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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tweaking/Brain Burning

Wednesday - 2nd full day of being in the new home office and there is still tweaking going on. Funny to say "tweaking" - when I read this to Madeleine she will think I've adopted a meth habit and be all worried. When she, or one of her friends, says someone was "tweaking" it means, according to the Urban Dictionary "to be under the influence of Methamphetamine 'man I got all tweaked two days ago and I'm still awake'. "  My kind of fifty year old tweaking means the perfect ergonomic placement of my office furniture, computer, monitors, keyboard, etc. And it's important, right? Years ago I had early carpel tunnel syndrome (tenosynovitis). I read a lot about repetitive stress injuries and learned that, for computer power users, it's vital there be an absolutely straight line from the tip of your elbow to the tip of your middle finger. Most people, when they type, cock their hands in some way. Using a natural keyboard, especially if you're large breasted is a way to keep that line straight. And DON'T tilt the keyboard up with the little feet -you need a downward slope to your hands.

A few things I've picked up from recent reading. We talked about the brain's ability, through exercise, to create new cells in the important part of your brain responsible for memory and learning. What I've read recently is that those newly created cells are floating around, unattached - not incorporated into the brain fabric until such time as they're put to use. So terrific to have the new cells - the exercise paid off, but unless you exercise your brain, there won't be any benefit - the unattached cells are not neurally connected and have not been given a purpose. Without the connections they look to your immune system like invaders or garbage cells. The immune cells constantly patrol your body looking to clean up debris - new unattached cells look to that clean up crew like garbage and they're swept away.

So today, with comfort and ergonomics in mind, I worked with Shay on installing an under-the-desk keyboard tray but, because I'm working on a new "L" shaped desk and because I use the over-sized natural keyboard, I couldn't get it so that I could sit looking at the monitors and have my hands perfectly positioned in front of me. I looked at the keyboard, "If only the numeric keys were on the left side, everything would be shifted to the right as I need it."  Then I thought, "Wait I wonder if they make a left handed natural keyboard so that lefties can do their mathematical calculations with their left hand!" (I don't use those keys).  Sure enough they do, so I just ordered the left handed natural keyboard. Problem solved. Sarah=genius!

Office move aside, I'm  feeling very isolated and lonely these days - it's a perfect storm of emptiness. Absolutely no romantic prospects and I've become discouraged about the whole dating process so I'm not reaching out anymore. My friends are busy and out of touch - Liza has whooping cough and viral pneumonia and even when she's healthy the demands of her family have increased. James is busy supporting Liza, running errands for her. My sister has been out of touch - she is going through a tough time that is making her seek solitude. Other friends have taken on big challenges that consume their time, i.e. Carol getting her Master's in Literature. Pam has been out of town. The list goes on and on. I'm not taking any of it personally - it is, what it is, but Sarah has to do something because spending night after night alone after being alone in the home office is going to make me nuts. Confession is that I put "Words With Friends" back on my phone and I've been engaged in more than 15 simultaneous Scrabble games with people I'm starting to get to know - I especially like WyrdNerd, an interesting woman from Atlanta. Hey, you take your companionship anywhere you find it! Desperate times.

Today I decided I need a bunch of new friends who are as available as I am, looking to do stuff. Forget dating for a while - I just need some fun, available friends who are doing interesting stuff and who "get" me. Thinking too often we forget we thrive on novelty. Routine is comfortable and comforting certainly but it's the "new" that gets our brains out of stasis and firing up. Learning new things, meeting new people, reading great books, taking in plays or concerts - anything really to live vividly and not slip into wakeful unconsciousness.

Challenge today is thinking about that - wakeful unconsciousness (just made that up). Whenever we do something over and over again, that action starts to live in the unconscious parts of our brain, laying down hard wiring, becoming part of our rote. Even the feelings we have when we hear the same song sung - a song that thrilled us at first, that fired up our brains, aren't as "fire-y" the second or third or fourth times the song is sung. Or eating - can you remember going to your favorite restaurant for the first time and the wonder and amazement of experiencing new tastes? If the food was good, you gave it your full consciousness, ooh and ahhing over the presentation, the smell and finally concentrating on the subtle flavors, trying to guess at the ingredients. Subsequent visits to that same restaurant may be lovely but it's not the brain-firing experience of the first time when everything was new. Novelty

Today, in trying to solve the keyboard positioning problem, I decided to move the mouse to left of the keyboard. In the past I wouldn't even have considered such a thing - it's going to be a tough week, learning to mouse with my left hand - annoying and frustrating. I realized the added benefit right away given what I've been learning about the brain, it's a PERFECT thing to do, a kill two birds with one stone thing to do - solves my ergonomic problem AND exercises my brain which will be pissed to have to re-learn a task it had already automated. My brain circuitry will have to kick in some extra effort, call up some of those new brain cells I made when I was sweating on the elliptical and incorporate them into the fabric of the hippocampus.

Stuff like this - hard, frustrating, annoying, brain-burning, is EXACTLY what we should be challenging ourselves with - often. Studying piano chords which are a frigging pain in the ass and no fun to learn, untangling jazz rhythms and improving my jazz ear so I can be a respectable jazz singer, stuff that seems impossible to learn and be good at is exactly the challenge my brain (and yours) needs. Rule of thumb - if you're going to be serious about challenging your brain, like I am, the activities we choose should be hard and unfamiliar - unless we feel that WTF feeling where we wonder how in hell we will ever get from A to Z, question our ability to learn whatever it is - unless we feel the uncomfortableness in our head of something hard and foreign, I don't think the connections are being made. If you do Sukoko every day, I'm guessing you're darn good at it by now - your brain is comfortable solving the daily puzzle. That can only mean it's no longer a brain challenge - it's no good for you anymore - no smoke coming out of your ears! Try something new. Maybe tonight you can brush your teeth with your left hand!  Or do what I've learned to do which is write in cursive as quickly backwards (mirror writing) as I write forwards!  Me? I'm going to reignite my Farsi lessons - now that's a cryptic, brain burning thing to do!


Years after I mastered mirror writing I learned that Leonarda Da Vinci was also adept at it. Smiling to think I have something in common with Leonardo!

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