Monday, January 25, 2010

Music Memory

I was hangin' out at the ol' Alzheimer's support group the other evening (whoo-hoo!), and I came across a musician that was a new face in the room. He said he didn't have much of a negative effect with regard to remembering music. I thought about that from my own experience and concluded that "Music Memory" is a completely different part of the brain. Sound, in general, has a powerful place in the human experience, obviously, but in many ways, it is overlooked somewhat, especially in the horrors of cognitive testing. As a former choir boy and a lover of music, I have begun to believe that music and the utterances of birds and other natural sounds get short shrift in the aural landscape. As for memory, I have found that a tune is more memorable than an essay, but learning bird song is much more difficult. I have retired from cognitive testing, but I believe that my bird-song memory is holding it's is still really tough, but I think it may actually be getting better. If you think about it, the average Joe probably has over a hundred tunes that he or she can recognize at a moment's notice. I can only remember probably twenty bird songs...but they are much more difficult to acquire.
In a slightly different vein, the array of human voice-only recognition is probably pretty substantial. I would wager that voice recognition is improving as fast or faster than other forms of cognition. But the human voice is in no danger of disappearing!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Purveyors of Despair

OK. Let's just start with the fact that I am totally f***ckd up. My brain eludes me. It works improperly. It is defective. It frustrates me. I try to give it what it wants, but I just don't have the nurturing touch. So I have been on this journey of peace and understanding. Like marriage counseling, or an EST retreat. Things go OK for awhile, but invariably, the relationship decays, we disagree about petty things--and the fear and frustration become overwhelming. So we turn to the professionals, again. Somewhat jaded, or perhaps just beaten down by the rigors of dealing with dementia, we seek a neutral ground, where we might be able to try new things, take some of the fear and frustration out of the setting, and try to find a path forward. I have this feeling that I have written this all before--and that is because the encounters with the dementia docs might not have the broadest range of responses...and because the box we are in is less than expansive, when you get right down to it. So the job is how to respond to the professionals, maintain equilibrium, and try to find ways to retain sanity and good humour, while also trying to learn what the disease is teaching me and how to respond to what I am experiencing.
As a bit of an update (to self), I tried my best to remain calm and un-emotional at yesterday's chamber of horrors meeting, but it was an unqualified disaster. I was almost instantly flooded with red hot anger, as the same drills and impossible questions that I had heard before, but augmented now by a whole new battery of drills and memory tests, trying to look at other areas of memory and experience seemed to pile on, until I just snapped, and walked in blind anger and frustration out of the ward and almost made it to the last door. It was a humiliating and pointedly incisive tableau that I am ashamed to have created, while at the same time it was all that I could do to control my urge to run or smash or do a Jack Nicholson. Nurse Rat-shit was there, and the chief had the 200 pound machine held just barely overhead, ready to blow a hole in the wall and make a break for...oblivion.

Friday, January 8, 2010

X-B Net 5000

Welcome to XBNet 5000! Extended Brain Networks are sweeping the nation! The neural neighborhood has exploded onto the scene, and the information flow is going torrential!! Or, maybe it's not information, per se, we try to screen the porn and some of our members are just plain vacuous, but reach out and touch a 1 or a zero and get in the game! Seriously, the Greeks had it right--hang out in the forum and debate, fulminate, maybe masturbate and disseminate for fun and prizes. Even the wine dark sea has a special offer (this week only). I don't need to know anything really--just send a text or a tweet, and some lonely heart will fill in the particulars, maybe come up with a juicy vacation spot, just you and a tete a tete amid the marshmallows and lousy sugary chocolate--not the good stuff the 85% cacao, but don't get off quite yet, the endorphins are spankin' the monkey, and you too could find love right here on line! All we really want is to to tap the complete ever expanding universe of the cunning linguistic allure of life on the run, here an insight, there an allusion, everywhere a done-in conundrum, old MacDonald had a DNA sample of a black bear lickin' the slop bucket tryin' to snare hair off a black bear's ass while three little skinny-dippers gave a glimpse of the beard of love to one backwoods degenerate--things went downhill from there, why the crowd was literally crying for more Parks Sausages, PLEASE, and the sun sank slowly into the whinny of a screech owl, raising the short hairs on the back of somebody's neck, now that the light was failing, and the temperature dropping, and the prospect of bivouac on a three foot ledge above a peregrine falcon nest gave little succor to the fading chance of hots and a cot. It can get pretty cold in Montana. I think I'll head for home.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Years ago, when I was living in Missoula, MT, and attending graduate school at the U of MT, my brother Mac and I fell into a ritual behavior that persists to this day. Each late afternoon, before scrounging for some sort of dinner, we would settle down into the long, cold shadows of Winter or the long northern twilights of Summer, to take a gentle snooze before continuing our bachelorhood pursuits of rambling in the mountains and streams (and bars) of the playground that is Western Montana. Our constant companion at this twilight time of day was the radio voice of Sanford J. Ungar. I may be mistaken, but I believe he was the first voice of the then fledgling National Public Radio (NPR). Sandy, as I have come to know him now, gave us the love of the voice, the gravitas and shades of meaning that continue as the hallmark of this wonderful radio property, through which the theatre of the mind is best conveyed, for me, while gently listening in the waning light, hearing the world's progress, and finding ways to connect our experiences to the voice in the radio. There is something in that vocal quality for me that imprints, remarks, and conveys emotion in the empathy of one human listening to another. So much is conveyed without words. So little is missed by the quality of voice and the tenor of emotion. Last evening, as I listened to the radio rather than the drone of another vacuous football game, I chose to listen to NPR, and allowed myself a trip back to Missoula, and enabled my mind to go aural. The warm thread of Sandy's voice echoed in my mind and gave me the pleasant experience once again, even as I listened to Scott Simon. Continuity is a warm blanket, a voice of the human, a trigger to the value of long-remembered experience. I am grateful for that.
As it turns out, I have had the marvelous experience of listening to Sandy in person many times, as he became the President of Goucher College. In fact, I was on the selection committee for the College when he was appointed, and I have never been so gratified as on that day.