I’m Back, Again

I haven’t written one of these in a while. I haven’t wanted to. This is both good and bad. Looking at the schedule, I see the last one went out on April 18, making it almost two months. 

Hold Fast

Everything creative in my life has stalled the last two months. This is not unusual for me in times of change. As I readjust my life to external factors, I find it takes a little time for my internals to catch up. During times of high stress, my brain closes doors, battens hatches, locks windows, ties down the furniture, and other things that prepare it for lots of shaking around and instability. Things that aren’t required for survival are set aside. 

But Wait, What’s the Change?

The change in my life has been mostly change to my body, at least microbiologically, in that I was fully vaccinated from COVID-19 about a month ago, when the second dose of my Moderna vaccine has replicated enough S proteins to give me sufficient protection from our generation’s hundred year plague. 

That change in me is happening all over the country. Some people are avoiding it, but that’s between them and their anxiety, and I am not one to challenge anybody’s reluctance. If you’re looking for hectoring or defending, you’ve come to the wrong place. I suggest Twitter for that experience. 

Miracles and Wonders

The number of new cases in the area where I live, Allegheny County Pennsylvania, was 19 yesterday. This number has gotten smaller and smaller even as more places have opened up to maskless, breathing, disease vectors (also called “humans”). Just for the sake of contrast, the highest daily number for the county was 1074 in December. A thousand people six months ago were tested for COVID-19 in one small geographical area and that number is now 19. This is merely two years after the disease was discovered. 

We are extremely lucky to live when we do. All evidence points to us having had a working vaccine within months of the discovery of the disease. How amazing! How thrilling! 

Now What?

I had a beer with other humans in an enclosed bar a few nights ago. We had masks, but we didn’t wear them. This reemergence of a social life and the freedom to, say, go to the store without wearing a mask, is as life-changing as the lockdown was. 

It’s okay to take it slow when going back to society. It’s okay to carry a mask or even wear it whenever you feel like you want to. The lives we lost to COVID-19 are contrasted to the thousands of lives we didn’t lose to influenza. While there might be controversy about the effectiveness of masking and social distancing to preventing COVID-19 spread, there’s no question those are effective in keeping the flu from spreading.

More Time Inside 

I spent a lot of time inside. I don’t just mean I spent that time in my apartment, I spent it inside my head, as this newsletter can attest. I don’t think it made my life any better, but I think I know myself a little better than I did before. I spent an hour every two weeks talking to my therapist, which probably helped more. I spent a lot of time thinking about dying, but I think I understand why. If the answer is obvious to you, you’re probably right. 

The Enchanted Loom

I think about brains a lot. This was true long before my own brain tried to kill me, and it continues to today. I started reading a book about human intelligence that has burrowed into my mind so thoroughly that I have to read it a few pages at a time or it gets to be too much to process at once. It’s called A Thousand Brains. It’s also about AI but I haven’t gotten to that part yet. 

We Actually Have Two Brains

You have two brains. One is the old reptile brain and the other is the newer, fancier brain. The latter one is called the neocortex, and it covers our other brain like a catcher’s mitt on top of a baseball. The brain evolved from the inside out, layering advantageous new stuff over everything that came before it. 

Evolution is a lot like that. We mutate, and if the mutation helps us survive and pass our genes on to the next generation, it stacks on top of all the other mutations that preceded it. Even the mutations that aren’t really helpful anymore stick around way longer than they’re needed. Our genes are not just a list of instructions for building a copy of us, they’re a map of what we were, where we lived, and what helped us survive. 

Now I’m Going to Talk About Ghostbusters

We can see a similar thing happen in our minds, in a way. We grow up and learn behaviors and ways of thinking about things that help us survive. I have an overactive anxiety response to certain stimuli and part of my own evolution has seen me carry some of the things that comforted me as a child into adulthood. 

This is Also Called Nostalgia

I will write a lot more about this in my newsletter about this kind of stuff. It’s called Middlebrow and it has a fraction of the readers that this one has, which is funny because a fraction of a small number is still a fraction, but I will keep mentioning it here because it’s just like this newsletter except I use middlebrow culture stuff to talk about stuff. 

I saw the trailer for the new Ghostbusters movie starring Paul Rudd and a bunch of kids. It was interesting to me because Ghostbusters has become entertainment for children while the original movie, which came out in 1984, is most definitely not for children. It’s full of jokes about being a grown up. I would say it’s a science fiction horror comedy about the unnamed pre-midlife crisis many of us experience when we change careers unexpectedly. 

But it’s also a movie about a bunch of guys using lasers to capture ghosts. They have cool technology that looks neat and familiar but it’s not futuristic. Just look at this, a ghost trap:

It looks like something you could make in your garage. I love this aesthetic, though I don’t know what to call it. 

Anyway, if you watch the trailer for the new Ghostbusters movie, it’s clearly made for kids. Grown ups love stuff they loved as kids. It’s tempting to think this is a recent development, because everything feels recent lately, but it isn’t. 

Star Wars was made by George Lucas as a combination of all the stuff he loved as a kid (Flash Gordon, westerns, etc.). As my pal Matt recently showed on his twitter, the famous truck sequence from Indiana Jones is taken from something Spielberg loved as a kid, a western:


I wrote all that stuff above to say this: we all carry stuff, some of it our own, some of it from other people. This stuff affects how we think about things, and it’s not always our fault or even in our control. The best we can hope for is to be better than we were before. 

But it takes effort, and compassion. 

Be compassionate to yourself. Do it for me.

2,344 thoughts on “Cognitive Hygiene

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