Books

TTC and Novelling with NaNoWriMo

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There are times when life provides the perfect story for the NaNoWriMo writer. My last few years riding the decreasingly accessible TTC and complaining to politely deaf ears exploded into an idea: why not write my tenth NaNoWriMo novel set in the world of TTC management, specifically a department called, “Customer Convenience Team Vision”? Suddenly, Louise, my protagonist popped into my head. After she said hello, so did Andy the CCTV department head and then Barney Barg, the TTC CEO who nicknames her Lou.

Feeling excited, I decided to throw caution to the wind and upload my chapters to Wattpad, a Toronto-based website where one can read all sorts of stories for free on any kind of device anywhere in the world. I’ve always admired how Charles Dickens serialized his novels in magazines, kind of like flying blind. But I hadn’t had the courage. Until now. This NaNoWriMo, I’m having fun. I’m tackling both humour — I want Louise and The Men of Transit to be funny — and publishing my chapters as I write them. Well, I am polishing them a little first. Still, it’s way sooner in the process than I usually do.

So without further ado, here’s chapter one — New Job — of Louise and The Men of Transit.

Philosophy

Mind Notes: The Blind Spot

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Photo of eyeWhen you have a lot of trouble reading books, that is, seeing the big picture, absorbing details, able to build up the narrative in your memory, learn and retain the learning, etc., etc., studying philosophy of mind gets a little discouraging. Unbelievably exhausting too. Enter videos. When you can’t read, watch!

Video courses may have been set up for normal, busy people who want to learn in their spare time, but they’re a boon for people with disabilities who would like to go to class but cannot due to various limitations. Financial is a big one, too, because the unemployment rate and medical expenses for people with disabilities, especially brain injury, are rather high. Not much left to pay for courses or ways to compensate for one’s limitations.

One of the perks of winning NaNoWriMo was a discount on Great Courses Plus. When I found out they had a series on Philosophy of Mind, I signed up! I began watching the series right away. Brain injury makes everything slow going. I just finished watching lecture 7 of 24 of Mind-Body Philosophy. It’s the second time I’ve watched it. I couldn’t recall this morning the last lecture I’d viewed before Christmas, this one didn’t seem familiar, loaded it, went, oh yeah, I have seen this, but kept watching because I hadn’t understood what the eye had to do with consciousness. This go round I got it . . . I think.

If consciousness is like a picture, then I guess the point of this lecture is that what the eye sees should be the same as what our conscious mind is aware of. It isn’t. Prof. Grim (no, no typo) showed two card tricks you can do with your vision. One is without seeing what it is first, you hold up a playing card way out to the side while looking straight ahead. Now see if you can tell what colour it is. You won’t be able to tell if it’s black or red until you move your arm closer to the front of your visual field. For whatever reason, with both eyes, I can tell much earlier than he could. The right side was more of a blank white with one playing card until I held the card at a particular angle. Perhaps I have more cones in the periphery than normal . . . ???

But it was the other card trick that made me realize something. On a white card draw an ‘x’ and a black dot, about 2 cm apart. Cover the right eye, hold the card up straight ahead with the ‘x’ on the right side of the card, and bring the card slowly toward you keeping your left eye focused on the ‘x.’ At one point the dot will disappear; as you keep bringing it closer the dot will reappear. If you draw lines around and over the dot, the dot will still disappear but the hatching will not.

The current view of philosophy of mind philosophers is that the brain is the mind. If that is so, then why does the dot disappear? It disappears because of the physiology of the eyeball. But the brain can “see” the hatching that is over the dot. In other words, the brain is very, very good at filling in our blind spot. I have personally experienced how good the brain is at approximating depth perception (which I realized only last year when I acquired true depth perception and what the difference is). But if consciousness is the brain, then when I am conscious that there is a dot on the card, my brain should still be able to see the dot. If brain is consciousness and consciousness knows the dot is there and the brain is really good at “filling in” missing info, then the dot should not disappear.

When I took Philosophy of Mind Oxford short course online, I became convinced of the dualist argument. The mind is not the body. The brain is not the mind. This dot test, is one confirmation of that.

Book Reviews

Fish — A Graphic Novel Review

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Fish! With legs!!

FishFish by Peter Kielland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was given Fish as the next step up in my using graphic novels as part of my reading rehab. A traumatic brain injury — a concussion type — had stolen my ability to read books. I remained literate, just couldn’t read. It’s a too-common problem unaddressed by health care professionals who think the band-aid solution is just fine. It’s not. In discussions with a psychology professor, we thought graphic novels may help my ability to see, conceptualize, and follow a plot. Take the text out and maybe my brain can process ideas. The first one worked well, so on to this one!

