Monday, July 25, 2011

Memory is popping up everywhere

posted by Melissa
Guess what we talked about tonight in Psychology 100?  Memory!

It was fun to learn about memory, and left me wishing I had written my paper on it like I intended.  Instead I opted for a study on mothers and their birth stories, which does have to do with memory.  In fact, it falls under one of the topics we covered this evening, how emotional or stressful moments leave us with stronger memories.  The hormones that are released during heightened emotional experiences affect how we encode that information.

Encoding is the process of getting information into our memory.  First we have sensory memory, which precedes encoding, it is brief, lasting less than one second.  If you have thought about it, you're past sensory memory and moving toward working memory.  Working memory and short term memory are the next stages.  Both are short lived and can consist of up to approximately 7 pieces of information.  We did a short exercise in class in which we had to remember lists of numbers, starting with a sequence of 3 and working up to 9.  I memorized up to 7, a common amount for most people in class.

In order for information to move beyond short term memory, you need to rehearse it, which is encoding that information into your long term memory.  Our brains have the capacity to store up to 100 terabytes of information.  I have no idea what that means, but when our lecturer compared it to the fact that the entire US Library of Congress holds 10 terabytes of information, it started to make a little sense.  And at the most, we only use 1 billion bytes of that capacity.  You do the math, I'm not in math class this quarter.

Perhaps if I had encoded that kind of math more effectively, I could easily recall and compute.

In class, we went on to discuss some of the other factors that influence encoding, and I definitely perked up.  I mean, I got a serious task still ahead of me, 4 more stanzas to my poem.  Not to mention the muscular system for A&P class.  Yes, on August 1st, I have 2 tests and my poetry recitation.  Dear god, please do not let it be on a city bus. (Vote! - upper right hand corner of blog) At the very least, it will be a moment I will never forget, with all that stress!

Giving meaning to what you are learning can influence your encoding of the information.  I already do that with the Kipling poem, it is very meaningful and I find if I can recall one key noun for each line, the rest comes pretty easily.  That could also fall under chunking.  I chunk together the key words into a manageable list and recall them as I go.

One factor that I am going to take into account now that I have had my class is the influence of spacing.  It is the idea of not "cramming" but instead studying or memorizing for short bits of time.  It may take longer initially, but over time it is shown to have a more lasting effect on the recall of that memory.

And in that vain, with Tallulah whining at me to go to bed, I must space these posts and leave you until next time.

spacing memory...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Memorizing, If in the Sun

My Excerpt from "If":

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
Yet give allowance for their doubting too.
If you can wait, and not be tired by waiting
And, being lied to, do not give into lies
And, being hated, do not give way to hating
But not look too good, or talk too wise.

There you have it people.  After a day in the Seattle sun, laying on the grass by Lake Washington, I got one stanza memorized.  And I have to say, the most distracting thing has been imagining me reciting it on a city bus.  And that is paralyzing.

My neighbor, a young girl in high school, was there and you know what she said?  "You should pace."

I told her that it was one of my techniques, but that at the crowded beach, I felt a little too self conscious to pace and mutter.  She said she is particularly good at memorizing poems and such, and that some of her teachers recommend that people who aren't so good at it pace while they memorize.  Glad to see that I am in touch psychically with those that are not so talented at memorizing.

Only 3 more stanzas to go.  My neighbor said it will be no problem.  That I may be making a bigger deal about it than it is.  This coming from a 16 year old that memorized a whole page of Beowulf in one evening.  That was the one class I couldn't pass in college.

Until tomorrow,

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Where a good sidetrack can find you

What an afternoon.  I sat down to the computer with two intentions:

1.) To find a good article on memorizing poetry so I could blog about it.  I actually had found it a couple days ago and thought I saved it, but alas, it was gone.
2.) To find an article to use for writing my Psychology paper.

I started out diligently, searching on my school's academic database, perusing scholarly articles.  Feeling pretty smart, the way only a good abstract that 80% of people can't understand can make you feel.  Then somehow I ended up on Funny or Die.  Do you know that website?  Oh my.  There is some funny shit on that website.  It's as good or better than Damn you, Auto Correct!  I could spend hours, literally, laughing my ass off at this stuff. (seriously, there are some good ones on DYAC today)

And while I didn't spend hours plural, I was getting dangerously close, so I had to pry myself away and blog.  But I do want to leave you with a couple gems from Funny or Die:

The first is a parody called "Black and Jewish"

and this one with Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon:

There is rhyming in both, so it kinda comes close to poetry.  And isn't a good laugh just what we need sometimes.

And I only have 11 days until performance time, so I better get my but up off this chair in front of the computer and get to pacing and reciting.  Pacing is how I memorize most effectively.  And it is my best bet at looking like a crazy person.

Hope you enjoyed my sidetrack.  Have a great Friday night everyone!

Sorry, I found the original History of rap and HAD to add it in.

ok, now for real...I'm out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Do you have free will?

I was wanting to write an upcoming paper in my Psychology class on memorization techniques.  I was getting excited about it, and have spent hours searching for an appropriate study in a peer reviewed journal that relates to Psychology.  Excited about how I would have all this cool memory information to share on the blog.
BF Skinner,  photo use granted by Wikipedia.

Then tonight in a class on operant learning, we learned about B.F. Skinner.  He was a behavioral psychologist that worked on theories of reinforcement and punishment.  There is positive reinforcement, adding a positive stimulus to increase the frequency of a behavior.  There is negative reinforcement as well, taking away a negative stimulus to increase the frequency of a behavior.  On the flip side, we have positive punishment, adding a negative stimulus to decrease the frequency of a behavior.  And negative punishment, taking away a positive stimulus to decrease the frequency of a behavior.

