Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Childhood Amnesia

The esteemed Dr. Freud did research into why we cannot remember much from our first few years. It turns out, according to the experts, that in children the hippocampus (yep you've got a hippo in your head), the part of the brain that records and stores memories is not fully developed, so events end up being stored randomly instead of in neat little folders on the hard drive. The big cheeses who figured this out called it childhood amnesia. (Or so I have read.)

Maybe it is a good thing that kids can't remember stuff so well. I am not a parent, but I have had my share of them and I know that a lot (including me) would fail the paper test if there were one--not to mention the practical part. But that is not what I want to get at in this post. When I first heard about childhood amnesia it made perfect sense and I began to think back on the pictures that flash in my head from time to time of my earliest days on this earth. I have a very early memory (I was about three) of watching ants in our backyard and "Raindrops keep falling on my head" was playing on someone's radio. I have a memory of petting our big striped tomcat, and another of being held in my Dad's arms and looking in a mirror after getting 8 or 10 stitches after falling backward off a chair onto a cat food can. I was wearing a dramatic white bandage with netting over it and Dad was trying to get me to laugh. I don't remember the pain, but I remember seeing our reflections in the mirror.

A lot of my earliest memories are of bathrooms. That may sound like the stuff of trauma, but it's not. They are actually nice memories--slow life memories of spending time sitting on the floor or the lid of the throne and talking to an aunt or my grandmother or mother while they bathed. When we were all together there were sometimes five women getting ready for church on a Sunday morning and that made the bathroom the best place to be for gossip, talk and education about make-up or other girlie things.

Even today, I like to watch Shuji when he shaves. Lathery foam, hot water, the foggy mirror and the even strokes of his razor take me back to when I was three or four and watching my Dad perform that same ritual in front of a different mirror. It is comforting.

So, childhood amnesia--yep. I've got it, but those ghostly memories remain and hover around the edges of my mind. I wrote this little tribute below long, long ago and it appeared in one of my earliest and most useless blog posts. Long, long ago, Dad used to play the guitar. I still know some of the songs he sang for me.

For Dad: Night Music for Small Ears and Feet

Warm summer evenings
were cooled by canyon breezes.

you sang to me.

On steel strings, calloused fingers found folk songs,
Dylan tunes and lullabies.

Now I know what you played.

Then it was all just music to me,

You smiled when I danced around your chair

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What we do

My husband and I are very much creatures of habit. 95% of our evenings are spent at home, we cook dinner together, watch the news and are pretty much done with the dishes by the time 7:00 rolls around. On the weekends we sometimes go out for lunch and occasionally dinner. Part of that is to save money and watch what we put into our bodies but mostly it is just that we really like to cook and eat at home. This has been going on in essentially the same way for the past eighteen years.

Another thing we do is get outdoors on the weekend. On the rare day that I am too tired (or if it is really pissing down rain) we will stay in and watch DVDs, or go to the cinema to see something interesting but most Saturdays and/or Sundays we find ourselves outside. I need the air and the exercise to keep my sanity. No amount of room running or spinning like a hamster on the stationary bicycle can do what three or four hours of forest air can do for my brain. In all the years I have spent with my husband we have spent a lot of time together outside. Over long weekends and holidays we learned to whitewater kayak, did some pretty hardcore mountain biking and some serious hiking. We used to go camping at least once a month-although less in winter (I do SO hate the cold) and during all that to keep fit (and sane and have time to talk) we went for walks.

There was a great place in the mountains near his family home where we used to walk. It wasn't especially amazing in terms of scenery; it was just an old, narrow, unevenly paved road that eventually turned into a dirt track. But it was close and when we walked we walked through the seasons: froggy voices and cherry blossoms in spring, newly planted rice, blue skies and fireflies in summer and fiery orange leaves in the fall. Even winter it was walkable since it didn't snow and home (and a hot bath) were waiting nearby.

When we first got here in Miyazaki we were out of sorts. It took us a while to find places that met our standards for "proper" outdoors. We had been very, very lucky to have been able to spend so much time is such amazingly beautiful places back in Wakayama--so the bar for "nature" was pretty high. We persisted, and have found some good spots (although sadly, the rivers down here suck for kayaking) and almost just as importantly, we found a place to walk. It is not anything to blog about really--just a road that winds into the mountains. Still, it is what we want to feed our habit. It lets us walk for hours side by side and talk away our week and our worries. If we're lucky there will be monkeys or a wild boar to surprise us. Most of the time we have to be satisfied with the fish that swim in the clear stream that runs beside our route or with the little orange crabs that raise their claws in defiance at our trespassing feet.

This is what we do. We are creatures of habit. This is what we do. I love that we are predictable and I hope that it is our good fortune to stay that way for years to come.

A reminder

Last Thursday night (on a weeknight!) I went out for dinner and drinks with a friend from work and her friend who had come over for a visit from India. We went to a great little "izakaya" in the city called Yuzuan. They have THE Most Incredible chicken wings on the planet. Aside from the great food we spent three hours just talking and hanging out. It was my friend's girlfriend's first time in Japan and that of course leads to a lot of conversation about first impressions and all, but the nicest thing was getting to talk with someone who is smart and doing really interesting work (she is an artist who works with film as a medium) and most important of all has absolutely NOTHING to do with my work or my school other than her connection with my lovely colleague. It was so fabulous to get to talk about her history, life and plans. It is a real perk in Japan to get to work with people from all sorts of backgrounds. The college where I work at has teachers from over ten different countries but usually we end up "talking shop". I had forgotten how wonderful it is to talk about the world with someone else who has had a fair share of experience in it. Anyway, this is not a very exciting post, but I wanted to write down and hopefully remember that there is more to life than working, teaching, planning lessons and correcting essays. There is a big, big world out there and while I get a glimpse of it through the blogs I follow and read, it is wonderful to get to converse with it face to face over nice drinks and yummy things to eat.
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