Archive for the 'memory' Category


September 28, 2014

I mentioned Dis a couple of posts ago, working from memory of what I learned ages ago as a Classicist.

I then went to see what people would find if they Googled the word, and what they would find is not what I remember being taught.

I asked my mother, also a former Classicist, and she agreed there’s some text or texts, author or authors, we read that talk about Dis in terms we might understand as referring to “godhead.”  She couldn’t remember the text(s) or author(s) either, and The Oxford Classical Dictionary I have didn’t have an entry.  The Liddell & Scott Ancient Greek dictionaries I pulled out only referred to Zeus under Dis, but my Lewis and Short Latin dictionary gave the godhead meaning as the first meaning.  My Oxford Latin Dictionary gave the meaning I found when I Googled something like “Dis religion,” a reference to Pluto and the god of the underworld, which Lewis & Short gave as a secondary meaning used later.

The perils of internet learning, the perils of aging memories.

I leave it for real live Classicists with a good and current feel for the concepts that lurk behind the words (and better working memories of where to find what) to sort this out.

In any event, in my use of the term, I meant godhead.

Marzipan in memory

January 13, 2014

I seem to have decided to eat some chocolate-covered marzipan in memory of my dad’s death and in honor of his birthday, both anniversaries of which occur later this month in quick succession.

I tend to feel the urge to memorialize a few weeks earlier than the anniversary occurs on the calendar we use in the secular U.S. of A., I’m not altogether sure why, but my internal clock seems to be set somewhat differently — I’ve noticed this for decades with other yahrzeits.

So there will be marzipan, I’m on the fence about a lighting a candle or playing Wagner or Mahler.  It feels to me a lot like picking out a present for somebody — trying to figure out what suits.

Of course, once the marzipan comes (I think that will be tomorrow), the question will become when to eat it.  Shades of the famous marshmallow experiment.

My dad was always early with things.  In fact, once we arrived so early at my cousins’ house for a visit that his sister made him drive around the neighborhood for a bit first, before we could come in.  (She was the only one who could get away with teasing him like that, I think.)  When they were kids, she used to give him her candy in exchange for his doing her homework.  All of which suggests to me that if I eat some marzipan early, I can make an argument that it is somehow appropriate for me to do so.


December 12, 2013

I got an email from a small business I’ve bought things from in the past.  It’s called KIOSK, and they have an idiosyncratic inventory.  I think I originally came upon them when I was looking for small wooden eating utensils.

Anyway, I get this email and I do them the courtesy of a loyal customer of taking a look to see if there’s anything that I need.  I notice mittens, and the pair I generally use for snow shoveling has gotten kind of worn out to the point the mittens are not that warm anymore.  So I contemplate buying a pair of their deerskin mittens, even though they are sized for men.  Since I used to wear a pair of Willy’s deerskin mittens for snow shoveling, before they, too, got too worn out, I thought I ‘d give this pair a try.  But I was also thinking, “These mittens really don’t match my coats.”

So last evening a friend of mine followed through on giving me a hand-me-down down coat she had been talking to me about for a long time — maybe over a year?  Anyway, I had been picturing this coat as black, because that’s the color of coats I’ve seen her wear, but this one turned out to be navy blue — and with a gold lining that matches the mittens I ordered the day before.

Although my friend is taller than I am, the coat seems to fit and I accepted it.

It also reminded me of Willy’s last down parka — navy blue.  Somehow the hood on that coat became misplaced, I thought during the dry cleaning process, but my dry cleaner said no.  The hood has never surfaced in the house, but who knows, it might still.  My hand-me-down has a hood.

Now here’s the kicker.

It is true that both Willy and my friend were/are engineers, although Willy was an electrical engineer and my friend I think is a structural engineer, so maybe the following is not so surprising.  But:  after we walked up to Robbins Farm to view the city lights and we came back to my house and had supper, she had to go off to hear a presentation from someone in her field.  I had asked where she needed to get to, to figure out how much time we had, and she had earlier said Concord.

When we got back to my house and she looked up her lecture and directions to get there, it turned out to be at MIT Lincoln Lab in Lexington — where Willy worked.

I gave her directions off the top of my head (which she confirmed on her phone).

I felt as if I had been visited by a lot of old memories.

A spiritual parallel

November 21, 2013

The creative gap-filling I wrote about in my last post I think has a spiritual analog.

We’re here, live human beings.  We’ve forgotten why we’re here, and we are unaware that we’ve forgotten.  And so we get creative and try to fill that gap.  The result is all kinds of human art, technology, innovation, production, and consumption.

