The Sins of Memory
I've been reading a book Mom Turner got out the library called "The Woman Who Can't Forget" written by a woman named Jill Price who has perfect autobiographical recall. While Jill's story about how her memory works is interesting, what has been extremely interesting to me so far is actually her commentary about how and why people forget things. She gives some paraphrasing from a book called "The Seven Sins of Memory" by Dr. Daniel Schacter, detailing seven types of inaccurate memory.
Here's a list of the seven "sins":
1.) "Transience": the normal loss of memory due simply to time. Most people begin to lose memory of events within hours of them happening and days later can often remember nothing of these small events at all.
2.) "Absentmindedness": forgetting where you put the car keys, why you walked into a room, adding baking powder to the recipe twice. Apparently, people who study brains and how they work have a theory that absentmindedness usually appears when the brain is busily at work on another issue and has "cleared the decks", so to speak, for that issue while dropping the processing of less important things. That explains why some really fantastically intelligent people I know can be almost comically absentminded.
3.) "Blocking": something's on the tip of your tongue but you just can't quite say it or you know you just thought of a good birthday present for your brother but now it's just not coming to mind. You know it'll come back to you at 3 AM, but for now it's a total blank.
Those three "sins" are called "sins of omission" in the book, meaning they're pretty much involuntary and happen because the brain is just working a particular way. The next four are called "sins of commission" because you are somewhat in control of making them happen.
4.) "Misattribution": you were positive you spoke to Grandma about going shopping while we were at Mom's birthday celebration last week, but really you talked to her about it while you were taking her to church a few days before; or you thought you already told your sister about accidentally shrinking her sweater in the dryer when really, you'd only told your mother. The innocent explanation for this is that it appears our brains do not store our memories all in one place. To reconstruct an event, we draw memory from different files in our brains and then piece them together to form a cohesive event. This can take up to 10 seconds and is pretty vulnerable to errors. We can call up different bits of memory and string them together in what seems to us a complete story even when it's all mixed up. This is one of many places it really pays to be humble, however: because when someone corrects the error, a humble person can then have the memory pieced back together properly while an arrogant person goes on with their totally wrong series of events and drives everyone around them bonkers.
5.) "Suggestibility": this is the creation of an outright false memory. Your brother is sure Dad didn't say we were supposed to paint today, so you remember the same thing; or you've heard a family story so many times you're positive you were there when you really weren't. Apparently, kids are especially susceptible to this, which is why you'll have children testifying in vivid detail about how their parents abused them when in reality, no such abuse occurred and none of the "facts" they're relating match up to any evidence. Actually, witness recall in general is often so unreliable due to suggestibility that there are studies showing how unhelpful they can be in accurately determining things that happened right in front of them. I seem to recall a comical episode in Adam 12 where the two officers interview witnesses to a crime and the descriptions are so wildly different that in the end they have to ignore all of it.
6.) "Bias": I agree with Jill Price that this is one of the most insidious of all memory problems, because it's actually a problem with being untruthful. There are several types of bias, but in the end they all come down to being truthful: you want to believe things were the same in the past as they are now, so you actually alter your own memories to fit your purposes. In a hindsight bias, for instance, you say, "That Mr. Wickham - I always mistrusted his appearance of goodness!" In change bias, you really think you've changed something in your life that your friends and relations know you haven't really changed at all - "My temper has really improved since I've been taking anger management classes"; it's interesting that with this bias, people will not only exaggerate how much they've changed, but how bad things were in the past. Consistency bias is where you want your thoughts and emotions to remain the same over time, so whatever they are now is (in your mind) what they've always been - you supported the Iraq war initially but now you don't, so you believe that you never did. My family had another name for this that isn't quite as nice as "bias" - we always called it "lying to yourself."
7.) "Persistence": this is where you allow one memory to haunt you in such out-of-proportion ways that it gradually consumes your thoughts and becomes a thing you dwell on. If you do this with some really terrible memories, it can actually cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder - there's a story in the book of a baseball player who made a bad pitch at a crucial moment and dwelt on in so much afterward that he went crazy and shot his wife and himself because he could not let it go. I think this might often arise from a lack of forgiveness, both for ourselves and other people.