Uh, well . . .

Fish was bizarre!

I began each weekly reading session, recalling out loud what I’d read so far. I read four, five, or six pages, recalling each page out loud at the end of it. I tried to motivate myself to handwrite a summary at some point during the week. And I struggled to understand what the heck was happening; then as I began to understand the what, I continued to flail at understanding why and what it all meant. It revealed to me (because health care people taking care of my brain aren’t working with me on this, so it’s just me myself and I figuring this whole thing out) that I have trouble building up the picture of a story not because it’s presented in text but because my brain can’t do it, period. This also means I can’t understand concepts that have depth to them. And Fish ain’t a superficial, silly story about a fish with legs that ends up in a city! Each scene means something. The sequence of the scenes is probably important. Being able to not only recall but also to tie the scenes and dream sequences together, to be able to remember a scene from early on and tie it to something much further on in the book, is necessary to “see” the big picture and understand a concept being built up.

But as I worked at reading four pages at a time, then eventually six pages — always reading to the edge of my fatigue — little bits of what the author meant by the dream sequence of Calvary and other scenes began to populate the big blank in my mind, like filling in a jigsaw puzzle. Mid-October, it was still difficult for me to see the point of the story, the story arc, and the plot. But after a break during most of November while I wrote a novel, I returned to it in November’s last weekend and surprised myself by how much I recalled and how I suddenly understood concepts I hadn’t before. Boggled!

Being able to understand the theme somewhat abruptly changed the book in my mind from being a chore I had to slog through to being slightly curious to see what would happen to Fish next.

The following weekend, as I reread the previous four pages I’d read then read the last five pages of the book, much more of that jigsaw puzzle filled in. I still don’t have a solid feeling of the book. It’s like seeing the author’s ideas through blackened glass with pieces cleared here and there, but it’s enough for me to feel pretty good about my reading progress and to sense the author was making some rather pointed comments.

As for the book . . . it’s strange and disturbing. I’m not a fan of that kind of drawing style. I admit that I could have benefitted from discussing it with someone, in the way that using a new word in conversation three times helps one understand and remember the word. Those kinds of discussions as I progressed through the book may have made me appreciate Fish’s story more. But, again, to be honest, the drawing style kind of repelled me. Only as I’ve digested the book, gotten away from seeing the pictures so that the character of Fish emerges stronger, do I feel sorry for Fish while admiring how he reveals the people around him.

View all my reviews

Book Reviews

Brain Storm — A Review

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Brain Storm. Poetical. Physical. Brain injury brought into movement. So vivid that from the first scene, it triggers before capturing you into the story of a young woman, Kate, who suffered a stroke, underwent a life-saving operation, and is left with a brain injury.

A simple set on the stark black stage greets us: chairs, tables, four old-fashioned hospital screens on wheels. Four actresses play Kate and her friend, Kate’s grannie, spirits, actors, the usual hospital suspects, and most intriguingly, the painfully slow movements of the health care system. The set and the actresses interplay in continual moves that confine, open, block, obstruct, remember, arrest, emote, accept.

I hadn’t remembered what the story was about; I figured it would be a straight telling of a person with brain injury. It was, and it wasn’t. Poetical movements and rising and falling sound evoked lying confined and alone in the horrifying beat of the MRI. Elegant dances of arms and fingers, of balletic pushing down on Kate’s arm evoked the vision tests, hearing tests, strength tests we in the audience with brain injury had undergone too many times in cold doctors’ offices. They triggered several of us from BIST who were attending a special relaxed performance. It was relaxed in that people could leave for the bathroom and return if they needed to and the sound and light cues were dialled down. In other words, they made the 56-minute play enjoyable for an audience of people with short attention spans, sensory overload, and bad memories. A rare gift.

The café scene was particularly memorable for the audience. When Kate’s friend began to speak gibberish, I almost gasped. I hadn’t known this happened to other people with brain injury too. One moment your friend is speaking English, the next their words are gibberish, and you don’t know how long that will last. You only hope it’ll end soon! Mere words don’t convey that experience; the play brought it into the spotlight. As Kate struggles to comprehend her friend, we the audience experience her internal dizziness, her sensory overload, her brain’s inability to process language, and her horror at what is happening in what is supposed to be a relaxed get-together over tea with her friend.

