My Mind Is Humbled

Rather worse than ashes to ashes.

Archeologists at Herculaneum, which is located just 11 miles away from the more famous site of Pompeii in Italy, found something really interesting recently. According to this article, when they looked inside one man’s skull, they found shiny bits of black glass. After further analysis, it was determined that this glass had once been brain matter.

It seems that the pyroclastic surge from Mount Vesuvius back in 79 A.D., which hit this man at hurricane speed, was about 970 degrees Fahrenheit. That is enough heat to vitrify a brain. You aren’t going to walk away from something like that. No, siree.

The article goes on to say that it’s very unusual to find brain matter in skeletal remains. On the rare occasion that it happens, the brain has usually undergone saponification. In other words, the fatty tissues have turned into soap over time. I don’t know which is worse, soap or glass.

I’m feeling rather humbled right now. When I think of what “me” consists of, I think of my mind. I imagine my mind residing inside my brain and looking out through my eyes. I consider my body to be the vehicle that totes my mind around, as if I’m sitting in a sedan chair of human flesh. To imagine that what makes me who I am could be reduced to glass or soap is rather a lot to digest.

I’ve long known that I take myself way too seriously. But the idea that all my ideas, thoughts, opinions, insights, and values, right along with all my hopes and dreams, might someday be reduced to soap or glass is certainly a wake up call. It makes me wonder if anything is truly significant, in the overall scheme of things. Does anything we do really matter?

Yes, yes, I know. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” I’ve reconciled myself with that. But somehow turning into soap or glass is different. It’s kind of insulting. It’s death on a different level. It really brings home the fact that our bodies are rendered inanimate.

As I try to wrap my brain (only figuratively at the moment) around this information, I’m going to make an extra effort not to think of what they plan to do with this poor man’s glassy brain. They believe that if they reheat it, it will liquify, and then they can extract his DNA to see who else he might be related to at this archeological dig.

So, mind to brain to glass to liquid to DNA to… Oh, my head hurts.

The citizens of Herculaneum.

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What Keeps Me Up at Night

Yeah, I’ve done that mind-grind thing where I keep worrying about something and try in vain to come up with a solution. I have done my fair share of stressing out over finances, jobs, relationships, and conversations that I’m dreading. I’ve even stayed up to care for sick people and pets.

But you know what really keeps me up at night? Excitement. I spend a lot of time tossing and turning and smiling at the possibilities. I can rarely sleep just before a trip to someplace I’ve never been, for example. I can just imagine what it will be like. I also thrill to new experiences, new connections, and the opportunity to learn.

Many is the night I’ve spent staring at the ceiling, knowing that I’m about to receive the gift of newness. That’s my favorite gift of all. It doesn’t take up space in your tool shed. You don’t have to dust it. It’s usually not tangible. But you’ll be able to revel in its memory for the rest of your life.

There is nothing quite like the first time you do something, see something or realize something. Beginnings are awesome. Change is wonderful just as often as it is dreadful. The anticipation of something can be every bit as amazing as the thing itself.

Anticipation is what robs me of my sleep!

Excitement (July 2011)

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Becoming Forgetful

When I was young and I’d hear an older person say they were getting old and forgetful, I used to smile and say I couldn’t wait to have that excuse for my absentmindedness. I’ve always been easily distracted. Flaky, even.

But now I’m starting to get it. As I age, it’s getting much, much worse. And that’s terrifying. It is no fun, no fun at all, to know you can no longer rely on your own brain. Especially when you live alone.

Today I accidentally left my to-do list at home, and I’m a bit freaked out. I’m fairly certain that I’m forgetting to do something that’s time-sensitive and important, but for the life of me, I can’t recall what it is. That’s a helpless feeling. I don’t like it. That’s why I created the to-do list in the first place.

And I’m starting to forget words. I know what I want to say conceptually. It’s on the tip of my tongue. I just can’t always verbalize it. “Please pass me the… the… you know. That thing.”

Do you have any idea how scary it is for a writer not to be able to come up with a word? And since I’m not currently in a nice comfortable relationship where the other person can finish my sentences for me, odds are that the person I’m talking to doesn’t know what thing I’m referring to.