His experiments used pigeons.  They were placed in "Skinner Boxes" after being slightly starved for a bit.  They would be rewarded with food when they pecked at a small disc on the wall.  The best rate of increased frequency of behavior was found when a varied ratio of reinforcement was used.  You give the reinforcement (food) at a varied rate of how many times the desired behavior was demonstrated.  Sometimes after five pecks, sometimes after 2, sometimes after 15.  This is, interestingly enough, the same rate used in slot machines.  The frequency of the behavior increases rapidly, and the chances of it ending (or extinction of the behavior) is low.

The other thing about Skinner is that he believed we have no free will.  He said that we think we have free will, when in fact, that is an illusion we create for ourselves.  We are completely products of what behavior was reinforced, and what was not.  Think about it.

You have no free will.

My choosing to do this blog.  The fact that Amy choose memorizing poetry.  You choosing to get online, clicking on the link to this blog.  Even what I choose to write, all of it is not really a choice at all, just acting out a behavior that has been reinforced in our past, so we continue to do it.

There is a simplicity about it, as a fellow student put it this evening as a debate arose in class.

"It's clean," she said, "They say in science, it's the simplest things that are often the ones that are true."

"Parsimony," my teacher offered.

Psychology Wiki defines it as such, "In science, parsimony is preference for the least complicated explanation for an observation. This is generally regarded as good when judging hypotheses. Occam's Razor also states the "principle of parsimony"." (I do not vouch for credibility of the website.)

In its simplicity, parsimoniousness, it seems like an easy thing to wiggle out of in a debate.  And I heard that Skinner was indeed, not a man you would want to argue with.  Hmmm, has Skinner met my son?  It also reminds me of other people, dogmatic people, that seem to not even listen to what you are bringing up.  They keep going back to the simple explanation they believe in, and restating it.  You insert your brilliant original thought (right, not out of free will, mind you) and they repeat their concise, susinct line yet again.

I am not saying what I believe, but I do think I have been inspired to write my paper on something different than memorization. There I am being operantly conditioned, I suppose.

Doh, Skinner.

I wonder if he write any poetry?


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Do you have a song of your own?

posted by Melissa
"Inspiration, move me brightly.  Light the song with sense and color;
Hold away despair, more than this I will not ask.
Faced with mysteries dark and vast, statements just seem vain at last."
Lyrics from the Grateful Dead song,"Terrapin Station", written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter.

Just leave me here, with my school books,
perfect balance.
These are lines that are easy to remember.  A song that once moved me to tears, that I must have listened to hundreds of times, singing along as if it had been written for me.  It comes to mind as I sit down today to blog because I feel so inspired since reading Amy's post yesterday.

I too, often struggle with the question of combining "who we want to be, with who we are, with who we ought to be, with who we find it just acceptable to be" as Amy put it.  It seems these days I have gone from being a dull form of acceptable, also in a vapid job; to a colorful mixture of who I should be and who I want to be.  I am closer to "conforming" with society than ever before.  And that, at once excites me, and scares the hell out of me.

It doesn't  does help that I also watched an compelling documentary the other night.  It was our neighbor Pete's last night in town, he was heading out the next day on the great adventure, called his life.  He, like Jamie and I, set out to hitchhike and see where the road would take him.  I think he is planning on living in a tree in Oregon, but the road is wide and inviting, and you never know where you'll end up.

So, it was Pete's last night and he and Jamie and I sat down to watch a movie together.  After flipping through Netflix, I found Surfwise.  Perfect.  It is the story of the Paskowitz family, led by Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz.  In the 1950's, he left his life and practice as a physician behind, and surfed.  That's all he did.  He met his wife and together they had 9 kids.  All 11 of them lived in a 25 ft' camper, and traveled from town to town, surfing.  The kids never went to school, they only surfed.

It left me pondering lots of questions, like the ones I touched on earlier.  Yes, Amy, you're right, who do I want to be?  And further why do I do the things I do?  Is it for others?  For myself?  How much does it matter what others think about the way you live or who you choose to be?  What if those others are your family?  Does that change your answer?  Why do I simultaneously want to go to nursing school and get straight A's and travel the road, live on the beach and surf all day long?

The last two parts of Amy's post really brought it all together for me in a transparent, unambiguous language.  I do want to become a nurse, to learn everything I can about the body and practice that learning everyday.  Indeed, that is how even the most "talented" athletes or musicians get to where they are, through dedication and rote practice.  There is something very simple and satisfying about that.

But it can get old, and stifling.  To think of sitting at a desk every day, poring over books and diagrams of body parts.  That's where the longing for the road and the beach comes in.  That's why after a day of studying, the Paskowitz life seemed so appealing.  Well, except for the sex every night, and maybe the family emblem of a clean asshole.  But, my point is, we need balance.

I know, so cliché.  But today, cliché assumed the form original.  It hit me like some of those Grateful Dead songs did when I first heard them.  Leaving me floating off, wholly inspired.

I need to bring the balance of work and play into my, fill it with what Amy called "exponential reciprocity" and do it all from my heart.  My dream.  Sing my song.

Here's the end of the last song Jerry Garcia sang, "Black Muddy River", at Soldier Field in Chicago, summer 1995.