My only quibble was the first transition from what was happening to Kate in the now to Kate returning in memory to a time with her grandmother. It was awhile before I understood what her grandmother was doing and that the scene was a memory. I also found the transition from “reality” to the play within the play hard to follow. But I absolutely loved the spiritual questions about mind and brain and the lines about art being surgery. I’m going to be chewing on that idea for a bit.

Before my brain injury, I attended Stratford, operas in Toronto and New York, musicals, small theatrical productions, mega productions, and even a 17th century play. With its superb acting, its innovative use of movement to simulate health care, its creative sound effects, and its excellent writing and talented direction, Brain Storm belongs in that echelon of the best plays I’ve seen in my lifetime. Lucid Ludic — the cast of Hayley Carr, Maïza Dubhé, Alexandra Montagnese, and Shayna Virginillo as Kate under the direction of Taliesin McEnaney — deserved the sustained applause at the end of the play. Thank you to BIST (Brain Injury Society of Toronto) and PIA Law for sponsoring members’ afternoon out to see Brain Storm. My mother and I are so glad we went!

The last performance for Fringe Toronto 2017 is at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, near Queen and Bathurst, on Saturday, July 15 at 7:00 pm. Go see it.


Book Reviews

Concussion: The Movie Starring Will Smith

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As I mentioned last week, I went to see a movie: Concussion.

I couldn’t remember what it was about nor did I bother looking it up. So I had no idea what to expect when it began.

I liked it. The camera angles, the use of music, the juxtaposition of beauty hiding violence, the suspense in a microscope all made for a movie that should have gotten an Oscar nod. Will Smith did a passable Nigerian accent, but he inhabited so well this doctor, showed his character and confusion and drive and dreams.

But Concussion only just began to tell the story of concussions. It didn’t go backwards to show the story of concussion itself, only the final damage to our brains.

I came away wound up and angry and very, very sad.

Sad

Watching the football players, alone, afraid, not knowing themselves, not understanding what was going on, yet blamed, abandoned, attacked, sedated for acting like people with a brain injury and for seeking help and compassion. I know what that’s like. What separates me from them is the world doesn’t know me, I have the background to understand, and I have the background to challenge medical authority. I am capable of being my own advocate. They were not. Most are not. It’s not their fault – no one should need a fucking neuroscience degree to recover from a brain injury.

No one should be left alone after receiving concussions, after having their brain damaged.

It’s a disgrace that their only advocate was a pathologist.

Wound Up

A man who speaks for the dead was the only one advocating for these football players and, by extension, us. Kind of metaphorical because a brain injury does kill off who you were.

I hate it. As one person muttered, all our lives have been ruined. And we get blamed for it – and for not joining the blamers in denying it.

As I said, the movie wound me up.

Anger

What angered me is the labelling of their neuronal damage as a disease. It’s not a fucking disease.

Disease: “a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury

It is repetitive untreated brain injury.

Why is this so difficult for the medical profession to understand? Did they nap during anatomy and physiology courses and miss the pretty pictures of the inside of our skulls? Did they never think: a soft organ like the brain slamming into the sharp edges of the skull’s bony interior is going to lead to some pretty awful ripping and tearing? I did. I saw that and thought: what the fuck, God? That’s one terrible design flaw!

Who knew God would get me for that! Ahem.

Another thing: the medical doctors and surgeons all know that if you don’t cast or pin a bone, if you don’t repair damaged organs, the body will heal itself but the leg will be misshapen, the organ never quite right, and over time these warps will lead to pain and deteriorating function.

So what makes the brain so special that it will somehow avoid these problems, all on its own?

This when only recently the medical profession woke up to the fact that the brain can regenerate itself, albeit at frozen molasses speed. Yet they never thought: if it can’t heal itself, we should heal it?

I object to the term “chronic traumatic encephalopathy”. It is not a disease. It is repetitive, untreated, unhealed brain injury.

The former term lets the medical profession off the hook for not treating us. The latter term puts the onus firmly on where it belongs: doctors who will not actively treat a person with concussion in order to stimulate healing and a return to society.

The former term makes it sound like a mystery that needs investigating, so let’s put dollars toward studying what happens when you don’t treat a concussion. The latter term makes it plain what it is and would enforce putting research dollars into how to treat the injury and education dollars towards disseminating knowledge about the good diagnostic and treatment tools that already exist. But physicians need to use them, and OHIP and hospitals need to pay for them instead of requiring me to fight to get treatment every single effing month and to pay for it out of my own pocket.