So these fruits of our creativity are not necessarily bad, on this view, just kind of the equivalent of going off “on a frolic and a detour,” to use one of my favorite phrases from law.

Filling an empty space

November 21, 2013

There’s a phenomenon that occurs with some people who develop substantial hearing loss in which their brains create the experience of sounds internally, apparently because there’s a dearth of externally produced sound to process.  I think the sounds are often repetitive and sing-song, if not song-like.

I think a parallel phenomenon can occur with people who have lost a substantial amount of vision.

I’m wondering whether people who lose their short term memory do a version of this, too, and we categorize it under “dementia.”  An elderly person may forget the initial reason for a task or the next steps that were to be taken in the course of completing that task, not realize they’ve forgotten those past facts, and instead come up with a new task involving the papers in front of them on their desk (for example), to fill the “gap” of what they are supposed to be doing.  The lack of awareness may be “dementia,” but if looked at in a more detailed way, it may look less like a kind of “craziness” and more like a combination of memory loss, lack of awareness of that loss, and a tendency to try to fill gaps creatively.

Hats and memories

September 21, 2013

I developed a substantial sensitivity to sunlight on the skin on my face, starting about the time my father died this past winter.  My dermatologist prescribed a topical creme to reduce inflammation (in the blood vessels, I think) and told me to stay out the sun, wear a broad-brimmed hat when I am out in the sun, etc.  We also discovered that my skin won’t tolerate even the mildest sunscreen.

I was not unhappy wearing a  broad-brimmed hat this spring and summer.  Now it’s fall, more or less, and straw or raffia don’t seem right.

So I thought (now this, I admit, is a little illogical), “Okay, the sun is more intense in summer, maybe I don’t need to wear a hat all the time when I’m out anymore, now that the season’s changing.”  No one had ever said this would be a seasonal issue, and it had started in the dead of winter, but I thought, “Maybe,” nonetheless.

So I didn’t wear a hat for a few days, and now my face hurts.

Those who see confirmation bias are free to do so.

Anyway, it’s pretty clear this skin condition has not cleared up (I suspect that had also been my hope), that the season makes no (or not enough of a?  I got away with no hat for a couple of days) difference, and that I will need to continue the hat thing.

Here’s where I’m running into an emotional issue.  Willy wore a hat, I think it’s called an outback style.


Once I start wearing a non-straw hat, it will remind me of him, as if I am adopting one of his habits.  That feels uncomfortable.  That is part of what I am trying to avoid.

I think my project is to find a hat that I like, that suits (season and hair), and hope that it (and its style, whatever it turns out to be) resolves the echo issue in an unexpected and helpful way.

Durable understanding

July 7, 2012

One of my recurring themes is the distinction between understanding something through the intellect and understanding it through the psyche.

It occurred to me that an important part of the difference between the two types of understanding is durability.  An intellectual understanding may be forgotten, may erode or degrade over time.  Getting it back is difficult — but we have developed things like writing, printing, and archiving to try to help with this.  An understanding through the psyche may be forgotten, too, in fact, many are forgotten pretty quickly, but they are always available for future reference should the need arise — their recording or storage is permanent.

This matters when people substitute a psyche understanding with one through their cognitive apparatus — it’s like asking a child to memorize a message without understanding it and to be able to repeat it back later when the time arises.

That problem with “understanding” is at the heart of the story about the spiritual couple who agree that one of them will ascend the mountain and the other will be there when the first returns.  If the second’s understanding has been purely intellectual, that individual may well forget it or misremember it.  When the first individual comes down from the mountain, the second may not even recognize them, and an intellectual understanding is unlikely to help the second in that situation even if that individual remembers it — it’s too particular and inflexible.  In the meantime, the second individual may have come to believe their partner no longer exists and their own state of enjoying the possessions of the first, with which the first entrusted the second while the first made their climb, is the way things are supposed to be permanently.

I don’t think it much matters why the partner at base camp used an intellectual understanding — whether they were faking a spiritual understanding or incapable of having one, or whether they just made a mistake or there was another contributing factor that would put the situation under the rubric “accident.”  I think the situation can be resolved if the second individual decides to be there for the first individual anyway and share what they have when they meet up some other way.  I think it can also be resolved if the first individual figures out another way to be okay without the second and the second figures out that they need to divest themselves of their extra possessions (the first’s) anyway.  Because even if the first individual finds themselves another way of resolving their situation without the second, if the second doesn’t too, there will be no return to the status quo ante.

