Saturday, June 28, 2014

Memory and distraction

Yesterday is but today's memory, and tomorrow is today's dream.
 --Khalil Gibran

Do you ever get creeped out by the fact that just about everyone around you is looking down at a cellphone with the glazed-eyed look of a Vegas slot machine addict? I do.

I was walking my dog the other morning before work, and I happened to forget my cellphone. I have been forgetting things a lot lately, but ordinarily I do not forget my cell. I felt a little awkward without it, as though I was missing something important--the house key, for instance, or pants. But then I decided to embrace it. There was life around me to soak in, after all. Thick heat, mosquitoes and loud trucks.

Actually, it was a beautiful day, if a little muggy, and with no headphones or potential calls or dings from texts, I decided to take in the world during a time I would usually be listening to an audio book or music. The few people I saw out walking that early were face down, absorbed in their texting or posting or quick news updates. In a way, it was creepy, yes, but it was also freeing. I kept thinking that I had the world to myself and I was safe because if someone were to try to attack or rob me, they'd likely first be interrupted by a text from a cousin or a Facebook post from that guy who lives down the street and forget about knocking me down for a ten dollar bill or a credit card. I felt almost invisible, but it wasn't me blocking out the world. It was the world blocking me out.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have my cellphone everywhere. I do have times when I run or do somehting consciously without it. But this routine was one in which I usually had headphones and was pleasantly distracted by an audio book or music. It was just paying attention to a routine route during which I am usually distracted. I remembered what it used to be like walking around the world without being so interconnected electronically and disconnected physically. The memories of this previous time were wearing thin. 

Back to memory. I have this theory that all this interconnectedness is killing my memory because it's killing my attention span. I'm so easily distracted. At a work lunch not long ago, a friend told me about a memory technique he'd read about called the memory palace. The basic principle is to associate a familiar landscape (a palace or a map or some other landscape) with what you'd like to remember. I have a pretty good memory for numbers but have trouble with names and faces, as well as remembering passages that I love from books. I remember how they make me feel, but am usually unable to recite or recall the actual words.

After reading about this technique in Moonwalking with Einstein, I set out to memorize "Spring and All" by William Carolos Williams.

"By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue..."

This was a tough one to start with, but I did it. I memorized the thing in a night using the techniques outlined in the above book by assigning absurd images to each turn of action or description. But more, I used focus. As I did other things: cleaning, grading, walking my dog, I kept bringing my mind back to the poem. I associated vivid imagery to all of the stanzas. "By the road to the contagious hospital/under the surge of the blue/mottled clouds driven from the/northeast - a cold wind" became the Mucinex man (from the commercials), standing by the road to a germy-looking cartoon hospital, beneath a blue race car surging in the sky, then models driving from the east coast, cold because they don't have any meat on their bones... and so on. It worked! After making all these wild associations, I had the poem memorized and then was able to really break down the meaning in my mind, allowing the images to become mere reference for the turns.

It is amazing what focus can do, even for the folks with feeble memories, such as yours truly.

So, this week's prompt:

Memorize a poem, a short one, and then write or paint or draw the story you find behind what you envision, no matter how wild and nonsensical. Find the absurd in the astute, and do so in less than 1,500 words.

We're at the end of June, so have a wonderful 4th of July and/or start to July.


Self promo (now a weekly event): Don't Tease the Elephants, available for Kindle for $2.99. Ways to consume: Buy it, then read it, send it to a friend, send it to your G-ma, read it again and aloud, on the bus, loan it to people who will disagree politically and emotionally and spiritually, argue with them. Maybe agree with them. Read the stories to get angry. Read them and write searing reviews. Write glowing reviews. Don't write reviews. Eat eggs while you read it. Drink coffee. Read it on the stationary bike. Read it at stop lights. Read it at the mall. More suggestions to come.   

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