Recently I was sitting in the Department of Having A Brain That Is A Lot Closer to 60 Years Old Than I’d Like To Admit(right next door to the Department of Disturbing Trends, not that it matters) when I realized that I had twice used the same excuse for a long interval between columns. (“There was this problem and I’m late because of it.”)
I guess I could chalk it up to age but I’m not exactly geriatric yet. More likely it’s stress. We know that mental stress can have a profound effect on cognitive function in general and memory in particular. And I did experience some mental stress recently, on a trip to Atlantic Beach, Florida (State Motto: There Are All Kinds Of Sharks Out There; You Just Can’t See Them”), to spend a week with some in-laws. Spending a week with in-laws can be pretty stressful, depending on the in-laws, but I think it had more to do with the disturbing trend I noticed.
The first day we were at the beach, a guy right next to us was casting into the surf zone, ten or fifteen yards offshore, and after awhile he hauled out a three-foot shark. This was a little bit concerning to me, since he probably didn’t have a fishing license, but also since the water tends to be kind of murky on the Atlantic side of Florida. (Other State Motto: Most of The Sharks Are Only Three Feet Long) If something is going to eat me, I usually like to see what it is first, but in the end, I figured that a three-foot shark can’t do too much damage, so I shrugged it off.
But the next day when we got to the beach, a helpful local denizen informed us that we had just missed a guy who pulled a five-foot shark out of the surf zone. He (the denizen) cheerfully allowed: “There are all kinds of sharks out there; you just can’t see them.”
I didn’t like the way this trend was headed, so the following morning we went home.
No seriously, we stayed, and I still went swimming every day, figuring that if something really wants to eat you, it probably will, whether you can see it or not. But it was still sort of stressful. I think that if you’re planning to swim in murky, shark-infested waters on a routine basis, you should follow some simple strategies to stress-proof your brain, and maybe pick up a chain-mail unitard while you’re at it.
The first strategy is to start using one of those brain-training apps for your phone. The app is actually for your brain, not the phone, but you know what I mean. The one I like is Elevate. I can’t remember how long I’ve been using it. Maybe I got it last Christmas. Or the Christmas before that. Or maybe it was Easter. I just can’t remember. But anyway, now I’m really good at subtracting five-digit numbers without a calculator. I can also read 560 words per minutes, as long as the words shoot on to the screen one at a time, in a vertically ascending stack. As I type this, I’m thinking that it would be great to be able to read that fast but all the books would basically be these gigantic reels of two inch-wide paper.
And I can rapidly find speelling and and other grammatical Mistakes in shor treatises about things like history of shark attacks in Florida. (Third State Motto: Dang We Had A Lot Of Dermatologists Down Here Until They All Went Swimming)
I’m suspicious that all this brain training just helped me to develop a set of very particular skills: skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you…No wait! That’s a line from “Taken”, that movie where Liam Neeson single-handedly introduces a significant perturbation into the adult male life-expectancy statistics for about five European countries. Albania was one of them. I forget the others. So maybe we had just better move on to stress-proofing strategy number two.
That would be pets. Pets are known to reduce stress. For example, a purring cat in your lap can drop your heartrate and blood pressure significantly. But only until the cat abruptly sits up, stares intently at the corner of the room, then bolts upstairs like it is being chased by a shrieking horde of unseen entities. A Stress Monkey is probably a much better choice.
My wife Jeanette and I saw this clip on the news about this tiny monkey that spent most of its day clinging to the back of the family cat, reducing its heartrate and blood pressure, and protecting it from unseen entities. Jeanette, who has a medical clinic, said: “Maybe that’s what I need! A Stress Monkey! It could sit on my shoulder at the clinic, and reduce my heartrate and blood pressure!”
I thought maybe it could also double as a Mood Monkey, like those Mood Rings everyone wore back in the day, shortly after the invention of liquid crystals. The Mood Ring, as we all know, was supposed to change colour according to your mood: calmàpale blue, seasickà greeny-yellow, terrifiedàwhite, apatheticàcolourless.
So logically, a Mood Monkey is a little monkey that sits on your shoulder and makes faces at people you secretly loathe, freeing you to smile at them sweetly.
Person you loathe: “Your monkey just made a horrible face at me.”
You (smiling sweetly): “Oh behave, you bad, bad monkey.”
This is an unretouched photo of Natalie Biggins, a non-swimmer and dermatologist, on her wedding day somewhere in England, with her Mood Monkey: “Mr. Bigglesworth”. She is not smiling at the groom. (I hope.)
Now these prevention strategies are OK as far as prevention strategies go, but if you really need a serious memory overhaul, you need to start thinking about medical nanotechnology, which is basically swarms of tiny “nanobots” released into your bloodstream, making their way to wherever they’re needed, repairing damaged brain tissues, rearranging your sock drawer, and sperm-surfing in their spare time, clinging tenaciously to the sperms with their menacing FDA-approved nanoclaws.
Researchers are hard at work developing this technology, but my chief concern is this: what if these nanobots go out of scope and just start beetling around, doing whatever they please?
Early reports are not promising…
Here is a picture of Enrico, at age two, cheerfully anticipating his tenth trip into low earth orbit:
This next picture is Enrico, age fifteen, after retiring to Atlantic Beach, Florida, worn out from his life of adventure, suffering from general crankiness, post-traumatic stress, memory loss, hemorrhoids (not shown) and advanced depilation. He is clearly a candidate for a nanorobotic makeover.
And here is Enrico, after his makeover:
At least now it’s probably safer for him to go swimming.
Next month: How (and why!)I travelled to Miami, Florida, met the prominent nanoroboticist Dave Barry, and returned to Calgary, in less than 24 hours.