Sunday, February 20, 2011

Week in Seven Words #55

anterograde
He was a man with anterograde amnesia - he could encode no new episodic memories. He had some past memories to anchor him a little, give him a sense of identity. Otherwise he was adrift. He inhabited narrow parcels of time, probably no more than half a minute long (and often less), whatever his short term memory could hold. He did not remember people he had just met, or what he had just been saying or doing, or what others said and did to him. Every morning when he woke up he felt as if he was awakening after a long sleep, years-long. He would lean over to a diary at his bedside and write that he was finally awake. Then he would discover a previous entry documenting the same thing (that he had finally woken up!) and with a feeling of uneasy dismissal he would cross out that previous entry, thinking it impossible that he could have written such a thing. Most of his life felt like that - the recent seconds slipping, and then a sensation of waking up fresh to the world, not remembering why he was sitting on the couch (his couch?) or why there was a dinner plate in front of him.

floe
Less than two weeks ago the field was caked from end to end in snow and ice, brilliant in the sunshine, with a couple of benches bobbing around like rowboats on an arctic sea. This week the snow has crept away, uncovering dry brown grass. Boys and girls in sweatshirts, tee-shirts, and shorts rush out to play frisbee. Nearby some guys play volleyball barefoot on a sandy court; their big golden dog dashes around their bare legs.

halting
The words come with difficulty, over the phone or face-to-face, but once I find them and say them some relief comes to me; things haven't turned out badly or as awkwardly as I feared. I can even laugh.

observer
Several times this week I watch myself from a somewhat detached vantage point within my mind, like a master observing the workings of an automaton that she ostensibly controls. There I am speaking to one group of people, then to another, and there I am walking, one foot before the other, and listening patiently, and being in turn observed by others. And in response to a lot of what I see I think, "why"?

penmanship
Bad hand-writing makes for a sort of malleable identity. What's meant to be a 'G' looks like an 'S'; a lowercase i is more like a lowercase o. One person no longer exists on the roster, and several have wriggled out of order, out to explore new alphabetical territory.

venture
Diagrams on a board; illustrations dotted out on yellow notepad paper. We map out another attempt at overcoming a difficult problem.

zephyr
For the first time in months I sit outside on a bench and read. I don't get much reading done; the breeze tempts me to distraction.

7 comments:

naida said...

Great week in words as usual.
I like 'zephyr', I can almost imagine it.
I can relate to 'halting'.

patteran said...

Anterograde. What an evocation of existential nightmare. Somehow the inability to register pain in reaction to the state is one of the most chilling aspects of it.

Lucy said...

Is 'observer' a good or bad, helpful or handicapping state to be in, interesting or tiring?

I feel in general you negotiate life with a sensitivity and separateness which could be disabling or alienating but which you turn to advantage. It's very heartening to me that this is possible.

Relyn said...

Ah zephyr. I could steal that description and use it for our week last week. Love it. And, oh, the story for your first word. At least, I hope it's a story.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I'd echo patteran's comments about anterograde. That piece is compelling and disturbing and what a nightmare it evokes

HKatz said...

And, oh, the story for your first word. At least, I hope it's a story.
Unfortunately that's a real phenomenon. There are people who, for different reasons (sometimes after a surgery to certain parts of the brain or after certain illnesses) lose the ability to encode new memories and often lose a chunk of past memory too.

That piece is compelling and disturbing and what a nightmare it evokes
It is a nightmare and heartbreaking to watch.

Somehow the inability to register pain in reaction to the state is one of the most chilling aspects of it.
Interesting observation. It's hard to tell even how much pain they are registering. I don't think they're completely unaware of the fact that something is wrong (even profoundly wrong); yet it's not clear how deeply they're affected emotionally by this. Maybe as you say, very little or hardly at all.

Ah zephyr. I could steal that description and use it for our week last week.
I'm glad some good weather came your way too!

Is 'observer' a good or bad, helpful or handicapping state to be in, interesting or tiring?
It all depends :) A fine line, as many things are. I try to stay on the good side of that line, and not get bogged down by the sort of introspection that leads to navel-gazing and excessive brooding. I think this week there were times when I wasn't so successful - but something interesting I think can be learned from those times, at least it's interesting to me in what it shows about the human mind and the little mental pits we can dig ourselves into. Thanks for your kind comments!

I like 'zephyr', I can almost imagine it.
Sending a pleasant breeze your way :)

Thanks for commenting!

John Hayes said...

The piece on anterograde amnesia is very compelling, tho I agree with Dick & Juliet that it is indeed an existential nightmare. I read up on the condition a bit after reading your post & was intrigued to learn that alcoholic blackout is also considered a form of anterograde amnesia, tho in that case a temporary one that only last the duration of the intoxication. It must truly be a heartbreaking condition to interact with.

"Observer" was intriguing, & I take all these signs of spring from folks in more southerly areas as hope that the winter will in fact break!