"I will walk alone, by the black muddy river,
And dream me a dream of my own,
I will walk alone, by the black muddy river,
And sing me a song of my own, sing me a song of my own."

With a full heart (and lots of memorizing to do),

Monday, July 18, 2011

The O.K. Plateau

 By Amy Baranski

People who know me aren't surprised when I say that I am past-due for a new job. I've inhabited the same role for going on five years--a lifetime by today's career standards. And I'm tired. I'm tired of the work. And I don't know what I want to do next. I've hit the O.K. plateau.

I'm extrapolating here from Joshua Foer's article that Melissa posted earlier this month. The O.K. plateau is what some psychologists invariably used to refer to as the wall. I've hit the wall with memorizing a poem; I've hit a wall with my career; and so forth. The wall was a place that a person "could not by any education or exertion overpass," thank you Sir Francis Galton (Hereditary Genius, 1869).

I found my new blogging leaf in Kauai!
Of course, Foer explains (in almost these exact words) that modern psycho-something-or-others, find this is rarely the case and that the wall is less about innate ability versus what we perceive to be an acceptable level of performance. In other words, when our brains decide this is O.K., even when it's just average, we stop growing, we stop motivating.

I think our hearts are capable of this too.

At times we love a little less, because it's O.K. And sometimes we do just what is minimally required, lacking the aplomb to try more, learn more, and be more. My will has been weakened on the O.K. plateau. I'm just as good as I need to be at work, not more. So it is time to move on to find something new. I find this to be an enormous task.

How do we resolve who we want to be with who we are with who we ought to be with who we find it just acceptable to be, and without religion please?

Foer describes a strategy employed for staying out of the O.K. plateau which consists of: Focusing on their [memorization] technique; staying goal-oriented; and getting immediate feedback on their performance.
"Amateur musicians, for example, tend to spend their practice time playing music, whereas pros tend to work through tedious exercises or focus on difficult parts of the pieces. Similarly, the best ice skaters spend more of their practice time trying jumps that they land less often, while lesser skaters work more on jumps they've already mastered. In other worlds, regular practice simply isn't enough. To improve we have to be constantly pushing ourselves beyond where we think our limits lie and then pay attention to how and why we fail."
I'm for constructing a world where the O.K. plateau doesn't exist, where goals are meaningless, and where the heart can't be weakened--a world where there is more love in our lives, exponential reciprocity in our homes, at work and at play, where we feel the whole pieces of all our parts blossoming, billowing, running free.

Can you keep your head?

posted by Melissa
If you can keep your head.

That's it.  That's all I can remember right now of the Kipling poem, and I don't even know if that is right.
Yes, I should be committed alright.  I must have been
searching for divine intervention.

If you can keep you head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

There it is.   I had to look it up.  I can't seem to get past these two lines because they don't flow easily for me when spoken out loud.  I always seem to stress the second to last word "on," and I don't like how that sounds.  So, I have been spending all my memorizing time re-reading these two lines and trying to find "my control of tone of voice - of pitch and stress" as John Hollander refers to it in his book, Committed to Memory.  

I am also busy committing the entire skeletal system to memory, with an exam on Wednesday.  Did you know that every single little hole in the bones of your skull has a name?  That every little bump and protrusion on all of your bones has a specific name?   Supraorbital foramen, external auditory meatus, greater trochanter, nasolacrimal canal, linea aspera, medial malleous, styloid process...just to name a few.  I wonder if there is a poem out there to help memorize the skeleton.  I just searched, and found nothing; only a lame Hannah Montana song.

Well, I just remembered that I have my Psychology exam in about three hours.  It is on none other than, the brain.  So, I better get my hippocampus in gear and form some memories of my notes.

Here is one more try, not looking at the poem, strictly from memory:
"If you can keep your head about you when all around you /are losing theirs and blaming it on you;"

Close, pretty close.  But I have a long road ahead of me.  I hope I can keep my head, and not lose it, because I am afraid I'd only have myself to blame.


PS...the race is close on our poll!  And the bus is winning, Yikes!  That makes my stomach feel queasy.

The house that love built

By Amy Baranski

Yesterday morning I woke up early, still adjusting to the change in time zone, and in my restlessness, decided to go out and watch the sunrise. With me I carried my book of poetry and a camera. I walked alone as the rest of the house still slept, tucked under covers. 

I felt happy to be windblown with just my mind, although such joy is more satisfying when shared with someone.

Once to the beach, I took up residence under a tree in an empty lawn chair. To my left, a photographer adjusted his settings, and to my right a family snapped photos as their one-year old cried in terror at the approaching waves. The trill of the baby leapt up over low grumble of the wind and surf.

We, all strangers, waited together, eagerly looking out to the horizon. Beyond the breaks even, a paddle surfer steadily bobbed as he looked eastward. Behind us the moon clung to the pale remnants of night.

I opened my book and worked on memorizing the last stanza of The World by George Herbert. I work backwards in these matters. With such scenery it was hard to commit much to memory. Perhaps the poem ill fit the moment. I soldiered on.

The clouds glowed in a full spectrum palette. Then the sun, starting at first as a sliver, glinting above horizon, rose in her full fiery force.
Was this the stately house that love built?

An elderly woman saluted the sunrise, arching her body in half moon shape. The photographer, distracted by this most common celestial event, gazed up from his camera, and the baby under the weight of the changing of guards cried on and on.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Widening Gyre

By Amy Baranski

If this is the widening gyre let me in!
I'm sitting at a desk in my room just to my left is the small lanai. Earlier this morning I went swimming in the cerulean blue waters off the east shore of Kauai. The trade winds are blowing the heavily bundled clouds and an island rustle of papery palms paints the air.