As I'm reading this book, it's occurred to me that paying attention to how our memories work could be pretty beneficial for a couple of reasons: because being truthful with what we remember is one way we make decisions in the future; because being careful not to regard our memory as infallible is a good way to be a peacemaker; because memory is such a tricky and delicate thing that we need to not hold onto it so tightly that we totally lose track of what's actual going on right in front of us.
The Seeds have Sprouted!
Yes, it's another post about the garden. This time of year is always when there's a big push to get everything in.
But by 2:30 in the afternoon when I got home and watered the seeds again...we had seedlings! I texted Ben and he sent back a message that said, "Woohoo! Yippee!!"
Our little road trip took us up to Marlette and on the way we noticed a number of small nurseries along the road. Given the much more rural area and all the farms about, we had a suspicion that visiting a farm nursery might yield us better prices and a bigger selection on vegetable seedlings we wanted to buy, so after we picked up the parts we stopped at one just outside Imlay City. They had more varieties of tomatoes in one place than I've ever seen before, along with pretty much every other garden vegetable we could want in a couple of small, inconspicuous greenhouses. The other part of the business is selling golf carts, which is what caught our eye. Something unusual about seeing a hundred golf carts all parked in a big lot together!
After looking at every plant, we chose canning tomatoes, Roma tomatoes (special request from Dad Turner), green peppers, banana peppers (yes, we really are addicted...), and a zucchini plant. We decided on tomatoes and peppers that were specially labeled "high yield" and picked out nice stocky, healthy little plants. We almost lost them on the way home, too: when making a patented Abrupt-Ben-Turn-Into-Wendy's-Parking-Lot, one of our stacks of parts fell over on the tomatoes. Good thing they're young flexible vines and just bent over instead of breaking.
Wendy's, by the way, has begun making a baked sweet potato side dish with cinnamon butter that is quite definitely the best sweet potato I've ever eaten. Wow.
We waited until after dinner to plant so the seedlings would get the benefit of recovering from shock in the cool of the night rather than the full blown heat of the afternoon. Judging by their appearance this morning, it was a good tactic: they look pretty happy in their new homes.
So. Garden in, maintenance begun (I've already had to begin weeding...), next project: the big weed patch smack in the middle of the back yard where there used to be a perennial garden. It is a truly magnificently awful sight at the moment. Maybe Ben will take some pictures.
A Time for Planting...
If anyone was wondering where I've been for the past week, I've been outside. My time on the computer has been limited to keeping up my calorie count log (hey, I gained TEN pounds from being pregnant only three months...if I don't get that under control, I'm going to get really fat next time around!), but all the other spare time has been devoted to breaking the sod out of the garden, shaking off the dirt, bagging it all up, getting rid of the bags...and getting the dirt ready to plant.
I know I've posted a few times about the garden before, but this time I get to report that the garden bed has been prepared and we have herbs, tomatoes, green beans, and cucumbers planted. Hopefully this weekend I'll add some peppers, four more tomato plants, and a zucchini plant. You'll notice it's only one zucchini plant. I think that's pretty much all I can keep up with: as Garrison Keilor notes, if you want decent-sized zucchini, you have to reach for the blossom. If you're any later than that, you end up with a monster thing that resembles a watermelon more than a squash.
As I was out prepping the bed for planting seeds, I realized that this is the biggest vegetable garden I've ever been able to plant. It's the first one big enough to need proper furrows. It's the first one I might be able to grow a whole variety of things I've never had room for before like potatoes and carrots. In the back of my brain, I remember how much work it's going to be to keep this garden up - weed it, make sure the ground stays at the proper moisture level, trouble-shoot whatever bugs or diseases pop up, harvest the vegetables at the right time, preserve whatever we can't eat - but at the moment I'm getting ready to plant the seeds I'm unusually extravagant. Sure, I'll get myself into this: because it's so exciting to see all those vegetable seedlings going into the ground and I'm looking forward to the crop.
It helps that Dad Turner is more excited than I am. He's bringing in plants faster than I can get the spots ready for planting and between him and Ben it's difficult not to get enthusiastic about the summer vegetable crop.
Gotta go. Our beautiful warm sunshine is drying out the dirt and if we want those seeds to sprout, I'd better go water them.