Concussion: go see it.

The first part of the story it tells, the part it doesn’t talk about much, is why I’m updating my book Concussion Is Brain Injury. It’s why I’m putting my ego on the line and crowdfunding my book update through PubLaunch in concert with Iguana Books – I no longer have the funds to edit and market it (publishers rarely market books for authors now), but I’m angry enough about my situation, about the situation so many are in, quietly suffering and struggling through on their own that I feel somehow I need to update my book with the pieces I’ve kept hidden up till now. And to update it with new hope for recovery.

Brain Power

What’s Flying Across “the Pond” like?

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What’s flying across “the pond” like against the prevailing winds? Well, sit back in your narrowest chair, stretch your feet out till your knees are half bent, and let me tell you. Or watch!

To begin, I used an e-Boarding Pass on my iPhone; and took one small suitcase whose zip is Herculean in strength, a camera bag, and a large purse. Plus food for the wait.

Checking in was a breeze. Air Canada emailed me 24 hours before my flight that I could check in. While still in bed, I clicked the link and checked in. My boarding pass automatically appeared in my iPhone’s Passbook. Wow. For a person with a brain injury, being able to check in at your own pace in the quiet comfort of your own home or hotel room = awesome.

Checking in at the airport was quick. Both at Pearson and Heathrow, I didn’t have to wait for a self-serve kiosk, even though I flew out of Toronto on the busiest day of the year. My parents helped me become familiar with this new system at Pearson, so no probs at Heathrow plus Heathrow’s kiosk had a better smartphone QR code reader. In Pearson, I had to manually enter my booking reference number because the kiosk couldn’t read my iPhone. Both kiosks read my passport quickly, but the one at Heathrow had a better animation to show you how to place it. I must’ve stood at the Pearson kiosk for five minutes trying to comprehend its hyperspeed animation. The baggage ticket printed out quickly. But in case of difficulty, agents are all over the place, offering to help. And the lineup for checking in your tagged baggage is short and zips along.

Security made me nervous. But Air Canada, the government of Canada, and Heathrow have websites with loads of info on how to prepare. I went over them all ad nauseum, so when I got there … well, I’ve never gotten breezed through so quickly before and with no beeping either! It took twenty minutes from entering Heathrow Terminal 2 on the bus to starting for the B41 gate. Not bad. It took almost as long walking to my gate where they boarded us swiftly. Nothing like my flight to England!

  

The insanely early wake-up time is worth the faster boarding and less cattle-car-like morning flight. Until the idiot across the aisle is so inept, he can’t push his bag into the overhead bin properly, and it bounces off the right side of my head and shoulder like a fat bolster. I turn around confused, while someone mutters, that could’ve been my head. The inept guy takes my bin spot. I tell him to shove his bag over.

We sit and belt in.

Pushback delay. Not again!

  

Oh wait, it’s only 11 minutes. We’re moving – yay!!

Oh wait, as in literally. There’s a queue of planes. Typical, eh? All those Brits hogging the lane to the runway. And now there’s an SAS trying to sneak in. Always one of those: even airplanes do it.

  

We creep forward under the unusually London sunny skies, our sleek old Boeing 767–300 plane headed to Toronto rain. Ugh. Worse, the person behind me has their music up loud (later, she sticks her knees in my back). It’s like sitting on the subway. The London Underground, not so much. Only once was I bothered by headset leak in London.

Oh wait, we’re moving, squeezing ahead of a Virgin plane. We go to the far end of the runway. A little smoggy out there, or as Londoners like to say: we have haze.

  

And now the engines roar. It’s 9:31, only 31 minutes after the official boarding time. I haz a window seat this flight. Taking off is freaking awesome!

I am so excited, I forget to chew my gum.

Window seats are the best … well, until you need to go to the loo (or the toi-let as Brits say) and the person beside you is snoozing.

The 767 being older is noisier than the 777. At least, if you need to be deafened, it drowns out the headphone leakage and muffles the kid making airplane flying noises.

Although the seats are as thin as the 777’s – you can feel the person reaching into the seat pocket behind you – and the aisles are just as narrow and the toilets as tiny, it feels more what I’m used to somehow. Really, how do fat people fly? The seat is the least of the problems. The aisles and toilets are practically unnavigable. You stagger down the aisle going sorry, sorry because the narrower the space, the harder it is to balance.