On the flight over I spent time reading the in-flight magazine, working on the crossword puzzle, napping, eating free pretzels and Sprite, as I do, and mouthing the words to The Second Coming. Out of my periphery I could see the passenger to my left staring at me out of his periphery. I slanted my poetry book on my lap so he would know I wasn't crazy, just memorizing a poem for an hour, obviously.

Here it goes for you by heart.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre/the falcon cannot here the falconer/things fall apart; the center cannot hold/mere anarchy is loosed upon the world/the blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere/the ceremony of innocence is drowned./The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity./Surely a revelation is at hand./Surely the Second Coming is at hand./The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out/when a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi troubles my site/somewhere in the sands of the dessert/a shape with the body of a lion and the head of a man/a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun/slowly moves its thighs/while all about it/reel the shadows of the indignant dessert birds./Darkness falls again and now I know/that 20 centuries of stony sleep/were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle/and what rough beast/its hour come round at last/slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I have no idea if those line breaks are correct, nonetheless the grammar. I will check back in the morning after I've fully absorbed my first day of sun and gone for my first night swim.


Urban Camping. Have you Ever?

We have our city camping going on full force.  Our tent is up in our living room, and instead of the stars above, we will be watching Princess Mononoke through the front zip down flap of our tent.  It's not the Outsiders, but the movie store up the street didn't have that one in tonight.  

We grilled our dogs and sausages, had dinner together and made a super yummy drink (*see below for recipe) for the night.  And we got to roast marshmallows for s'mores.  Right in our backyard!  It was awesome.  Lily didn't join us at first and After a minute or two, Tallulah said, "I am going to tell Lily we are having a lot of fun and she shouldn't miss it."  They might actually have a future together, as sisters.

Here are some shot from the evening:
One gigantic marshmallow, in flames, on our grill.


"I can' t eat this fast enough."

"Go Felix!  and wow!  look at my hands...sooooo sticky"

Lily, in the tent, camping.

The tent in our living room.

And Good Night, everyone.  I am exhausted from all this camping.  

*recipe from Bon Appetit - Sidewalker  
- created by Damon Boelte @ Prime Meats in Brooklyn NY

1 1/4 cups Applejack (Laird's Apple Brandy - $21.00 in Seattle)
1 1/4 cups fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
6 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
4 cups chilled Hefeweizen beers
3/4 cup chilled Club Soda
8 lemon wedges

Mix frist four ingredients, and chill for 2 hours.  (I just chilled with ice since I was running late.)  Gently stir in beer and soda, pour into glasses with ice and garnish with lemon wedges.  Yum!

Stay Gold, Pony Boy

Lily bowling, while I retry the first line to "If" over 20 times.
posted by Melissa
Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Sometimes you can make plans for a camping trip (one night away at Lake Wenatchee), get everything ready and be really on top of your game.  That's what I did yesterday.  I went shopping; got those ginormous marshmallows to make s'mores with, lots of food, and a box of wine.  I came home and prepared a delicious salad, potatoes with garlic and marjoram for roasting, asparagus, sandwiches for lunch.  Before sitting down to enjoy The Dead Poet's Society, we even completely packed the van so we could just get up and go.

Well, we woke up to a chilly breeze and pouring down rain.  Not a surprise in Seattle, in July.  But what was surprising was that when I stumbled out from bed barely awake to check the weather over on the other side of the Cascades, the hourly forecast was filled with thunderstorms and rain.  Every hour, except for the ones when we would be sleeping.  Camping in the rain, with my three kids...yea, does not sound like fun to me.

We were all terribly disappointed, but in a "making the most out of life" effort, we all came up with ways to have fun anyway.  Camp in the living room, grill out and roast marshmallows over the grill, boys day out- Harry Potter movie, girls day out - get our nails done.  But first, go out to Breakfast and Bowl.

Tallulah walked out and only heard the part about us not going.  She was beside herself with tears streaming and her face covered in her hand.
"I wanna go camping." was her hardly audible lament.
"Tallulah, we are going to camp in the living room tonight, even put up the tent!" I said, hoping to perk her up.
"No, I want to go camping."  Again.  More tears.
"Pumpkin, we can even roast the marshmallows in the grill and make s'mores."  I tried again.
"Oh, OK!"  And she was off with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders.
Turns out it was all about the marshmallows for TJ.  I should have known.

As luck would have it, our dear friends, the Riley's, made it to our breakfast and bowling morning.  It really hit me when we walked up to the lanes, I have missed bowling these past two weeks.  We had a really great time and some poetry was shared aloud too.  I recited "Résumé" and Mr. Riley recited the poem above, "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost.

It wasn't as I had imagined from some scholarly effort, he knew it from the great movie, "The Outsiders."  Remember that one?  So many great actors in it, all so young.  Can you remember them all? Without Googling it?  I think I might just watch it tonight, in honor of Mr. Riley's great memory and poetry month.

Stay Gold, Pony Boy.

Friday, July 15, 2011

If you do not like me so...

Dorothy Parker, 1893-1967
posted by Melissa
From "Indian Summer"
by Dorothy Parker

But now I know the things I know,
And do the things I do;
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you!

Amy introduced me to Dorothy Parker this month.  How had I not known of her before?  Her dark outlook, her dry wit, her penchant for a good time (ok, getting drunk).  They all point directly to someone I should know about.  