Thankful for the Fleas
One of the most memorable stories in the book "The Hiding Place" by Corrie Ten Boom comes near the end, when she and her sister Betsy were in (I believe) the Ravensbruck concentration camp. I'm telling the story from memory, since I don't have the book, but the gist of it is that she and Betsy managed to smuggle a New Testament in with them and would conduct Bible studies on certain nights with the other women in their bunkhouse. Having the book was forbidden and there was a strict curfew, so they would've been in serious trouble if they'd been caught; but night after night they continued, reading and studying the Bible in spite of the restrictions.
During one evening when they were not having a study, Betsy mentioned to Corrie that she'd been thinking of the passage, "Be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
"We need to give thanks for all of it," she said to Corrie. "It says in all circumstances."
So they began praying, thanking God one by one for the guards and the cold and the imprisonment itself. But then Betsy said, "And thank you Lord for the fleas."
The bunkhouse they were in had a particularly nasty problem with fleas and it was a source of constant irritation to the women sleeping there. Corrie had found them almost intolerable. "Oh Betsy," she said, "surely not the fleas!"
"In all circumstances," Betsy repeated.
So Corrie grudgingly thanked God for the fleas.
Some time later, they discovered the reason why they had been able to continue their Bible studies so long unmolested by the guards: the guards didn't want to go near that specific bunkhouse because the flea infestation was so bad. The fleas had been a blessing all along, even when they seemed like a curse.
Now, I don't have anything so seriously difficult as a life in a concentration camp to thank God for in my life; but I started thinking this afternoon how easy it is to let little things become a complaint and then let the complaint become such a Big Deal that it totally overshadows all the good that's in my life. If I start allowing myself just a little complaint now and then, the next thing I know I'll be one of those people who is never content or satisfied because there's always something wrong and annoying and irritating and worthy of complaining about. And in the end...what if the very thing I'm complaining about is really a specially-designed blessing? All that complaining would totally blind me to it and rob the joy out of everything else.
Then I realized something else: I'm allowing myself little complaints. And they're beginning to stack up.
I think it's something very important for me to do, to thank God every day - honestly and out loud - for the fleas. Little nagging annoyances that I'm letting bother me.
"Thank you, Lord, that we have no dishwasher. Thank you for the opportunity to keep track of Grandma's medicine. Thank you for all the thistles growing in the hedge. Thank you for the bathtub that needs washing. Thank you that Ben is gone without me today. Thank you that Grandma wants her bed made."
Of course, the thing I noticed right away is that once I started listing stuff that was bugging me, I started seeing all the good part or counterpart to each annoyance - or at least noticing that whatever it was tended to be a pretty silly thing to be annoyed about.
Being content is a surprisingly fragile thing. You can be a very contented person and let that contentment slip away for no real reason whatsoever when you start allowing yourself to feel annoyed at little things. A discontented person is no fun to live with - they're not even fun for themselves to live with because they're too busy being miserable to enjoy anything. In the words of the STP commercial on the radio, "Don't be that guy!" Or girl.
I'm also very thankful I do not have to be thankful for fleas.
In my family, it's not all that unusual for a person to simply decide to become an expert in something and suddenly begin researching it. "I'd like to make our own cider press," someone might announce; or, "You know, I've been watching these stop-motion videos and I'm going to make a Lego stop motion movie." On the surface of it, the things we decide to do may occasionally seem random, perhaps not entirely productive, and sometimes downright nuts. I remember one sibling checking out every book the library had on becoming a paramedic and taking all the self tests until they could begin passing them, simply out of curiosity. Not because they really wanted to become a paramedic, but because they were just interested. I know other families who do this on a much grander scale than we do. "I want to put the slate roof on Oma's house," one teenager told his father; and proceeded to do so. "I think we should get a back-hoe," another said; that family is now expert at building even tricky foundations.
So yesterday when Ben turned around from his computer while I was making dinner and said, "I want to make dandelion wine," I did not bat an eyelash.
"Okay," I said.
Grandma said, "Oh sure. How are you going to do that?"
"Well, here's a recipe," Ben said. "You start by picking two quarts of flowers and soaking them for two days."
I reached into the cupboard and brought out our large glass measuring pitcher. "Here's two quarts," I said. "Looks like we have plenty of flowers behind the garage."
And off Ben went to gather two quarts of dandelion flowers.
"You don't think he's really going to try to make wine, do you?" Grandma said to me.
"Sure," I said. "He's got a recipe. We've got all the ingredients. Why not?"
"Because that's just..." She waved a hand and started laughing. "Nuts."
