Few minds wear out; more rust out.
— Christian Nestell Bovee
As I have become older, there are many occasions I feel my mind is becoming rather rusty. I know everything is still there, but accessing what I need is an ever compounding issue.
A quick Google search (Wikipedia admittedly because it had the most rust-brain friendly definitions) tells me that:
a) Rust forms on iron (or metals containing iron) when it is repeatedly exposed to oxygen and water.
b) Plants get rust too! (I am not a gardener, so did not know this until just now.) These are specialised parasites, appearing as a coloured powder, and usually affecting healthy and vigorously growing plants.
In my five minutes of searching, in neither case could I find anything suggesting rust was solely caused by lack of use. This is a good thing, but distressing at the same time because it suggests we can use our minds and keep them well-oiled, but still run the risk of them getting rusty.
In addition it is simultaneously a bonus and a slap-in-the-face to know that rust seems to affect the healthiest plants (and probably the strongest iron as well, but I’m just saying that). Yay — my mind was strong and healthy … which is why it is rusty.
The worst thing to come out of this knowledge is that rust, whether it be iron oxide or the plant form, is near on impossible to treat. Excessive rust on metals causes corrosion, which means everything gets flaky (in both senses of the word) and starts to fall apart — think Mater in Cars (I love that tow-truck even though he spits when he talks). In plants, rust causes stunted growth and discolouration; treatments can slow germination but not eradicate the infection.
On the plus side, even though the process may be difficult, rust-affected items (plants, iron, brains) are still usable (sort of); an item which is worn out, on the other hand, has no practical use.
It is interesting to note the number of ways we refer to our minds, our brains, to provide excuses for what we are doing or not doing:
♦ Adolescent/teenage brain — an explanation for a brain that cannot remember something it was told two seconds ago, necessitating being told multiple times which in turns fires up the ‘don’t nag me’ response.
♦ Baby brain — a really good excuse for forgetfulness; mainly suffered by pregnant women but also increasingly extended many years after the ‘baby’ has grown up. It may also affect the husbands (or so they would like us to believe).
♦ Teacher brain — I am happy to verify this is 100% legitimate. It is a state of temporary absent-mindedness caused by the fact teachers have to carry so much information in their minds (administration tasks, student names, parent names, past student and parent names, subject information, how to use I.T., excursion dates, academic results, student needs … the list in infinite) some of it inevitably falls out or may be caught up in the spiderweb of information and be, for a time, irretrievable. The positive is, being teachers, we are adept in trouble-shooting so are almost always able to access needed information … eventually.
The fear of forgetting stuff is a particularly nasty, and real, phobia. It even has a name — athazagoraphobia. We laugh about it and apply other silly names related to the various stage of life we may be in, but the fear itself is real.
My mother was told, by her GP I think, to keep her mind supple and active by doing crosswords. Apparently this was going to prevent her from getting dementia. I am not so sure about that. She is an absolute gun at crosswords, but still can’t remember what I told her a few days ago (I often get in trouble for not telling her something). I feel it may be a case of being able to remember what is relevant and immediate to you. If you do crosswords on a daily basis, you will remember the clues and the answers more so than the inane contents of a weekly conversation with your daughter about nothing much. Maybe I should speak in crossword clues.
Back to my own mind, I am hoping my writing will keep my mind supple and rust free.
I have written before that my personal jury is out on whether it would be better to have a worn-out mind with an active body, or an active body with a worn-out mind. Both are pretty bad options, but if the former happens to me with any luck I will go the way of my grandmother (on Dad’s side). She had dementia and couldn’t remember a great deal of her past, or her present — but what it did do was free her up to say things I imagine she had always wanted to say, but was too bound by social conventions to do so. Verbally, she was formidable if you pissed her off and it was so good to finally see her standing up for herself after years of ‘playing by the rules’.
I think I don’t so much care if I become forgetful; just let me retain the power of the word.