Friday, February 18, 2011


There is a well worn bromide that goes something like this:

“Learn something new every day”

Sometimes it is generalized to:

“Never stop learning”

I have had other platitudes interpreted to me as containing the same advice. The snowclones often couple some folksy consequence to not following the advice.

“If you're not moving you're stuck”

“Once you're done ripening you start rotting”

As I get older I wonder what impact a friable memory has on the veracity of this advice. Plainly put: “does re-learning things count?”. If it does then I expect to be learning things at an ever increasing pace for the next several decades; should I live long enough.

Re-learning information is usually quite pleasant. I have not mastered the ability to forget unpleasant information. This leaves mostly pleasant information to re-discover. This last week I re-discovered that a friend I had not seen in over a decade was both a source of lively conversation and enjoyable company.

There are some things that I re-learn which are not hidden, but do not co-exist well with mundane activity. Strong -almost physiological- irrational reactions fall into this category. When I experience something irrationally thrilling the memory of the feeling fades from the mind. I like to say that I 'come down' from the experience.

Now...I am easily thrilled. There are some things that have a predictable effect on my brain. There are some thrilling phenomena which I catch my mind attempting to recreate in fantastical detail quite often. The shuffled memory bits don't really capture the essence of the thrill, but sorting them is an attractive hobby.

I am easy in more ways than the simplicity inherent in understanding the bulk processes in my brain. There are predictable and often utilized ways of providing myself with heart-stopping thrills; for instance I experience vertigo quite easily.  Get me to peer over the edge of a cliff, or off the top of a tall building, and the world loses many of its more stable physical properties. Length, height, distance, and gravity start to oscillate. Time becomes notional. My heart races and my guts develop a thick coating of foam rubber.

I have been told that vertigo is a psychological malady. I 'suffer' from some defect in the 'wiring' of my brain.

I often seek out tall edgy places to trigger the vertigo sensation. I abuse my own psychological defect for thrills.

I stayed in a couple of hotels this past week. In the last one my room was on the 19th floor. The outer wall was all glass. The view would have been impressive almost anywhere but Tyson's Corner Virginia. The entire town is decorated in post-apocalyptic roadkill deco. There must be some set of city covenants detailing the amount of bare mud and exposed re-bar everyone's lawns must have.

Still, if I pressed my face against the window, I could see straight down the two-hundredish feet to the ground. When I came back to the room during breaks in the scientific meeting I would walk over to the window and look down till I could not stand it anymore. When I woke up at night to pee I would walk to the window on my way back to bed and stare down at the lights. I was abusing the vertigo several times a day; sometimes several times an hour. Whenever I left the room I would immediately begin imagining the sensations I would experience when I returned. Slowly I would lose purchase on the thrill.  The immediacy of the feelings would fade; then the intensity would follow.  When I was headed back to the hotel after venturing out I would become giddy at the thought of staring out the window again.

I may have secretly wondered when the more psychedelic hallucinations would begin.

The sides of the hotel were featureless walls of glass. It was impossible to imagine a fingernail hold anywhere in the two-hundred-and-fiftyish feet of smooth reflective surface. So I was a little surprised when, as the sun set on my first day in the room, I heard scratching noises coming from outside the window. I successfully imagined several creatures that could be scaling the hotel; the names of each fantastical creature began with the word 'mutant'.

The mutant gecko rat monkeys were some of my favorites.

Sometimes learning new information erases old information. When I looked at the hotel from the outside I realized that the large glowing red sign attached to the outside of the hotel was probably hanging at the level of the 19th floor. I could just see an edge of it from my window wall. At dawn and dusk starlings would return to their roosts in the sign and scuffle against the window while vying for a landing place.

Starlings had never been as cool, and I've forgotten much of the identifying characteristics of the mutant gecko rat monkey. It is possible that I may re-learn them; I'm re-learning a bunch of stuff these days.

No comments: