General Rabbinic spirituality

A Landmark Day in My Life

Today has been a day of great significance in my life. Two things happened, each of which may be seen as a turning point in the story of my life.

Today, in forming Mikdasheinu, I filled all of the obligatory roles for the Board. This doesn’t mean I can’t add more board-members, merely that I now have enough to move forward. It means Mikdasheinu is actually going to happen.

Secondly, today I bought my first pair of reading glasses. I don’t need them all the time; only when the print is small, my eyes are tired or it’s dark. And they’re not particularly strong. But the fact is, when I’m wearing contacts, I need reading glasses for some close up work.


Things We Remember

I was struck this morning by the way the human mind (or at least mine) remembers things. There are things I struggle to memorize, to cram into my brain. Then there are pieces of useful information that just lodge there. Some examples:

It took me a great deal of memorization to stuff the second person feminine plural imperfect endings in Hebrew into my brain (they are not usually used and are basically an archaism). However, ask me where the $4, #6, #8, #10, #12, #14, #15, #17,  #19, #20,  # 70, #75, #77 bus routes in Portland run, and I can outline them pretty well.

What is the schema of Oregon license plate numbers? That I know. What is Eva’s Social Security number? Not a clue.

There are texts I can quote at length, despite not having read them in years. There are things I read last night that I can’t even remember the main idea from.

How does memory work? Why does it retain certain things and not others? And why does it seem to retain less and less as I get older?


Too Sedentary

I wish that I were one of those people for whom exercise is greatly satisfying. There are people who come back from a workout, and say, “wow, that was a great workout, I feel great.” I come back from a workout and say, “wow, in about 10 minutes I bet I’ll be able to breathe without feeling like I’m about to heave up a lung, that’ll feel great.” It’s just not the same thing, and doesn’t positively reinforce exercise.

I’ve tried walking and running. I’ve played squash and ridden exercise bikes. I’ve tried biking. I just don’t get excited by exercise. But I also recognize that exercise is absolutely vital to keeping myself healthy as I age. It’s not one of those things that is easily added into one’s life when one hits 50 or 60. Rather, it will have the most benefit if one continuously exercises from a young age. Or in my case, from middle age. So I’m working on trying to get into an exercise routine.

At this point, “working on trying to get into an exercise routine” seems to consist on publicly declaring my intention to exercise regularly (which is  what this blog post is).  The vaguely spring-like weather we’ve been experiencing this week is a bit of an encouragement to me to try to get out more. Maybe to think about walking to work one day a week (probably shouldn’t be a day I’m working in Salem). Slowly, slowly I will reform my behavior.

Hopefully, as you continue to watch this space, new and exciting news about exercise will pop up from time to time.


My Brain's Not What it Once Was

I use gmail, firefox, and lots of other web 2.0 type goodies. Gmail, conveniently enough, lists keyboard shortcuts you can use to navigate. So I started trying to use them. But for some reason, they didn’t sink into my brain.

A little background is necessary here: when I was in college and just after, I used Macs and then Windows 3.1, or Windows 95. And I knew ALL the keyboard shortcuts. The mouse was okay for those tasks you had to do once a day, or once every few days, but that’s it. All navigation, all routine tasks, I relied on the keyboard for. It was faster, easier and simpler.

Over the years, I’ve kept the keyboard shortcuts I used to use, but more and more tasks seem to require the mouse. Or at least, I was using the mouse more and more. I thought it was the nature of technology, until I started hanging out with some programmers, and watched them flying around windows, never touching their mouses. They would hit the start button, followed by three other buttons pushed so quickly in succession that I couldn’t tell what they were, and they’d opened a new application. They’d use the little menu button…to reach all the “right click” controls. They fly!

So it’s not the technology, which means. . .it’s me. I’ve started thinking about how it used to annoy me that older users would use the mouse so much, eschewing keyboard shortcuts. Didn’t they know they were faster? Now, as I’ve reached that age, I realize something is different. It’s harder to learn keyboard shortcuts. They don’t stick in my brain they way they used to.

It used to be that someone would tell me about a keyboard shortcut once, and I had it. Now, I read about it, use it and I still won’t remember what it is (or even that it exists). My brain just isn’t storing new information as efficiently as it used to.

There is an upside: my brain may not be as efficient as it used to be, but it has more experience to draw on. Some call this wisdom, though I prefer to avoid that turn. I’m afraid it might set people’s expectations too high. I prefer to refer to it as “reality testing.” With more experience of reality, I am better able to evaluate ideas against the real world, with less need to compare it to some platonic ideal which exists only in my head.

Nonetheless, I do mourn the loss of efficiency my brain has suffered. I miss the ability to learn things quickly and surely. To hear something once, and remember it. To be able to remember whether I’m not remembering something because I’ve forgotten it, or because I never knew about it in the first place.

I know this isn’t a new complaint. People have been complaining about their declining mental agility for a very long time. Nonetheless, I discover I never really expected it to happen to me. And as it does, I learn a new form of humility, wondering what else I think of as integral to myself, which will one day disappear.