… on punctuating our lives
November 03, 2015
Punctuation is important.
Because, seriously, one comma between ‘disabled’ and ‘elderly’ would make it clear that the toilet is only for the disabled and elderly pregnant children.
Also, it’s not just important…
Because punctuation can save lives.
Without this sign, people might hunt the pedestrians off the walking trail.
That’d be nuts.
So I’m just saying, punctuate with caution.
Oh, one more thing.
Punctuation may have everything… okay, maybe just a lot… but possibly everything…
to do with joy.
The other day, I had TED talks – those 18 minute talks on a plethora of subjects, often by very cool humans – playing in the background as I edited some photos. The talks were on brain stuff… my all-time favorite geek subject.
What do TED talks have to do with punctuation?
Read on, mon petite liebchen…
And try not to get hung up that I just combined French with German… sometimes I do that.
So the TV was playing and I was editing pics and suddenly…
I was riveted.
This guy Daniel Kahneman (no big deal, just one of those Nobel Prize winners) started talking about the Experience Self and the Memory Self, and how each contributes – or doesn’t – to how we feel about our lives.
He was explaining that the Experience Self is responsible for what’s happening to us right now, as we are experiencing life. The Memory Self is our story-teller. The Memory Self is responsible for the story we tell ourselves about an experience we had.
I should note here that the Memory Self doesn’t rewrite our memories, that is called de-loo-zhun and that is a whole different animal (and I’ll bet there is a TED talk on that too but I don’t have time to look it up for you).
It turns out the Memory Self has a bunch to do with how happy or content or angry or resentful or insert-how-someone-might-feel-about-their-life-here.
Dr. Kahnerman used an example of someone listening to a CD of a beautiful piece of music, but at the end a big screeeeeeeech comes from the player. The person says, “Oh! That just ruined the whole thing!”
Well guess what I learned?
That person’s Memory Self was kind of a dick, and ruined his happy.
Because the guy actually experienced twenty minutes of great music that made him feel good, but the screech at the end inspired his Memory Self to create the story that the whole thing was unsatisfying.
Then Dr. Kahnerman smiled sheepishly and described an experiment he and some other sadistic scientists did on people getting colonoscopies… Ya, I know. But what he had to say was fascinating!
One patient had a reasonably ‘good’ experience, except for the very end, when there was a moment of sharp pain.
The other had a longer and generally more painful procedure, but there was no ‘spike’ in pain at the end.
But the first reported a far worse overall experience than the second.
Because the second’s Memory Self told him it was horrible all the way through, because the end was horrible.
So then the scientists did this to more people (fine, wHierd).
But here was the ultra amazing thing: The results showed that if a person’s procedure was lengthened, after the super painful incident – even if it added time (and related general discomfort) to the procedure – he would report a more comfortable, if not pain-free, experience than if the test ended right after the super painful bit.
He wouldn’t have forgotten the spike of pain, but his Memory Self would have shifted the emphasis of the whole story.
Not lied, not forgotten, but changed the overall impression of the experience.
And, at that moment, my own brain started synapsing all over the place.
Here is exactly what I thought.
“Oh my Gawd! It’s the period, stupid!”
Because it is!
Where we choose to put the periods – the final periods – the “The Ends” in any one of the thousands or millions or bazillions of each of our stories… big or small, significant or seemingly not …
Where we put those periods has everything, everything to do with our sense of how awesome (or not) our lives feel to us.
And I realized, I owe my Memory Self a standing O.
And maybe a raise.
My Memory Self walks around with her sharpie (probably a purple one), and she’ll be damned if she puts a period and scrawls ‘The End’ on the downside of any given experience.
She can’t change experience, and I would never look to her to whitewash it.
But she waits for me to process it.
To consider it through my lens – what I have known and know – and who I am.
Because she knows me.
She knows my proclivity for smiling, even if I need to do it through tears.
And she knows how I love to laugh.
My Memory Self isn’t going to pre-maturely period a story – especially a tough one – and put me at risk of never visiting it again (where’s the growth in that?)
She also isn’t going to slap a period down just after a hiccup, obliterating all the good that happened before it.
She makes it possible for me to remember how awesome that trip to Disney World in 2001 was, even though Gabe kicked and screamed all the way home on the plane.
For three. Flucking. Hours.
She didn’t drop the period on that one until he turned to me a few minutes after we landed… when I was exhausted and homicidal… and said,
“I feel better now.”
My Memory Self turned that into one of the best and most eye-rolling stories ever.
And yesterday, when Granny came in, looking a bit defeated due to a knitting fiasco and the grief of missing her husband of nearly sixty years?
I was able to share the story my Memory Self has gifted me.
That his death was so hard to be with, to sit with.
His anger, his confusion.
Where he was, and how he was.
That we all miss him.
But (my Memory Self is quite fond of conjunctions)…
We were so lucky that it was so quick, but not too quick. We had some beautiful moments with him during those weeks, as hard as they were.
Remember the puzzles?
Remember the nurses laughing with us at how grumpy he was when he lost his slippers?
And soon we were laughing and sharing our stories.
It’s a beautiful thing.
Thanks for readin’
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