Sunday, June 01, 2008

Random thoughts of a jet-lagged brain

So I guess I am officially middle-aged. Since I lack a lot of the typical cultural markers (i.e., kids), it's a hard thing for me to grasp. I don't feel all that different. I exercise a lot. My energy is good. The gray hair and the gut, well, those are a little alarming. Worse is losing some of my Trivial Pursuit memory — I flounder for words at times, forget things that I used to remember. I'd give an example, something that happened yesterday, but I forgot what it was.

Apparently some of the changes in the brain that happen with aging are not a bad thing. According to some recent brain research:
for most aging adults, the authors say, much of what occurs is a gradually widening focus of attention that makes it more difficult to latch onto just one fact, like a name or a telephone number. Although that can be frustrating, it is often useful.

“It may be that distractibility is not, in fact, a bad thing,” said Shelley H. Carson, a psychology researcher at Harvard whose work was cited in the book. “It may increase the amount of information available to the conscious mind.”
Be that as it may, the main thing I've noticed lately is my inability (or unwillingness) to split my attention.

Was a time when: I wrote fiction, played in a band where I was writing the songs and arranging the gigs and singing and playing the bass, and studied Chinese. And oh yeah, worked a full-time job.

Now? I can't imagine doing all that. I can't even manage to post more than once a month on my increasingly sad little blog. No posts for the entire month of May? This is pathetic.

It's not that there aren't plenty of interesting things to post about. The news coming out of China in recent months has been voluminous, important and fascinating. Politics in America...well, there's a lot I could say, but there are a lot of folks saying it better than I could. I've added a few of these new voices (some of whom are only new to me) to my "comments" section. I've purged others. I'd like to give a particular shout-out to TalkLeft and Anglachel's Journal , TalkLeft for its tireless coverage of politics and wonderful commenters, and Anglachel for the impressive intellectual scope and erudite commentary on politics and political theory. I read the stuff there and am so impressed by the use of language and clear expression of ideas and concepts (check out this recent post on libertarian paternalism for an example). I have no idea how people write like that — I certainly can't.

Maybe it's true that my "attention has widened" as per the research cited above. I'm not sure. What I do know is that what I'm really good at — where I've really put my attention — has narrowed.

It's the collapse of the probability curve, in quantum physics (oh yeah — that was one of the things I was trying to explain to somebody the other night, and couldn't remember, either then or now). Observing the phenomena brings it into existence.

Except, I'm not sure if that's what I really mean.

When you start making decisions about what you want to do, about where you want to focus your attention, all those other possibilities that your life once held begin to collapse. You can be a writer or a painter or a ballerina or a ballplayer or a brain surgeon or a quantum mechanic — you probably can't be too many of those things in a single lifetime.

This narrowing of possibilities happens as you age, whether you make conscious choices or not. At this point, I'm not going to birth babies, in all probability. Nor am I going to be a ballerina. Brain surgery is probably out as well.

So, better to choose, because it's going to happen to you anyway. The process of living will make choices for you.

I've chosen to write fiction, above everything else. In a way I wonder how much of a choice it really was. I've always wanted to write, have always been compelled to write. It's hardly been a decision at all, more of an acceptance of an existential fact. It's who I am, it's what I do. It's why the scorpion stung the frog that took him across the river. It's my nature.

Years of focus and practice have trained my brain to be good at this particular activity. I'm slow at times and struggle to express myself, but when I finally do, I look at what I've written and think that it's pretty good, and that over the years, I've gotten better.

I pretty much suck at just about everything else.

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