Okay, yes, it is. A little bit. But Ben's had a curiosity about dandelion wine for a long time and if he decides to make it...well, who knows? Besides settling his curiosity, he might also discover something new and interesting to be used in future endeavors.
Some people have wondered before if I'm just not a very curious person when I'm content to let things happen without my involvement. That's gotten me wondering if I'm not really a very curious person; but I've come to the conclusion that my brand of curiosity involves pursuing things that you find fascinating without bothering about that fact that normal people do not go pick all the dandelion flowers in their yard to make wine out of them. Ben is even more curious than I am. If something catches his attention, he does not let go of it until he has satisfied his curiosity about it; and he is curious about many, many things I take for granted. That's why he wasn't content to keep on not knowing if he believed in God or not but set out to determine..."Does God exist and should I believe in him?" You would not believe the library he acquired in the meantime.
We'll have to see how the dandelion wine goes. It'll be done next May sometime. And yes, I promised Ben that if he makes it, I will taste it with him.
Turning Over the Garden
There used to be a vegetable garden in our yard.
The neighbors remember it: according to them, Mr. Bundy used to grow "the very best tomatoes".
I had my first clue it was something special when I was planting our peach tree. Usually when I put a shovel into the ground at a new house, I find thick sticky blue clay under an inch or two of topsoil. But when I jumped on the shovel over in that corner, it sank all the way in and brought back the kind of rich crumbly black loam gardeners work all their careers to foster in their planting beds.
"Ben," I said, "someone had a very good garden here." We found out about the special tomatoes afterward, but I wasn't surprised to hear what the neighbors said. There's at least a solid foot of good soil before it's starts getting a little more clay-ey, but even the clay is pretty mixed with good soil for another six or seven inches. That's a lot of good dirt, plenty for growing even deep-rooted vegetables like carrots or potatoes.
It was hard to see the garden, though, because ground vine has taken advantage of the beautiful soil and completely covered it before the grass could even get a foothold. You can see the depression if you know to look for it, but at first glance it looked like the most disreputable part of the yard, not one that might just be the most valuable. We had dandelions the size of small bushes and the honey bees were having a field day on various other wildflowers growing in what we realized was about a 12' x 8' garden plot. (As a side note, I am also happy to report we must have a thriving honeybee hive somewhere in the very near vicinity.) It didn't look like a beautiful vegetable patch: it looked like a weed trap. And it is. Because fertile soil grows everything, not just vegetables.
Meanwhile, Dad Turner has been working for years to get tomatoes to grow in a small garden patch on the back of the family room. There are a lot of big trees back there and nothing was getting much sunlight, which has sort of put a damper on his efforts. He's been serious about the endeavor in spite of the difficulties, even keeping a large compost bin we donate all our vegetable peelings to, but it does get a little discouraging to have plants only produce half what they're supposed to because of something you can't help. I hadn't intended to grow any vegetables this year because I figured I'd be spending the bulk of my outside time on getting the current landscaping under control (we have a hedge that's as much thistle as hedge and there was a thriving tree nursery in what was supposed to be the front and side landscaping beds). But after that intoxicating shovelful of soil, I couldn't quite imagine not giving at least a tomato plant or two a try. I've never had such an opportunity handed to me before: getting anything fruitful to grow in the soil of our other houses took a serious amount of time, effort, and alteration. On the spur of the moment, I suggested to Dad that maybe we could put all the vegetables he was planning on growing into our garden patch this year, since there's certainly plenty of sun. He said, "Really??!!"
But then, of course, there was the matter of making the garden a garden again. It has plenty of sunlight and good soil, sure...but boy oh boy...the weed problem was no small barrier!
So this week I had to finally face up to what I'd really proposed to do and get rid of all the interlopers taking up our tomato space. I've spent several hours on it over the past few days and am happy to report that I'm slowly reclaiming it, though I now have a pile of weeds the size of a small mountain that will need to be disposed of somehow. I discovered a patch of onions that must've been a volunteer crop, a half ton of ground vine (seriously, it's going to fill at least two garbage cans and they might be too heavy for me to lift), old plant stakes, coaxial cable ends, newspaper, the aforementioned giant dandelions, thistles, grass, three-inch-long millipedes, and approximately four thousand June beetle grubs.
Yup, it's fertile soil all right. Now we'll just have to see if we can get a useful crop out of it.
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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