Thursday, July 27, 2006

Memory Lane

I tend to fret over all that I do not remember. Though apparently not enough to do anything about it as evidenced by the neglected copy of How to Develop a Brilliant Memory Week by Week: 52 Proven Ways to Enhance Your Memory Skills. I quickly lost interest after deducing that the secret to improving memory involves, well, memory.

The book asserts that the potential to retain information is fairly constant. In other words, those who appear to have more innate ability to remember just have more tricks up their sleeve. So the question then is if we could remember more, why do we remember relatively little? Why do we remember what we remember?

Which brings me to my point (at last). Books trigger strong visceral memories for me. I have read thousands of books at this point, though don’t ask me what 95% of them were about (see above regarding my poor memory). But what I do tend to remember is the circumstances of my life at the time of reading. While I can’t say why books have this effect I thought it might be interesting to do a little memory experiment.

I selected three books randomly from my shelf, which has been culled quite dramatically over the years I’m afraid so it’s not a representative sample. I will now relate to you, dear readers, my associations with each and provide the first and last line of each (props to my Ex Libris crew).

In no particular order …

The Master and Margarita
by Mikhail Bulgakov

My sophmore year at a Cal State school (before transferring to UCLA), it was a book I read in my Russian Lit class. This “ironic parable on power” from the Soviet era left me a little baffled but in that way that things you don’t completely understand but like do when you’re 19. It was my favorite class during my early college days because it was completely abstract and intellectual in contrast with my otherwise unimaginative and all-too-concrete reality outside of school.

First line: “At the hour of sunset, on a hot spring day, two citizens appeared in the Patriarchs’ Pond Park.”

Last line: “So Margarita spoke, walking with the Master to their eternal home, and it seemed to the Master that Margarita’s words flowed like the flowing, whispering stream they had left behind.”

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Blade Runner)
by Philip K. Dick

Early days with G. We decided to start a mini book club. Clearly, we weren’t much in the mood for heavy fare. This book makes me think of the book store on Market – Books Inc – where we’d stop in on occasion. It makes me thing of our days in Duboce Triangle. Of course, our conclusions about the book itself (points for plot, not so good writing-wise) were virtually identical, so it also reminds me of what kindred spirits we were and are.

First line: “A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard.”

Last line: “And feeling better, fixed herself at last a cup of black, hot coffee.” (completely bad!)

Animal Farm
by George Orwell

This one because I just read it again. I don’t remember the actual circumstances of the first reading, but a bookplate placed carefully on the inside cover of this tattered thrift store paperback with my name in neat green felt tip screams high school. It’s just sort of touching to me that my younger self would have thought so highly of books and the ideas they contain to label even the lowliest edition.

First line: “Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes.”

Last line: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

So your turn. A book and a memory associated with it? Pronto!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

It's an Ant-tastic World!

Did you know that if you combined all the ants on earth into a massive ball and weighed them the resulting weight would equal that of all humans lumped together into a massive ball and weighed on some improbably large scale? (I read it in National Geographic, so it must be true!) Kind of amazing, no? That's a lot of ants ... It puts things in a weird, yet oddly more balanced perspective.

Can you think of any amazing comparisons of scale that have "blown your mind," as they say? And don't give me that more stars in the universe than grains of sand line (which isn't even true as it turns out).

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Favorite Things

I admit it, I’m drawn to “favorites” lists. You know, where you’re supposed to name you’re favorite book, film, etc. But when it comes to pinning down my own favorites I am often at a loss.

I finally figured out the reason! There’s simply too much water under the bridge (and possibly I’m just not very clever). I mean, I’ve read thousands of books and seen hundreds of films at this point. And, of course, I no longer see personal taste as any kind of indicator of substance. No, the problem is definitely with the questions asked.

So I’ve devised my own “favorites” list, which I think highlights the nuance and texture of life – my own in this case – rather than just the ideas/objects that strike one’s fancy. So here’s some possible alternative:

Favorite …
… type of agua fresca? Watermelon
… time of day? Summer = twilight / Winter = morning / also when G. gets home! And when B. gets up in the morning and comes in for a cuddle
… game to play? Nuts! (A new card game we just learned!)
… way to kill time? Read magazines (especially new one's that come free in the mail!)
… impossibly huge social cause? Sustainability
… signs of communal life? community gardens / libraries

Now you answer!
Next time, my list of favorite lists!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Lists Galore!

Anyone who knows me knows why this instantly struck a chord. The Book of Lists. It almost doesn’t need explaining. Better still, lots of these lists are excerpted for your/my immense enjoyment. Here are some of the list topics: Oh, the list goes on my friends, the list goes on. I’ve found heaven and I can assure you it is here now!

Geia Sas!

Some of you are aware that B and I have been going to “Greek school” for the past year. Class meets once a week in the basement of St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church (there are two Greek churches in the Cities).

We learn our alpha, beta (vee-ta not bay-da), gammas, the kids learn Greek dancing (B even participated in the the Festival of Nations as, possibly, the only red-haired, freckled Greek ever) and we celebrate holidays you’ve never heard of like Oxi Day, which translates as “No” Day. It’s to mark the beginning of Greece’s participation in World War II, or more specifically, when the Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas said “no” to the Germans.

What have I learned about Greek culture? Many things, some quite random. I’ve learned that the island of Patmos, described as the "Jerusalem of the Aegean,” is believed to be where St. John was inspired to write the Book of Revelations. I’ve learned that Easter is a far bigger deal than Christmas festivities-wise (and that eggs are dyed red). I’ve learned that halia (accent on the first alpha) is what you say when something is low-class or just distasteful in some way like a really trashy outfit. I’ve learned to make Greek coffee and B has become an avid backgammon player thanks to the tutelage of the master (Yorgos).

Of course, we have yet to visit Greece, but as my teacher Anna (a truly amazing polyglot and proprietor of an outstanding Greek restaurant) says, being Greek is a state of mind. Opa!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Hometown Advantage

Minneapolis has the Twins. St. Paul has the Saints. In case you didn’t know it, Saint Paul is a Catholic town. Irish Catholic that is. Hence the name. So much for Norwegian Lutherans.

In fact, Norwegians aren’t even the majority in Minnesota despite the inordinate attention lavished on that particular demographic by Garrison Keillor. No, Germans are the largest single ethnic group in the state (though Scandinavians as a whole are the largest group, but they don’t really fancy themselves a single group … go figure). There’s even a town – New Ulm – where the populace spoke German almost exclusively until World War II when, for some reason, they thought better of it.

But I digress. The Saints. The hometown team. Owned, in part, by none other than Bill Murray. The discovery of this somewhat obscure fact (though well known to local fans of independent minor league baseball) and my first visit to Midway Stadium, a mere mile away from our house, were a sort of awakening.

With its pig mascot "Muddonna" (and a real pig mascot that comes out between innings in different outfits), haircuts and massages in the stands, between inning contests, and very excellent people watching, it’s one of my favorite hometown experiences to date. (The ice sculptures in Rice Park in mid-winter may be number one.)

Taking possession of my very own Bill Murray bobblehead, I felt unfiltered delight … a feeling so rare these days. The sport mullet, the flat affect of a Camaro-driving, farm-team-playin’ ball player. Perfect. So very perfect. Makes me miss the straightforward irony of the old days.

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