We watched a movie of her life the other night, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.  Dorothy was played by Jennifer Jason Leigh.  I have read some really bad reviews of her performance, based mostly on people being annoyed by the accent.  I thought she did a great job.  Now, I don't know what Dorothy sounded like in real life, but I do know what someone who's drunk sounds like, and she nailed it, in my opinion.  

The Algonquin table was the name of a group of writers living in New York City in the 1920's.  The founding members were Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood.  Along came many other that lunched there almost daily.  Among the member along the way were John Peter Toohey, Harpo Marx, Harold Ross (The New Yorker editor) and Tallulah Bankhead came around once in a while.  

The movie depicted the "Algonquin Round Table" as group of writers that were never seen writing, always seen drinking and sometimes performed unlikely song and dance numbers.  There were always the meetings at the Algonquin Hotel, parties in their lavish and well decorated apartments and a trip to the country for a picnic.  

I was partly inspired and mostly confused.  Inspired by the thought of living in a creative community.  In college, in my English literature days, I dreamt of living abroad with other writers.  We would always get together and share creative ideas, building upon the excitement of all of our talent and originality.  We would sit in cafes and drink coffee and wine, maybe smoke a cigarette or two.

As I researched the Algonquin Round Table, I found this quote from Dorothy during an interview years after the Table had come to a close.
"These were no giants. Think who was writing in those days—Lardner, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Hemingway. Those were the real giants. The Round Table was just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were. Just a bunch of loudmouths showing off, saving their gags for days, waiting for a chance to spring them....There was no truth in anything they said. It was the terrible day of the wisecrack, so there didn't have to be any truth.."
And the title of the movie is for good reason, Grouch Marx (brother of Table member Harpo) was quoted as saying he was never comfortable around the table because, "The price of admission is a serpent's tongue and a half-concealed stiletto."  Their wit could be vicious indeed.

The confusing part was all the beautiful clothes and apartments these writers lived in.  Really?  In NYC, as a writer, spending all day at a hotel having lunch and drinks?  I guess it was partly Hollywood movie, and maybe they came from money?  Either way, I let that part go and truly did enjoy the movie, despite the fact that I now cannot read a Dorothy Parker poem without that ridiculous accent.  

You know?  The more I think about it, I do have a creative community.  My apartment building, my blog with Amy and the fact that she lives right upstairs and we can chat and inspire each other nearly every day.  We can even drink like Dorothy too, sometimes!  Anyway, I feel grateful to have what I have.  To know that I can make it what I want; if I want a more creative community, I can build that.  I wonder in what ways it will actualize.

I just got a new Parker book in the mail, The Portable Dorothy Parker edited by Marion Meade.  It has a lovely drawing on the cover and of course, a wonderful little Parker poem in the jacket:

Drink and Dance
and Laugh and Lie,
Love, the Reeling Midnight Through,
For Tomorrow We Shall Die!
(But, Alas, We Never Do.)

It also contains some of her short stories, which I am eager to discover.  But instead, this weekend will be full of camping at Lake Wenatchee, memorizing the bones of the skull and spine, memorizing "If" by Rudyard Kipling and as always, fighting with hanging out with my lovely children.


I will have Poetry in my life and Adventure!

By Amy Baranski

Vacation Reads
This morning I'm getting ready to leave on vacation to paradise. I've been pulling together some reading material for the trip which mostly consists of a few scripts from Shakespeare, the new book of poetry compiled by Hollander, the Declaration of Independence, and the long article on memorization that Melissa summarized yesterday.

I've been working, as you know, on memorizing the Declaration of Independence, but I've added a few other texts in the mix. I'm working on Sonnet #18 by Shakespeare, The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats, The World by George Herbert, and The Widow's Lament in Springtime by William Carlos Williams.

The issue of reciting aloud has come up frequently in recent days. John Hollander has this to offer on the topic:
"In reciting a poem aloud, you are not like an actor, coming to understand, and then to feel yourself in a dramatic part, a fictional person. It's rather that you come to understand, and then to be, the voice of the poem itself."
Instruments for reading in the sun.
It's an interesting point Hollander makes in his Introduction to Committed to Memory. In fact, mostly the only poetry I've heard falls into two camps: the stage-wise ravenous performances of slam-style poets and the page-wise lilting performances among the literary houses. Or maybe it's one camp really. It's all a little pitchy to me.

And then there's the dreaded embarrassment one feels when a writer's voice, so apparent on page, so completely disappoints on stage.

Hollander recommends recording audio while reciting a poem for playback. So for the past few days I've been sitting at my computer fussing with the sound recorder. It's hard not to recite a poem with an affectation. And it's also really hard to not infuse your own meaning into a poem, especially when it is obscure. Here are a two examples of me reading The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats.

Listen and tell me what you hear...

A more heightened reading

A self-conscious reading

Notice how the cadence is much different in the beginning?

It makes my skin crawl to hear my voice playback no less post it on the Internet. But I'd really like to be able to do this properly in the end so it's good practice. I struggle with how to read The Second Coming and I take solace in the fact I'm not alone.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Observations" of an 11 year old on a Metro bus

posted by Melissa

I memorized two Dorothy Parker poems in the past two days.  I memorized the first one during my Psychology class, pretty fitting.  It is the one I posted before and I will post here again, by memory.

Me, Cal Anderson Park, 2011

Razors pain you,
Rivers are damp,
Acids stain you
and drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful,
Nooses give,
Gas smells awful,
You might as well live.

