coffee, feeling fine, and have no trouble going to sleep.

These days…at the age of 35 (and my darling hubby a little beyond that) we find ourselves obsessing over sleep, whether we had enough, whether we got the right kind, and what the hell was up with those LOONY dreams last night? Seriously. We’ve actually had conversations where we wondered whether our house was built on a temporal rift, an ancient burial ground, something that would explain some of the wacko dreams we seem to have in concert with each other. I do wonder whether science can provide an answer to why it is that we both dream heavily during the same night, even though, obviously, they’re different dreams. Other nights, we’re both out cold and can’t recall anything.

There are reasons to stay awake at night, certainly. Number one is that your kids are hopefully asleep (although I see an alarming number of my friends who have insomniac offspring – I feel for them…not fun!). And if  your kids are asleep, your house suddenly becomes the adult playground. All the off-color language starts flowing like Prohibition has just ended. We look at movies we’d never dare to with small people on the loose. And, of course, the other thing, which is supposed to only get better as we get older, right?

I mean, the thing is that, with your kids underfoot, you just try to have a conversation. You can’t. Kids have a set of directives, I have come to see, that when they see someone trying to talk on the phone or to someone, that’s when they suddenly need everything that they’ve been putting off for the whole day. I get the “I’m hungry, I’m bored, I want you to read a story, I need to suddenly paint a portrait because I’ve been studying Da Vinci’s techniques,” every single time I pick up the phone when my mother calls. Right now, I’m getting the, “I need you, I want you,” from the wrong party, if you know what I mean.

I know I can’t blame them for everything, including for why I might be overtired (they have their flaws, but they certainly sleep), but it has to be a contributing factor. I have moments when I know I had a conversation with someone about something but I will be damned if I can think who the heck I was talking to. I think also that having kid in your life, with the parental-ADD that comes in the package, means that you have to be a little more careful about trying to remember. I have moments when I am certain I had a conversation with someone, only to realize that I was playing out a potential conversation in my head, or that I dreamt it….

When I write, and am distracted, or affected by my memory gaps as I write ~ well, you can imagine how well that goes from time to time. There have been things I wrote, and went back to read, and found that none of it made sense, or that I was evidently under the influence of aliens or rampant hormones (that’s a whole book on its own!). Brain and brain…. Not all of it makes it out there for everyone to see, thank goodness, but some of it does. I’m coming to view this as part of the territory, that I will stray, “speak” out of turn, irritate, or upset the apple cart a bit. I don’t plan on sharing huge swathes of personal detail, but yes, it’s still possible to mess up and say something that doesn’t sit right with everyone.

As I can’t fully blame my kids (at least not for too many more years…they are learning how to read now), neither can I just blame it on a faulty noggin. Mine is faulty here and there. I know I don’t have total recall. How much use it not to see a photographic image of a page and everything on it, but only a fuzzy photo of the page, and roughly where the thing you’re trying to think of is on that page? Only a tiny bit of useful, I can tell you.

Our brains are the single biggest asset we have…. I have lost one grandparent to complications from Alzheimer’s for instance, and my father’s parents are both slipping into the ether of dementia, right in front of us. My other grandmother, whom I don’t get to see very often, is also affected. It terrifies me. Of the four of them, three are college graduates. They were all voracious readers. The only thing I can see that was a risk factor they all had in common: they never really participated in any kind of cardiovascular exercise. I hope that as I go along (and I do exercise for that reason), and Generation X ages, we all can escape this fate.

But in the here and now, I have to say that I probably am going to screw up and/or have brain farts with the best of them. At least I am not like a Sue Grafton, who writes her crime books, envisioning her ex-husband as the murder victim in each one. Or Hemingway and Fitzgerald, who seemed to have written self-destructive prophecies. Or the Eat, Pray, Love author, whose ex was unhappy enough abut her portrayal of him that he penned his own book, apparently in response. And one does wonder what Jane Austen’s contemporaries thought of her mocking them quite blatantly in her books. It seems to come with the territory, in a way that not much of the other aspects of the arts seems to. Nor, in fact, that much else in this world seems to. The written word has a power unmatched, probably because it does come from the mind, the seat of intellect, origin of emotion; it is the reason our hands, hearts, and mouths move. Perhaps it is necessary to recognize that power and submit to it a little, so that we can understand how much it can affect and alter our world.

In other words, keep learning.

 

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