On Age, Music and Chemicals in the Brain

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A few days ago, I came across this interesting post on serotonin and dopamine and was reminded of it yesterday as I was listening to the songs of Barry Manilow. (OK. Please. Just be patient with me. I do have a point I want to share.)

When I was younger (“…so much younger than today…”) whenever I heard Barry Manilow’s songs, I would sing along until I cried (Yeah, I was that disgustingly dramatic.) I would think of the guys that I liked but didn’t even know I existed, or the guys that I liked but were not free, or the only one that broke my heart to pieces. (Who would not cry listening to “Even Now” and “Somewhere down the Road”???)

Now that I’m in my 40’s and in a stable, loving relationship with my husband of 10 years, and together raising a child, I feel absolutely nothing when I hear the songs that used to make me cry and later make me smile. When I listened to those same songs yesterday, there was not even a sigh. Nada. It seemed like that part of my mind or my heart just disappeared!

My husband thinks it’s just because I’m over that time in my life. Well, I have been over that period in my life for years now. But I used to have fond memories of that time. Now, even that fondness is gone.

So I wonder if those chemicals in my brain are up to something, or I am just getting old or already old.

Do old songs still make you cry or smile or angry? Do they have any effect on you at all? 

Mother’s Memories

You stared blankly into space  
As if looking at something 
That only you could see. 

Then you opened your mouth to speak 
About old friends and the fun times you had with them 
And how there was only peace among everyone 

You said you wanted to go back to the old house 
With the people you say were your real friends. 

We wish we could give you what you want. 
But the house has been gone for over half a century 
And your friends’ tombstones have even faded 

I wiped a tear away as I felt I was no longer in your memory. 
But I braved myself to ask,  “Do you know who I am?”
You turned to look at me and softly said my name, 

 And added, “My dearest child.” 

Childhood Memories

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I watched the movie “Lucy” sometime ago and thought the first half of the film was interesting, and then it just got stranger and sillier until the end. But one scene that stuck with me is the phone conversation Lucy had with her mom, where she told her she could feel everything, remember everything vividly, as if they happened just a few seconds ago. She could remember how her mother kissed her when she was still a baby.

Would you like that? To remember everything so vividly? I am guessing most people would like to remember just the happy, beautiful times and not the painful ones. In fact most people would prefer to forget the pain they have gone through.

When I was a little girl, being the youngest, I was very affectionate with my mother. I always liked kissing and hugging her and being kissed and hugged in return. She always smelled of Johnson’s Baby Powder, and I liked that. I went on being like this even when I was already in my late 20’s. My sisters used to tell me off telling me it was disgusting that I still acted like a baby when I was already an adult. But it never bothered me what other people thought.

Those are not the only memories I have of me and my mother in my childhood though. I also still vividly remember the times my mother got angry with me and my sisters. I would not say it was a typical Asian way of discipline, but it was quite common to be hit and scolded in front of family and friends or even strangers. My sisters and I sometimes talk about those times with a little sadness and a lot of laughter, but my mother remembers nothing of those times she was not gentle with us.

Yes, I remember them as well, but those hugs and kisses are the more powerful memories.

So now that I, myself, have become a mother, I hug my son tightly as often as I can, hoping he will never forget how much his mom loves him and makes him feel loved. I want him to always remember the loving look his mom gives him, and how when he is scared or hurt, his mom comforts him and makes him feel safe.

It is useless to wish he won’t remember the times I get angry with him, but I hope those memories will not be as vivid as the beautiful ones.

One of my favorite scenes from Dostoevky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov is at the trial of Mitya (Dmitry) when Dr. Herzenstube was called to the witness stand. He recalled a time when he saw Mitya as a little boy, “barefoot, his little trousers held up by a button…” He felt so sorry for him, knowing that Mitya’s father cared little for the boy, and decided to give him a pound of nuts. After that he did not see Mitya again, until twenty-three years later, a young man came to visit him and reminded him of his generosity. This young man said to him, “I’ve just come to town and I want to thank you now for the pound of nuts you once gave me, because you’re the only person who has ever given me a pound of nuts in my whole life!”

What happens in our childhood may have a major impact in our lives as adults. We remember things that happened to us when we were children as if they just happened yesterday. Some may be good, others may make us cringe or angry.

What’s your best childhood memory?

Love in the time of Computers

How many times have I fooled
Myself into hoping
That you’d come
Knocking at my door
To surprise me
To make me smile
Like you used to.

Why is it so hard
To store in this brain
That you had moved on
But left everything
For me to process
And decode the meaning
Of your sudden leaving.

Isn’t it enough
That you had left
(Not the country,
Though I sure wish you would!)
And that you see me
See you happier
Without me?

But ah, this brain
This brain has faulty programming.
Its memory is full.
It cannot store new data
And none can be deleted.
It can only self-destruct,
In due time.

Serenity in Solitude

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The other day I read about a father who sang a song and played the guitar for his dying baby.