During my break in psych class yesterday, I paced around Cal Anderson park trying to talk my self into reciting the poem aloud.  I said it out loud several times, only no one could hear me.  I may have looked a bit like a crazy person muttering to myself, but at the time it felt safer than sending my voice through the airwaves for all to hear.

And the other one is also by Dorothy Parker: (again, written form memory)
Lily, wishing I would stop reciting poetry on the bus.


If I don't drive around through the park,
I'm pretty sure I'll make my mark.
If I go to bed each night by ten,
I might get back my looks again,
If I abstain from fun and such,
I'll probably amount to much.
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.

Just another day of poetry.  I recited the second one to Amy and Bob, somewhat quietly, on the Seattle Metro bus this evening on the way to the Mariner's game.  Lily was humiliated, god she gets so angry.  She reminded me that part of the plan was that she would not be there when I recited my poem out loud, in public.  I didn't know that, but in the hopeful (fingers double crossed) likelihood that I remain in my eldest's good graces, I will make sure she is not there.

You know, I think she might actually hate me.  Every time I try to say something cool, it explodes in my face.  Today I tried to include her in a conversation about, Oh, nevermind, if she ever reads this, she'd kill me.  She already bruised me with her kick to my calf today during said conversation.  So, I am keeping my mouth shut.

In regards to the poetry though, I kinda like being forced into walking the line between crazy and artist and "maybe that person has a cell phone ear bud in and no one can see it."  Especially since usually, I feel like I lean more toward simply crazy.

More on Dorothy next time...and in her honor,  I'll be having another glass of wine.
-Melissa is decided, by the readers, I shall memorize Kipling's poem for my recitation.  Thanks for all your comments!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

To think in more memorable ways

posted by Melissa
So far, the Kipling poem is winning on my post "I need your help! Quick!"  I have until tomorrow to see what poem will win in the end, and which one I will begin memorizing, 5pm tomorrow.  Check out the post and cast your opinion, I have really been enjoying everyone's input and thoughts on the choices.

Not ancient Greece, but the Bahamas.  
In regards to memorizing, there was a recent article in the New York Times on becoming a world-class memory athlete.   Joshua Foer is a journalist, and in 2005 he was covering what he called at the time "the Super Bowl of savants."  The more correct name of the competition is the USA Memory Championship.  Upon meeting one of the competitors, he asked them if they were gifted in the memory department; a photographic memory perhaps?  The contestant replied that he was of average memory, just like everyone else.  In fact, it seemed that every contestant Foer talked to had the same thing to say; anyone could do this, with enough practice and training.

I have a hard time believing this.  These people can memorize two randomly shuffled decks of cards in just under a minute.  Two whole decks of cards!  Shuffled together!  (I wish they had been with me during poker month)  Other feats that are mentioned in the article are reciting a list of 252 random numbers or memorizing an unpublished poem several pages long.  Some records that I find astonishing are 4,140 binary digits in 30 minutes! and 28 decks of cards in one hour!  Foer also thought this seemed implausible, but instead of shrugging his shoulders and walking away with a "Huh, that's cool" kind of attitude, he took it on as a personal challenge.

He spent the next year training with Ed Cooke, one of the competitors he got to interview.  Initially, what  Foer learned from Cooke was that memorizing "was simply a matter of learning to 'think in more memorable ways,' using a set of mnemonic techniques almost all of which were invented in ancient Greece. These techniques existed not to memorize useless information like decks of playing cards but to etch into the brain foundational texts and ideas."

Now my ear is open.  I am about to challenge myself to etch some texts into this ole brain of mine.  It turns out that it's true, nearly all of the techniques used by these M.A.'s (Mental Athletes) have been taken from ancient Greece.  It turns out that a poet (poetry is everywhere), Simonides of Ceos in the fifth century B.C., came across this approach after watching a collapse of a banquet hall.  He was the sole survivor and when asked to retell the events, he realized that he could remember each and every person that was there, and where they were sitting.  Even though he had made no initial attempt to intentionally memorize this long list of victims.

He discovered that he could put any list of information within the visual field of that banquet hall, and recall them easily.  From this came the idea of "memory palaces", also known as "Method of Loci."  A number of texts came forth expounding on this technique.  The article mentions the anonymous Rhetorica ad Herennium, and Wikipedia also offers Cicero's De Oratore, and Quintilian's Institutio oratoria as tomes celebrating this memorizational style.  Wikipedia defines it as a method that "uses spatial relationships to establish, order and recollect memorial content."

Indeed, in 2003, researchers proved through the use of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), that mental athletes compared to the control group had no anatomical differences, nor did they score differently on cognitive tests.  What the fMRI did show was that they were using a different part of their brain, regions known to be involved in spatial memory.  Aha!  The ancient Greeks were onto something.  I think it is amazing how modern science can prove something "true" so many years later.

Foer then takes an aside and discusses the numerous ways in which previous generations depended heavily on memory.  He shares how Robert Darton, the author of the essay, “First Steps Toward a History of Reading,” describes it as "a switch from “intensive” to “extensive” reading that occurred as printed books began to proliferate."  We went from reading the few expensive and rare books that we could get our hands on over and over again, to reading the many accessible books, and only once.  For me, that seems a lucky feat at times, to even finish a book once.  Look at people's books shelves in America, I'd wager that most are filled with books that one hopes to read.

So, with these modern literary advances perhaps came a loss of how to use our memory.  A loss of taking the poems we loved to "heart" and sharing them aloud with our family and friends.  No wonder this month feels somewhat daunting.

