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20 Feb 2010 / Julie

On memories and daydreaming

The human brain amuses me. Mine, specifically.

It’s a rather heavy muscle that allows us to do everything that we do. Breathe without thinking about it. Think. Create. Solve Problems. Remember the past. Feed ourselves. Move our muscles. The list goes on for days.

Included on the brain’s extensive resume is “able to create and maintain complicated filing systems with explicit and secret recall functions.” I know i’m not the only one who has experienced this one first hand. A common scene in my house is something like this:

Me: The guy’s name starts with a “G”.

Them: Patrick Dempsey?

Me: YES!

Them: There’s no “G” in there.

Me: *sigh* I knew what i meant.

A similar thing happened before the last NJ Librarian’s Tweet-up.  Driving up i was singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. The version with all the extra parts like “say it glows… LIKE A LIGHT BULB!” Well at the part where the other reindeer called him names i came out with “LIKE BINOCULAR!” Which besides not being a word, didn’t make sense. It took a table full of hip librarians to figure out that it was “LIKE PINOCCHIO!”

Apparently my brain had filed that part of the song under “things with 4 syllables” and “words with second syllable emphasis.” And make no mistake that this secret filing and recall system also has files named “girl scout camp memories” with a post it note on it that says “only accessible when wet pine is smelled.”

I haven’t figured out what trigger i hit today on the way home but the file contained the memory of a book that i have not had in my possession for at least fifteen years. A book that may have been about a teenager, perhaps a runaway. Definitely had sex and maybe drugs. There may or may not have been a scene with a tub. This book might have been written by a man, or a male-sounding pseudonym. My copy may have been hardcover. It may have been a black and white hardcover. Or it’s cover may be visually confused in my memory with a black and white hardcover photography textbook that i’ve been carrying around with me for about as long as this other memory has sat dormant.

This is a book that, while i have only vague recollections of it’s subject or contents, is one that i distinctly remember passing around to my friends at the large circular orange table in the back of the cafeteria during what was probably 8th grade based on the fact that i think the table was on the left. A classic sign that someone was sharing “elicit” material, our table was a mess of head ducking, giggling preteen girls.

This also happens to have been a book that my mom clearly had deemed inappropriate for a “girl my age” and had taken away from me. I have no idea how i came to be in possession of this book or how it left my possession but i’m fairly certain Mom had something to do with it. Seeing as how she was the only person i recognized in my visual of this event that i still know how to get a hold of, i gave her a ring hoping she’d have some additional clues to help fill in my memory gaps.

When she answered the phone i explained the situation to her and she boldly exclaimed that she “would never have taken away something i wanted to read. But upon further description she starts to recall this incident. Oh good, this wasn’t just my mind turning a movie i saw or dream i had into a memory in the “real life” cabinet.  I didn’t think it was a fake memory as anything based off of movies and books usually are far more vivid as far as the memory goes.

And then in a surprising move, Mom said she’d ask my father if he remembered the book and what the title might have been. Now, my father has the worst memory of the three of us (although i am quickly catching up to him) and while he can sometimes come up with obscure things from a time gone by, I am fairly certain that this bit of information wouldn’t have gotten caught by the filter. But i suppose stranger things have happened. Especially in this family.

Okay, so a bit about memory. It’s got three main bits: Sensory Memory (2 seconds and under),  Short Term Memory (7+/- items at a time) and Long term memory which is that fickle mistress of memories such as this one. Like most recollections of it’s kind, this one is lodged in the Episodic area, or “autobiographical memory” versus Implicit memory which are things like how to tie your shoes, the names of capitals and knowledge of social customs.

The part of the brain that houses memory is the hippocampus, which lies in the back of your head toward the bottom (so technically, Wolverine shouldn’t have lost his memory since he was shot in the forehead. But i digress.) You think you have a lot to do in a day; the brain is taking care of and processing trillions of stimuli and messages at any given moment. How’s the core temp? Breathe in. What’s the keyboard feel like? Breathe out. Oh no! Activate the arm to grab the coffee before it spills. Breathe in.  Your brain never rests and can handle all that stimulation and input, but your MIND can’t, it needs to breathe.

In this minute and a half long video, Author, Speaker, Philosopher and Futurist Peter Russell talks about the difference between the mind and the brain. While the neurons firing like crazy are doing so in my brain, never ceasing, it’s the mind that needs time to rest. We need to give our minds the permission to go wherever they’d like. Giving permission is as simple as not thinking about dinner, or an upcoming meeting, or that you wish this guy would stop driving like an idiot already but just clearing your mind and letting the wind get in there and under some thoughts that have been hiding. You may not even notice you did it, clearing your head, but the moment you think of that brilliant solution, remember something totally random, or have a fantastic idea – that’s the product of giving your mind the permission to go where it will.

I’ve written before about distraction. It’s of great interest to me these days and i’m not the only one; friend and colleague Andy Woodworth recently blogged about disconnecting from the world when it was most literally forced upon him in the form of a power outage during the latest snowpocalypse. The physical brain and the “mind” need time to regenerate and to drift to wherever the winds want to take them. Daydreaming has scientifically proven benefits but we don’t allow ourselves the space nearly often enough.

I really love the strange and seemingly random things my “mind” comes up with. I’m happiest when i’m able to see clearly, combining seemingly random things into brilliance and wonder. [And in a moment of true random connectivity i remember a post i did a few years back about creating magic in customer service.]

So… my point? Take a breath and give your mind time to recouperate from the inevitable toil you put it through. Amazing things will happen if you let the winds blow where they may. Who knows, maybe you’ll come up with that book title for me. (It really is going to bug me).

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