500 Words, Day Four / by dan turner

Christina's prompt for today's version of 500 Words of September is to write a letter of apology to a body part.

To: Self (in that I reject the Cartesian mind-body dualism, no matter what the singularists say)

In re: Apology

First, I'd like to thank you for your may years of service and express my hope for a long, continued relationship. As I look back on some of your many past efforts, I'm continually reminded that the team went above and beyond the many advantages it inherited, both literally and figuratively. Even given the luck (that few have) of a loving family, decent genes, clean water, abundant food, no overwhelming physical defects, shelter from racism and/or sexism, a strong educational system, and lack of large predators in the neighborhood, this team has still done some cool stuff.

But I've let you down in the last few years. Used to be, I hauled the legs around to winter strength training and long days in the saddle with the partial justification that the discipline I learned of persevering, of living in the Pain Cave, of focusing on the long-term goal, would transfer to other domains such as studying; as I could power through the last intervals, I could sit down and power through, say, Heidegger. (Just kidding on that last part: native German scholars have been known to read English translations in the hope that somebody was getting what Martin meant.) But this model seems to have broken down lately, and I take responsibility.

Case in point: Sitting on my desk next to me is the July 29, 2013 New Yorker, opened to Patricia Marx's article on brain training tools. It's been sitting there for weeks. Opened to the same page. In sight of my Guilt Tower of To Read.

What is my culpability in this, and liability? Sure, current research indicates that through taking advantage of brain plasticity we can stave of creeping senility (one of our greatest fears). Sure, we can improve focus and retention, and... sorry, what were we talking about? Right. We can regain the days of being buried in a book for hours and remembering the point.

But that's hard, and it's so tempting, and syllogistically easier, to avoid "hard". Even as I task you with writing this, I'm flipping between windows, worrying about no good options for American action or lack of action in Syria, looking to see if friends are online, responding to incoming emails of no urgency. (To be fair, we all find writing a harsh task and would probably do unspeakable things to avoid it -- see link.) I don't know if I fully agree with Nick Carr's "Is Google Making Us Stupid" conclusions, but lately I've trained you, brain, poorly. I've been taking the easy way out, seeking virtual breads and circuses.

And the guilt contributes a perfect feedback loop of avoidance. I know that's been weighing on you. So, sorry about that. You bum.


And that is 500 words.