The Greek mnenomic technique is what Foer trained in.  Foer states, "What distinguishes a great mnemonist, I learned, is the ability to create lavish images on the fly, to paint in the mind a scene so unlike any other it cannot be forgotten. And to do it quickly. Many competitive mnemonists argue that their skills are less a feat of memory than of creativity."  He would associate every card in a dual deck he was memorizing with some lewd, over-the-top image of a celebrity doing something bizarre.  Apparently, this is something our brain "likes" to memorize.  Something our brains find easy to memorize.  How funny.  And I have to give him some props for sharing the hysterical images his creative mind came up with.

Even after reading the article several times, I find I don't completely understand the idea of a "memory palace."  Is it literally a house in your mind that you place your image associations inside?  It seems that way, from what I can gather.  But then I guess perhaps I don't "get" it because I just don't believe that it would work for me.  Perhaps checking out his book, Moonwalking with Einstein would be helpful.  Let me know if you pick it up and give it a go, and I'll do the same.

For Foer, after a year of training and hitting his plateau, and training more and more...he won the USA Memory Championship.  He even blew the previous record for memorizing two decks of cards, taking it form 1 minute 55 seconds to his 1 minute 40 seconds!  Simply unbelievable!  Maybe we should add memory training into next year's list and see how far we get.  Amy?  What do you think?


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Your moon is cliche. Mine is not.

By Amy Baranski

On my way back from the grocery store, and after picking up one of our favorite movies, Mrs. Parker, I saw a flutter out of the corner of my eye--a moth. It landed on a daisy in the round about. The moth reminded me of a poem I've always enjoyed. I had a friend who once critiqued one of my poems saying it was trite and cliche to use the word moon or moonlight. I disagree, and even if you aren't Elizabeth Bishop. Read Man-Moth.

Take care of the sense

By Amy Baranski

Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves, says the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland, and John Hollander as his final point in the introduction to Committed to Memory.

My copy arrived today.

Hollander is a poet, a critic, an editor, and wears a beard in his dust jacket picture.

I can't tell you precisely why I felt annoyed when I first opened the book, it had a stiff air, but Hollander's introduction won me over. His blatant disdain for oratory foibles of today's newscasters was the clincher.

I have always loved reading aloud. Since I was a little girl. I don't know why. It's just how I prefer to read, from line to line, page to page, cover to cover. The silence of the page is nice too. I read silently now too, as I've grown into my ornery adult suit, and am prone to headaches more easily. Says Hollander:
" hear a poem read aloud by someone who understands it, and who wishes to share that understanding with someone else, can be a crucial experience, instructing the silently reading eye ever thereafter to hear what it is seeing. Better yet is reading aloud that way oneself."
Such joy!

I need your help! Quick!

posted by Melissa
I like to pace while I memorize poetry.
It is July 12th and I have memorized 7 lines of poetry.  I partly feel accomplished, and defeated at the same time.  The 7 lines I have committed to memory are really there, I can recall them at any point and recite them fluidly.  In this I have gained a little confidence to take into my big poem of the month.  But, what poem will that be????

This is where I need your help!  If you could please pick one that you like and let me know which one I should memorize in the comments below, I would greatly appreciate it.

I have narrowed it down to four.  Two of them are "classic" poems, and two are contemporary.  And there too, I wonder, should it be before a certain year, to be old enough to consider it a classic?  What makes a poem or anything a classic?  Was it a classic in it's time, or just later after it aged and its widespread appreciation grew.

Wikipedia defines the term classic as this:
The word classic means something that is a perfect example of a particular style, something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality. The word can be an adjective (a classic car) or a noun (a classic of English literature). It denotes a particular quality in art, architecture, literature and other cultural artifacts. In commerce, products are named 'classic' to denote a long standing popular version or model, to distinguish it from a newer variety. Classic is used to describe many major, long-standing sporting events. Colloquially, an everyday occurrence (e.g. a joke or mishap) may be described as 'an absolute classic'.

So far, looks like I'll be reciting the poem here.
I'll let you be the judge of whether or not the poems I have as your options are classic or not.

I have been having fun with the results of our "Where to recite" poll (It's a close race! and you'll find where to place your vote up on the right hand corner of the blog) and am hoping this poll will be as helpful.  I will start memorizing whichever poem you choose on Thursday at 5pm.  That gives two days to vote on your favorite.

Here they are:

1.  Space, in chains
by Laura Kasischke

Things that are beautiful, and die.  Things that fall asleep in the afternoon, in 
sun.  Things that laugh, then cover their mouths, ashamed of their teeth.  A
strong man pouring coffee into a cup.  His hands shake, it spills.  his wife falls
to her knees when the telephone rings.  Hello?  Goddammit, hello?

Where is their child?

Hamster, tuplis, love, gigantic squid.  To live.  I'm not endorsing it.

Any single, transcriptional event.  The chromosomes of the roses.  Flagella,
cilia, all the filaments of touching, feeling, of running your little hand
hopelessly along the bricks.

Sky, stamped into flesh, bending over the sink to drink the tour de force of

It's all space, in chains - the chaos of birdsong after a rainstorm, the steam
rising off the asphalt, a small boy in boots opening the back door, stepping
out, and someone calling to him from the kitchen,

Sweetie, don't be gone too long.

