I have a little bit of stuff from last week to talk about, but instead I’m going to talk about today since it’s still on the tip of my mind. Also, I’ve been having more problems typing lately so that might rear its ugly head. I don’t have any kind of autocorrect/autofill/spellcheck stuff enabled, because I want to be able to see what’s happening. Granted, I catch a lot of it by the time I get to the end of the sentence, but still. Aside from occasionally doing weird things out here, it can be a real bitch to get passwords entered when the sight doesn’t have the little eyeball to click. Anyway, today.
When Dad’s memory started going, he would always talk about how stupid he was now. If I had a nickel for every time he said “I can’t do that, I’m too stupid” once this thing started digging into his brain, I’d have quite a few nickels. He kept equating memory with intelligence. If I can’t remember anything, then obviously I’m not smart. This was frustrating on a number of levels.
You see, Dad was smart. Really smart. If something needed to be fixed or created, he could come up with the way to do it. He was a machinist, and his favorite part was making the machines do what he wanted. He had his own business building drag cars and came up with designs good enough to be stolen by the top kit manufacturer. And yes, a lot of his intelligence also came from his memory. He was great at remembering all kinds of stuff and applying those things he remembered to the situation at hand.
When I started racing, he was always tinkering with the bike. I spent a lot of practice time testing settings. I’d go out for a lap, then come in so he could change something. Back out for a lap, back in so he could change it in the other direction. He learned a lot about our bikes and as a side effect, he made me a great tester. When I’d come in that third time, I’d have to describe to him what changed in the bike. Not “last time you went up two clicks on the rebound,” but “when I was braking hard into the slow corner, the rear end was really smacking into me and the front end was trying to dive under the rut.” That was why we made a great team: I could tell him how the bike felt, and he knew what to change to fix it.
Like most things from my motocross life, that transferred over into real world skills. When I worked phone support, I could describe what the person was seeing like I was looking over their shoulder. Any time I’ve been injured, I can explain to the doctor exactly where and what kind of pain I’m feeling. Barb has marveled over all of the different medical nuances I’ve been able to describe over the years, especially during the cancer years. My dental hygienist has remarked on several occasions about my ability to describe what’s happening in my mouth.
That made a lot more sense in my brain.
Anyway, Dad was really smart and he felt stupid as his memory started to leave him. I would try to get him to understand that it wasn’t his processor that was failing him, it was his hard drive. He could still do the calculations, he just needed to store the equations in a different place. An external hard drive, like a notebook. Today however, I realized it might not have just been his memory loss that made him feel stupid.
We’ve got this big project at work where we’re trying to upgrade a thirty year old system to something more modern. Seriously, the whole company is currently run off of a Microsoft Access 97 database. All of the tech is a mishmash of versions of things cobbled together to work off this ancient system. They’ve tried to update everything a couple of times in the past, but This Time It’s Serious. We’re going to be going from Windows XP and Access 97 to iPads and web forms.
Fortunately, we have consultants doing the heavy lifting, one of whom is the guy who moved me over to the IT role where I’d always have his support. Until he quit a couple of months later and started working for his friend’s consulting company who our company keeps on retainer. He had started working on all of this conversion before leaving, so he’s spearheading the effort now. There are a lot of moving pieces, so he gives me things to do like setting up equipment or labeling shelves for inventory or what have you. Things that I can figure out a plan for, then turn off my brain and plow through it.
Today, I was unboxing a bunch of barcode scanners, putting IDs and velcro on them, putting velcro on the back of the cases of our fleet of iPads, then sticking them together. I worked out my system for what was going to go where and when and got to work. After two or three rounds, I realized I felt… simple.
If there’s one thing that pisses me off the most about my brain, it’s how I’m losing the words to describe things. “Simple” was the first thing that came to mind as it was happening, and it’s as good a word as any, I suppose. I was taking a scanner, taking the back off a label, sticking the label to the scanner, sticking a piece of velcro right under the sticker, then moving on to the next. I had already unboxed all of the scanners, made all of my labels, cut my pieces of velcro. Now it was just a little production line with nothing to do but follow the steps. Simple tasks being done by a simple man.
That’s what I pictured from the outside, anyway. I had my “I’m not listening to you” headphones on, listening to my music, a distant unfocused smile on my face as I plodded along through my task. Like Lenny in Of Mice and Men before he started killing rabbits.
Picturing myself like this, I thought of Dad and wondered if this was part of what he was talking about. While I was thinking of myself as “simple,” another generation could easily read that as “stupid.” Maybe it was a language barrier thing of his own.
So here I was, Simple Simon, doing all of my little tasks and I felt… content. I think that’s what drew my attention in the first place. Feeling content is something that happens very rarely in my world. That feeling of content was what was behind that simple smile, but what was behind the contentment? As usual when things start going right, I had to start overanalyzing and that’s when it hit me.
My brain was silent.
It wasn’t silent in a whiteout way, where I’m trying to access something and there’s nothing there (still just the two times that’s happened so far). Instead, it was like when the power goes out during a snowstorm. Initially, you’re surprised at how noisy your house had been. Even if you were just sitting on your couch reading, you suddenly notice how much noise the lights had been making. You miss the low hum of the refrigerator. That electrical aura that encapsulates your environment 24/7 is suddenly gone. With the electromagnetic interference out of the way, you realize you can hear the silence outdoors. Those seemingly quiet electrical lines are somehow even more quiet. There’s hardly anyone outside because of the snowstorm, so you don’t even hear traffic moving anywhere. You can almost hear each snowflake when they touch the ground outside.
Is this what the regular people are like? All of those people without ADD and constant inner narratives and thoughts and words and ideas and feelings and everything in a constant mental maelstrom. Do they get to experience this quiet all the time? Of course, I was spoiling it a little while trying to think it out, much like we do in that snowstorm, craning our necks and straining our ears to hear that noise that we know is there somewhere, until we wind up wandering outside and becoming the noise ourselves.
This must be what peace is like. Inner peace, outer peace, whatever. Just being able to sit somewhere, music in your ears, a task at your fingertips, and silence in your brain. I tried to hold on to that feeling, that quietness for as long as possible. Eventually, the power always comes back on and the traffic starts back up again and my brain is no different. When the lights come back on, we miss that feeling of absolute silence, deep down in our soul, even as we rejoice at having light and cold food in the fridge again. I’m happy that my brain spun back up into problem-solving mode, but I long to have that silence again. That contentment. That simplicity.