The older I get, the more I feel like I’m traveling in a land where I don’t speak the language and I don’t have a map or an itinerary. And while I do love to travel, I love to be able to communicate even more. This is a confusing place. I’d like to go home now.


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Alien Hand Syndrome

I caught the tail end of an NPR story during my commute. It was about Alien Hand Syndrome, and it sent me scampering off to Google, because stuff like that fascinates me. Imagine having a body part with a mind of its own. (Okay guys, get your mind out of the gutter.)

First of all, lest you panic, this syndrome is very rare. There have been less than 100 cases documented. And thank goodness for that, because it sounds like a living hell.

It usually crops up in individuals with epilepsy so severe that they have to have their left and right brains surgically separated in order to stop the constant seizures. Needless to say, there are bound to be side effects when you take such extreme measures.

As most of us know, the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and vice versa. The left side also is the verbal side. So when you separate the brain in two in this manner, you are leaving the right side of the brain and the left side of the body with no way to communicate, and no way to express themselves logically. Apparently that pisses them off, and the left hand, in particular, tends to act out.

People with this syndrome are often unaware of what their left hand is up to, and it’s often up to no good. There have been stories of people being beaten by their own hand, or choked, or stabbed. The left hand will sometimes try to steer their cars off the road. Or your right hand turns the page of a book you are enjoying, and your left hand decides to tear all the pages out. Or “you” want to get dressed, and “it” wants to get you naked in public. How mortifying!

For some reason this reminded me of the Cymothoa Exigua, which is a parasite that causes the tongues of fishes to atrophy, and then pretends to be that fish’s tongue for the rest of its life, robbing it of nutrition. That something like that even exists freaks me out. I think it’s the lack of control over your own body that does it for me. And it makes me wonder what is actually going on inside our skulls. And not in a good way.

Take a quick inventory. If all your body parts belong to you and cooperate, give thanks to the universe.

Cymothoa Exigua says hello.

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Mind, Body, Spirit

Human beings are complex organisms. That’s a given. And in our fast-paced modern world, it’s easy to neglect oneself. If “you” are just one more thing to add to a mile-long to-do list, it’s understandable if you don’t quite get to that particular item every day.

But putting yourself on the back burner is something you do at your own peril. If you don’t take care of yourself, all the other things you want to do will quickly become impossible. There’s nothing more frustrating than discovering that you’ve brought calamity upon yourself through your own habit of basic neglect.

At the beginning of your day, ask yourself what you plan to do for your mind, body, and spirit. And at the end of the day, evaluate how well you did in reaching these goals. At first it may feel strange, but it will quickly become a habit.

Your mind needs feeding just like your body does. Never stop learning. Find the answers to your questions. Read. Try to discover something new every single day.

Your body needs to be nurtured for it to properly function. Exercise. Eat right. Do not neglect your health.

Of all the members of this grand triumvirate, spirit is probably the most often neglected. If religion or spirituality makes you uncomfortable, think of it as your inner being. What did you do today to bring yourself joy? What makes you feel at peace, or connected to the wider world? Have you allowed yourself to be creative lately? Here lies your reason for being. Take care of it.

Take care of you.


Silly Thoughts

Quite often I have too much time on my hands and my mind wanders. I never quite know where it will go. You might say I suffer from a preponderance of ponderings.

After a while I’ll wind up with so many unanswered questions rattling around in my brain that they cause me to lose sleep. What follows are three of my typical trains of thought that seem to have recently jumped the tracks.