2.  anyone lived in a pretty how town
by e.e.cummings

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn't they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone's any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came

sun moon stars rain

3.  If
by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

4.  Summer
by Laura Kasischke

She drank too much
She was after
Some meadow
Some orchard

Some childhood night with the window open, and it was summer, and her
own mother was humming in another room, and through the screen the
fuzzy blue, and suddenly she was out there swimming, too, in softness, a
permanent candle, invisible, beautiful.

She drank too much
For many years
Some stairs
Some cosmetics

I stood in the threshold and watched her disintegrate before a mirror.

My lovely mother before a tray full of bracelets
(Repeat: My lovely mother before a tray full of bracelets)

She invited me in to fish the ice cubes from her drink.  They were warm. On
my tongue.  Such calm.  Like a small bomb detonated in an isolated barn.  Like
a beloved pet in the middle of a busy street, just standing there, looking
Thanks for helping a sista out.

There you have it, your 4 choices.  Just click on where it says comments below the post and you can type in your pick.  You can leave it anonymously, or choose a name to post it with.  

Maybe this was just my way to (hopefully) get you to read four of my favorite poems.  Here's to the fact that you actually did.  You did, right?  You did actually read the poems?


Monday, July 11, 2011

Under every grief and pine, Runs a joy of silken twine

posted by Melissa
I just got back from my first exam of the summer quarter.  Surprisingly, considering the minimal time I was able to study, I think I got mostly everything correct.  Jamie worked all weekend so I was with the kids.  We had baseball games both days, couple fun parties to attend and then I was going to finally get to get some quiet study time in last night.  The unpredictability of my kids led to a drastically different evening, and a far cry from anything quiet.

We got home from all of our activities and it was time to put on a movie for the kids and sit down to my dining room table, which is now also my school desk, to dig into some Anatomy & Physiology.  The kids were having a hard time coming to an agreement about what movie to watch and so I calmly stepped in.

"If you guys can't get along and choose together, I am going to narrow it down for you," I butted in.  "You can choose from North, Whale Rider or Children of Heaven."  I choose these because they are all pretty wholesome movies that offer some kind of learning or insight into life, something I think my children could use.
those three loveable little life lessons.

All hell broke loose.

"How could you?  We hate those movies!"
"You are SO mean."
"Why are you trying to ruin my life?"
"Why doesn't anything ever go my way?"
"You don't understand me at all!!!"
"I hate my life and I am going to kill myself!"
"We don't want to learn anything about life!"
"I hate you!!!"

All of these accusations and upsets were hurled at me from every child and every direction.  Accompanied with lots of intense crying and screaming and wailing.  Someone walking by must have thought I was abusing my children in here.  No, world outside my open window, I was simply offering them a movie.

What is wrong with them?  How completely entitled?  How dare they yell at me like that. I was not going to budge.  They could yell and scream all they wanted, but I was not giving in.  In an attempt to inspire some thoughtfulness, I asked them if they could ever imagine other kids talking their parents that way.

"Yea, well, it's because those kids are afraid of their parents.  You should be glad we aren't afraid of you."

"Um, thank you?  What?!" I thought to myself as I felt more and more like I was taking crazy pills. (Zoolander reference)

Tallulah escaped they craziness by getting in the shower, her happy place.  I finally said to the older two that I needed space, and I too, stepped into the now steamy bathroom.  Some deep breaths followed as I stared into the mirror wondering what has become of my life.  It was then that our first "William Blake" moment of the evening emerged.  (In reference to a couple lines from my poem I memorized...."Under every grief and pine, runs a joy of silken twine.")

Levi knocked and asked to enter.  He was calm and self-possessed, so I obliged.

"Mama, I was thinking, maybe we need to set a goal.  Like in school, we set goals and then we know what we are working toward.  So, if we can be good and not fight and not yell at you and listen to everything you say for like a month, then maybe we can all go somewhere together," He offered this 9 year old sage advice to my now open ears.

"We could go to Wolf Lodge, that water park place," I said, getting excited at the prospect of his offer and the promise of going to a hotel.

Levi continued, "I'm sorry Mama, but I think we just aren't used to behaving that way yet, but once we do it for a month it will become a habit and we'll be more used to it.  And then we can be more like Charlie's family." (Levi just made a new friend on his all-star team and our impression is that their family is civilized and kind to each other.)

I have to say I was not only impressed with his composure, but with his insight as well.

Next Tallulah started freaking out, I can't remember what now.  But, as luck would have it, this freak-out also led to another "William Blake" moment.  Lily was trying to help me calm her, and when saw just how irrational Tallulah was being, she looked to me thoughtfully and shared her "silken twine" of the evening.

"Mom, now I can see how I was acting earlier.  I am thinking about how much of a brat Tallulah is being and that's how I was acting to you.  I am so sorry.  It is just really hard once I am in that space to think about how I am acting.  I love you so much, Mama," she shared as she walked toward me with her arms open wide.

Wow.  So, I am thinking that sometimes, as difficult and embarrassing as it may be, those disastrous family moments can lead to some powerful self reflection.  Even for my 9 and 11 year old kids.  I can hear some people I know thinking that the kids were manipulating me, but I disagree.  They didn't get what they wanted in the end.  And I can only hope that them not being afraid of me does offer them the space and time to figure these life lessons out, to talk to me about them, and to know they are loved no matter what.

I didn't study at all last night, I just crashed in bed, exhausted and oddly pleased with life itself.

Man was made for joy and woe
And when this we rightly know,
Through the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine
A clothing for the soul divine,
Under every grief and pine,
Runs and joy of silken twine.
-William Blake

Thank you.