Train spotting

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have recovered so far, but I still have notable deficits. Sorting out subject/object over agent/patient pronouns still requires careful attention, and I’m not sure I always succeed. Short-term memory is most compromised. If I am completely distracted for less than a second, I forget my previous train of thought. This seems to me an invariable effect, although I’m guessing that if I were able to return to a previous train, I wouldn’t care to notice — I mean that the troublesome effect is only noticeable because it’s troublesome. Why would I notice if I returned from a distraction smoothly? So I may be biasing the effect. I plan to ask friends to experiment with me by changing topics without telling me and then later asking what we were talking about previously. Or I may ask a colleague to create an experiment in a controled environment.

To complicate matters, there may be different kinds of attention to thought. Thoughts may take a variety of transports — there may be, as it were, thought-trains that can be derailed, thought buses on highways which can reroute, thought skateboards and unpathed thought fields in which no matter your transport you don’t get derailed or get lost at all.

Anyway, I can’t help but wonder whether memory plays a part in long-distance grammatical relationships.

I can be tongue-tied under stress in agitated conversation, yet in public speaking, I have noticed no trouble. I gave the best ex tempore speech I ever gave, I think, at a packed house of a movie theater to introduce the re-release of Rogosin’s 1957 On the Bowery. You’d think there’d be a lot of stress in that. But there’s a paradox of public speaking — the words somehow come; the stress seems to help, not hinder. I did a radio snippet live on Leonard Lopate’s show —  stressful (it’s a prestigious program), yet I was fluent. Here’s the live interview — you can hear my speechflow and judge for yourself. Listen carefully and you will hear a perfect example of topic/agent/patient jumble: “The recession lost the financing.” The meaning intent was, ‘The recession lost them their financing,’ or ‘The recession caused a loss of financing’ or ‘Developers lost financing in the recession.’ It’s the topic — the recession — that I’ve failed to negotiate into the grammar of a complex relation among entities: finance, recession, developers, buildings.

On the other hand, I am reluctant to return to public story telling. Even when I give tours about familiar terrain — I give historical walking tours of Chinatown, the Bowery, Alphabet City — I can block on almost any word. I haven’t completely managed to negotiate such losses. I’m at the point at which I no longer am willing to settle for a substitute word. Having come this far in recovery, I want the ‘right’ word already, damn it.

And one more bizarre effect: when I type, I often type a word different, though related, from the one I intend, as if the other half of the brain were typing a slightly different story, or a second command to the hands somehow didn’t get there in time, leaving the previous command to be implemented.

Maybe there just isn’t room enough up there anymore to handle it all.


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