Ideas and retrieval

July 4, 2012

There’s a place on the path along the reservoir I often walk around at which I often get a break in my clouds and a clearer understanding, sometimes even an answer to a particular question that’s been on my mind.  It’s where the path turns and follows along, I think, a boundary line with Busa Farm.

Once I had been wondering about how to deal with the idea  that kept intruding that some sort of Cinderella story was about to befall me, which made no sense to me but was accompanied by a sense I wasn’t supposed to abandon the idea as ridiculous and unlikely either.  What came to me as I rounded that curve in April of 2011, I think it was, was “forewarned is forearmed,” that I wouldn’t crash as hard if I had recognized at some point the unlikeliness that the events would come to pass, and in the meantime, if it served some good to think they might come to pass, I could continue with that thought.

Today as I rounded that curve, an idea came to me that I wanted to explore in a post here, and by the time I got close to home about forty-five minutes later, I couldn’t remember what it was, only that I had had such an idea and noticed that I had had it.

In that situation I start thinking, “Okay, maybe it was one of those momentary experiences that I remember having had but can’t actually recall.”  I figured if it served some good for me to write about it, it would come back to me, if not not, and I let the whole thing go.  Before I got to the end of the block, it came back to me.

It’s so often about me getting myself out of the way.

Stepping out

June 12, 2012

Getting rid of stuff in the basement is always in the back of my mind, and sometimes it comes to the front.  I was thinking about throwing out some old blinds that had been in the windows when we bought this house twenty years ago.  They’ve been in the basement for years.

Instead I threw out a couple of other things.  But here’s what got my attention:  old roller skates and an old remote-controlled airplane of Willy’s.  I know they are never going to be used again, so unlike the window blinds, there’s no issue of “Will I ever use these again?”  It’s not that they have sentimental value that makes me not want to throw them out, it’s that I will probably forget how Willy rollerskated to graduate school when I met him, how the Jeshions got me skates for my graduation, and how Willy and I skated on the flat part of Beacon Hill behind where we lived between Charles Street and the river.  I will probably not remember how Willy built and flew those planes, often taking Jordan with him up to Robbins Farm to fly them.  I don’t want to lose access to those memories.

Something in me wonders whether I need to let go of the past in order to step into the future.  I can hear myself saying, “No, I want something in the future to beckon to me first, before I let go of the past.”  But I suspect it doesn’t work like that, I suspect I have to let go first.  And I don’t much trust that there will be a future better than this past I like remembering, so that doubting part of me figures I might as well hold onto the objects and the memories.

And then I think to myself that maybe this is something like faith: you have to jump without external assurance there’s water below or firm ground beneath or a staircase to climb (many metaphors I’ve heard).  I’m much better about this with my spiritual life, I don’t have too much faith in the physical world or trust in people.  I should, I think — it’s not that I think it’s cool or helpful not to trust in this world — but I know I have trouble with that.  My drive home from NJ last month reinforced my sense that I end up in dangerous situations because my needs in this world don’t get met and that my only help is from the universe.  Gita reminded me that at least I know how to access that help.

I can see the letting-go-of-the-past more as a challenge to be handled if I notice the parallel between it and other people’s struggles with spiritual faith.  If I would like to see them find their faith of that sort, then maybe I should figure out how to locate my own in the mundane future.

I actually have a compromise in mind, one I learned from Lisa (Jeshion) Kleiman years ago, that I’m hoping might work as a partial step forward.  Lisa pointed out to me that it’s easier to resist the temptation to save old but cute baby clothes if one takes a photo of the child in the outfit.  In this current situation I’m in, I am thinking that maybe taking a few pictures might help me through a transition and make it easier for me to throw out the skates and the plane now.  It’s a thought.


May 1, 2012

I have been thinking lately about Ganesh, the Hindu deity.

When I read about him, it’s like reviewing something I already know.

Reading about him also brings up other sorts of ideas, as if I can remember having used the name as an affectionate nickname for someone I was close to when I was a child and he was already a man — his elongated earlobes, beaked nose, and sturdy legs reminded me of Ganesh in a way that put me at my ease in a situation in which I was scared, is what comes to me.  It feels like either an arranged marriage, or a school or convent or temple to which I had been sent.

I started writing in longhand about it, but what I found myself describing was a very different scene, involving an outhouse, a sexual assault, and not being believed afterwards because I had made it sound like Ganesh was my attacker.

I don’t know whether the two versions belong together or not.  Maybe I can find a short story in here somewhere.