In the late afternoon a tall blonde woman came up to the table. She was perhaps in her early 60’s. Quite striking looking and, if I had to guess, had Parkinson’s Disease. Perhaps it was something else but she tremored and had that somewhat palsied face. If you could see her you’d know that she was very, very beautiful when she was younger and not burdened with Parkinson’s or whatever she had.
But I didn’t ask. How can you really?
She came up with a friend who just stood and watched our interaction the whole time.
She introduced her name as R and asked
How do I keep my brain sharp?
I asked her if she was worried about her brain function – I wasn’t trying to be ignorant of her likely condition – I was just asking, you never know what an intention might be.
She replied that it was simply something she was concerned about. And that was fair enough. Prying isn’t required.
Starting off we chatted about how we are literate, pattern seeking creatures here in the west. We tend to find ways of doing things well and repeat those sequences. That approach essentially creates grooves in the brain – or neural pathways if you want to be fancy about it.
The brain is quite plastic and so to keep the brain supple and in top shape it is important to break patterns and recruit other parts of the brain to do the jobs at hand.
Here is a laundry list of what came out with her as she sat there – interested and engaged:
- Do the things normally done with her right hand with her left.
- When walking to common locations to take alternate routes.
- Find the key to the front door of your home by touch and then open the door with closed eyes.
- See things you don’t normally see – museums, locations, people etc
- Get all multiple senses stimulated at the same time.
- Smell things and try to guess what they are.
- Write the alphabet on your hand with your tongue.
Basically radically break up the schedules and patterns of your life and do fun things that challenge you in lots of ways. She appreciated all this and smiled at the funness and silliness of some of the suggestions.
But I offered one other exercise that we could try in person together.
And she said she was game to try.
We have tremendous processing power in our brains but we often focus it through our language processing parts. But we can actually process quite a lot conversationally through other means. Gibberish conversations can be quite fun but we are going to have a conversation with numbers.
This is an improv game where the two players (though it could be more) have a conversation using sequential numbers instead of words until an agreed upon end number 7, 17, 48, 103 or whatever. So the first person says “1” and the second says “2” and next line from the first person is “3”.
Then the conversation goes on. But the trick is to imbue your number with emotional context, with gesture, with meaning. If done correctly everyone knows exactly what is happening despite the lack of words that convey any meaning. For a brain trying to keep sharp it is a dream – processing numerous things at the same time, disassociating words from meaning and reapplying them elsewhere, working outside the lingual network.
After describing the game and saying that we were going to have a conversation to 20 she planted into her seat.
I stood up from my chair and took a good look at her.
She had suddenly gone from relaxed to a little demure. Her legs tightened together and she looked over her left shoulder with the faintest hint of coyness. From that I took my cue.
I reached out my right hand onto her thin black shearling coat and leaned into her with a Lotharic, slightly pleading…
She adjusted herself and looked right at me with a playfully prudish…
Slightly rebuffed, I backed off but upped the desiring intensity trying a new tact, a new rationale…
She quickly retorted, cutting me off but still leaving the door open by smiling and showing how she liked the pursuit…
That open door was all I needed and I softened, sweetened and moved my arm around her and spoke a gentle
While pianoing her arm down to the inside of her wrist.
R got bashful but turned the corner and started to be convinced by my longing feeling into our moment
My pleading was now teasing and promising all sorts of things as I hushed
R smiled and said
I don’t think that we need to go all the way to 20.
We both laughed and R’s companion smiled broadly.
It was brilliant and fun. We both knew who we were, what was happening and we were shockingly in the present with each other. There we were – young lovers on a porch late at night trying to come up with reasons to stay up and fool around and the girl happy to be convinced and not trying very hard to ignore the affections of her young lover.
R thanked me for every thing and R’s companion said “Very good Matthew. Very good indeed.”
She put money into my jar and took a card as did her companion.
But there was one more thing.
As R stood up she looked at me with the beginnings of tears in her eyes. Moved, she spoke
I have not been looked at like you just looked at me for years. To be wanted like that and hungered for. Pursued! Suddenly I feel really so very beautiful. I didn’t even know how much I missed it or wanted it. But now that I have it it’s even more than beautiful, I feel light and tingly and very much myself!
And she placed both her hands on my cheeks and slowly kissed me. It was lip to lip, mouth to mouth. There was no danger of turning into a full makeout session but our lips touched fully enough so that that beautiful slight spread happens so that you sense the space and wetness behind.
I have been lucky to have had many kisses in my life but this one ranks way up there for authenticity and suprise. I was touched by it and by R very very much.
R’s companion was walking by the opposite direction perhaps an hour later or so and we chatted more. He stayed and watched another interaction I had and we have been chatting since. Ends up that he is a psychotherapist and he appreciated my method.
Often at the table we can find things we didn’t even know we were looking for that might even be more important than the thing that brought you to the table in the first place.
Freud said that it is the repressed erotic spirit in humankind that allows us to create civilization…but there is a price to pay for that.
Hopefully R became a bit uncivilized.
Maybe we all need just that.