I couldn’t stop crying, and just wanted to hold my sleeping Eli as tightly as I could.

There is so much pain and suffering in this world, but since I was 19, I have always believed and seen pain and suffering coming to an end, joy taking their place, and making people stronger, until the next round of pain and suffering comes.

A friend once called me masochistic because I said I liked feeling sad and experiencing pain because the experience made me think and introspect, thereby making me know myself better. And thinking and introspecting always give me peace and the energy to go on living in such an absurd world.

When I am down or just want to vanish from this world, I am blessed enough to remember the only time I had a one-week retreat in a Carmelite Monastery by the sea. It was so long ago, almost twenty years ago when I was at the height of searching for answers to questions that my mother worried were driving me crazy. (She always complained that it took me forever to finish doing the dishes because I was always lost in thought!)

For one week I was mostly alone in a 4-story building that was the retreat house. My retreat guide came to visit me twice and did not stay longer than two hours each time. I had a room on the top floor which was close to the big balcony that faced the sea, where every half an hour, a ferry from the west port would cross to the south port. I stayed out in the balcony in late afternoons and waited for the sky to turn from orange to gray and then black; and then the lights from the ports came on, and I could see the lights from the ferry moving in the darkness. In the morning I went to a wooden gazebo on stilts right in the water connected to the retreat house by footbridge made of bamboo. I would listen to the sound of the small waves as they hit the bamboo stilts underneath, smell the briny scent of seawater, and hear the occasional squawk of a bird overhead. These images, sensations come back to me as clearly as the time I was there.

My theosophist friend with whom I used to spend a lot of time talking TO (she just listened most of the time, bless her) once told me that one reason we miss somebody or something too much when they/its gone, is that when they were there, we did not give our whole self to them. Our mind perhaps wandered to somewhere else, and so our experience of them was incomplete. So that time when I was on a retreat, I made sure I was completely there. I watched,listened and felt my surroundings. I will say I miss being there, but I can also “go back” to that place whenever I need to. I can have a few minutes of peace and serenity just by remembering my time in that retreat house.

I do not mean to offend people who suffer because I, too, have suffered, but I find beauty in suffering and pain. I get energy from knowing that this suffering would come to an end, and when it does, I will experience joy, and it will be very sweet just as sweet food tastes even sweeter after eating bitter food.

But to find beauty in suffering, one needs to get away from everything. One needs to be quiet and look within to be able see better what is outside. This is nothing new, and I’m not trying to sound like an expert on this subject, but I speak (write) from experience.

These days it is extremely difficult to have some real quiet. People cannot get away from their cellphones. For everything that happens in their life, no matter how trivial, they feel somebody else has to know. Or they feel they have to know what other people are up to. People are so concerned with what they look like on the outside that they have forgotten to look within and know themselves, who they really are and of what they are capable. There is more self-absorption than self-awareness    , and it does not help anyone.

I hope we can all find time, especially when we are down, to get away from it all and go to a place –physical and/or spiritual — where we can recharge and be better equipped to face life’s absurdities.

Have a pleasant week!

Aging and Memories

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Iligan City, Philippines

 

I like being in my 40’s. Of course people will say it’s because I have no choice, but it’s more than that. I have embraced being 40 something, and am loving myself more and becoming more confident than I have ever been about myself. It’s great not to worry about what others think about what I’m wearing. I think that’s the biggest and silliest thing I ever worried about before. I still worry about whether people think I’m stupid. I know I can be stupid sometimes, I just don’t like it when other people say it. I’ve never really worried about what people think about what I do for as long as I enjoy what I’m doing. Especially now that I’ve been living in another country for the past 11 years, I’m not really bothered by what people back home or even in the country I’m in, think about my actions. Being a foreigner has given me the freedom to be what I want to be without hurting the sensibilities of those I care about back home. (Look, mom, I’m 42, happily married to a good man and have a cute little son! I can take care of myself.)

With age people tend to become forgetful. Sometimes I find myself forgetting what I did just a few minutes ago. I have to pause and think (usually aloud!) “What was I doing earlier?” I find that scary. But with age, too, some memories become even more vivid.

A few days ago I had early morning coffee with a friend. It was a beautiful, clear and breezy Monday morning, and the coolness of the air brought back memories of a certain bittersweet feeling that was so strong back then when I was feeling it, and seemed just as strong as I was recalling it. For a few seconds I was back in that spot where I stood 15 years ago, hearing the rustling of the leaves of the tall, thin trees as they swayed toward each other, the crackling of dried leaves as they were stepped on, and the tiny voice inside of me that was saying, “This is all so beautiful, I don’t want it to end”;and then the voice that ended it all when it said — “You know why this is so beautiful? It’s because we know it’s not gonna last.”

There are memories that we wish we could just forget, memories we wish we would remember forever, and memories that just appear when we least expect them. As we live each day we are creating new memories. We have no way of knowing whether they’ll be forgettable or unforgettable ones, but we can try to make good ones as we create them. October 16