  • Who was the first person who thought it would be a good idea to put a tiny little umbrella in a cocktail? Why? Did they want to keep the ice cubes cool? Why did they think this would be more attractive than, say, a flower? There must be companies out there that do nothing but make little tiny umbrellas all day. Do they have a special holiday for the inventor of this frivolity? Is his or her picture on their factory wall? How many acres of rain forest have been destroyed so we can have tiny little umbrellas?
  • On several occasions I’ve read mystery novels or seen movies in which the detectives notice that there’s a knife absent from the victim’s knife block, so surely that must be the missing murder weapon. If that’s the case, if a detective ever visits me, he’s going to think there’s been a massacre. My knife block has several empty slots, which I’ve filled with knives from other incomplete sets. Am I the only one who has a knife block deficit? What do other people do, throw out the whole set when one knife goes missing? Wouldn’t that provide the general populous with even more murder weapons?
  • The other day I was packing my suitcase and it occurred to me that suitcases must have originally been cases for suits. I can only think of one occasion in which I’ve packed a suit in a suitcase. I suppose people must still do so when they are going on business trips, but thank God the concept of formal wear in office environments seems to be slowly going the way of the dodo bird. As I stuff my sweat pants and jeans and t-shirts into my suitcase, I get a little thrill that I’m misusing this handy device, and I’m thanking my lucky stars that I don’t need hat boxes, and will never have to worry about gloves, high heels, panty hose, and corsets.

Now, get out of my head. It’s already crowded enough. Here. Have a cocktail.

[Image credit:]
[Image credit:]

Child-Free and No Regrets

I was talking to a 30 year old woman who does not want to have kids, and she was venting about the societal pressures that are placed upon her. Boy, could I relate. She said she got very sick of hearing… and we said it simultaneously… “You’ll change your mind.”

Now that I’m 50, people have finally stopped saying that to me. Obviously, definitively, I can be trusted to know my own mind, and if I haven’t changed it by now, the world can simply resign itself to the fact that I never will. Whew! That’s a load off my shoulders. I can’t tell you how annoying it has been to have to go through life defending my decision.

The thing I could never understand, and still don’t, is why it was so bloody important to people that I join the procreation club. It was as if their personal experience was somehow lessened if I didn’t jump on the bandwagon with them. Why is my lifestyle anyone’s business but my own?

Even more annoying is the general concept that if I don’t want children there must be something wrong with me; something that I need to get over or be cured of. People treat the lack of desire for rug rats as if it is some form of brain damage.

And the more extreme critics like to say that child-free people are selfish. I actually think it’s more selfish to bring a child into the world when you have no desire or ability or preparation to be a parent. If you are going to be abusive, or foist the care of your child off on the state, or are simply indifferent to the process to the point that it will negatively impact the child, then that’s what’s truly selfish. And it’s not as if there aren’t plenty of people on the planet to maintain an adequate gene pool. If anything, one more human is the last thing this earth needs. The diaper waste alone is unbelievable.

I’m sure this will shock people, but here I am at age 50, looking back at my child-free life, and I can say without hesitation that I have no regrets. I’m glad I made the choices I made. I’m quite content with the fact that I never changed my mind. So next time you talk to an independent woman (or man, for that matter) who expresses this desire, maybe rather than try and talk her out of it, you might want to consider what a pompous ass you will sound like if you do.

[Image Credit:]
[Image Credit:]

Fred Rogers Was My Father


On the last day of 2012, I have a confession to make. I watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood to an embarrassingly old age. It was my dirty little secret. I told no one. It was something for just the two of us. Every day I’d tune in to the only father figure I had. He would speak calmly to me when others would shout. He would encourage me when others were too tired to try. He would make me feel like I was okay when others made me feel like an outcast. Most importantly, he would make me feel secure at a time when my life was not the least bit safe. When he said that everyone had something different about them, something you could learn from, or that you could grow ideas in the garden of your mind, I believed him. To this day, I can say without reservation that Fred Rogers always had my best interests at heart. There are not too many people in this world who you can say that about.

If the man had run for president, he would have won. It says a lot about his wisdom that he never did so. But if he had held the highest office in the land, things would have been quite different. He’d have strode calmly and politely into congress and shamed them into stepping away from that fiscal cliff. He’d have given Washington a moral compass that is sorely lacking in this day and age. Maybe he would not have gotten the right and left to agree, but he certainly would have had them communicating respectfully and acting like the adults that they are supposed to be. He would have put a stop to the politics by fear that seems to be the rule of the day. And when tragedy strikes, as it sometimes will, he would be able to comfort the entire nation with his sincerity. One thing is for certain: If Fred Rogers were president, sweaters would come back in style.

Rest in peace, Mr. Rogers. When you passed away, millions of us lost the only father we ever knew.