9:49am. Turbulence time. We were told it would be bumpy over Ireland or the Irish Sea, but we’re still over England. Even the flight attendants have to sit and buckle up. Fifteen minutes he said. But at 9:53, the seatbelt sign goes off. And that’s when smooth becomes a tad shaky, just normal air bumps but for the fearful, a little worrying I would imagine.

(When I got off my flight to London, a guy behind me was exclaiming over how turbulent the ride was. Turbulent? I thought. Yeah, twas bumpy but not bad. All in the perspective!)

Once the turbulence ends, breakfast arrives pronto – for me. Special meals come first. Then everyone else. That means I’m eating while my seatmates wait. A bit awkward when sitting in the back as the back seat passengers are served last. Not so bad on the way to London when I was sitting up front and the carts began there.

  

So, I don’t know, but piping and spicy hot chickpeas and soggy samosas aren’t my idea of an ovo-lacto vegetarian breakfast. Fruit and yoghurt aren’t bad. I’m surprised how sweet the grapes are.

In mid-eating, I glance out and spot a contrail off our starboard wing. It’s from a much faster plane. Then another appears. Then we’re veering toward them and crossing almost through them. Then I spot two more not far off, as the plane flies.

  

The most contrails I’ve ever seen before – and I’ve been a window seat fan for decades – was one years ago when one plane below us banked south as we both left Ireland behind us. Man, those air traffic controllers have a lot of traffic to handle these days. A bit scary when yet another plane appears and you know there’s not much room for error as it disappears below you. Kind of close. Maybe that’s why we rose up as we headed over the Atlantic.

Scrambled eggs with chicken sausage or apple pancakes are for the regulars. My seatmate is given her breakfast, oh, about a half hour after I swallow the last of mine.

When someone is about to hurl, there’s always a way to squish the stomach and get past the food cart. Airplane designers don’t take into account such a necessity!

Time to settle down into the bulk of the flight. We’ve been flying only 2.5 hours; another 5.5 to go. I put my display into Autocycle maps, and the day/night map announced it’s currently 9:58 AM. No, it’s not, I think, my iPhone says 11:58. Oh, we’ve crossed Iceland, crossed two time zones, or in other words, the equivalent of two provinces.

  

The ocean is blue and quiet. I remember one year, I was a teen, looking through the 747 window and seeing a gray ocean with waves so large, their crests were easily visible from our great height.

  

People congest the aisle queuing for the loo after mealtime while attendants clear up and offer duty free. My back is killing me; the only thing to do is lean back, slide my butt down, stretch my legs out under the seat in front of me, and rotate my ankles sans hitting the underside of the seat. The poor guy is trying to nap. Good luck with that. His blind is down, but a few of us – like me – have ours up, letting in the less-filtered sunlight of 40k feet up. Five hours to go.

There’s ice in them there ocean. Lots of it. Too higgledy piggledy to be waves … right??? Well, maybe both waves and ice.

This is when I’m not too fussed about being stuck on a plane, like when I flew over to England. I’d rather be staring out at the graduated blue of the sky, the matching blue ocean, and puffy, swirling clouds dividing the two than back home, getting back into my routine.

  

Halfway through, and the toilet is a cesspit. Sigh. There’s something to be said for sitting up front with the economy biz people. They’re not such pigs.

The porthole in the door at the back of the 767 is really, really small and round. The 777 doesn’t have as big a window as I remember the 747 having, but it’s massive compared to this. Still, it’s quiet back here. It’s time for the four-hour-get-the-hell-out-of-my-seat stretch. Unlike in the 777, no one else knows about this place, so I’m alone (apart from the occasional toilet user).

We haven’t reached Canada’s coast yet. Snack time though. Pretzels. Artificial yuck. But I’m hungry.

2:28pm (guess I should switch to Toronto time). I see ice! Canada!!

  

I ogle the geography of our glorious country for most of the rest of the flight for as long as the clouds will let me, which happily is a lot.

Snack time. Again. I get a tomato mint cumin wrap in a box. I’m glad I kept the napkin from my pretzels because none comes with my wrap. The regulars get the same wrap a little while later since they run out of the chicken version quickly. This time the regulars’ wait time is very short. The wrap has that over-nuked mouth feel. Oh well. We’re almost home.

Home. Sigh. We’re flying over Québec, almost near Trois-Rivières or as my French Canadian ex-inlaws used to say: Three Rivers.

There are British tourists all around me on this Air Canada Tango flight. They’re heading to Florida. I hadn’t known Toronto was a change destination for British travellers to the U.S.

I refuse a drink. The flight attendant asks: you’re timing for the toilets. Yup. It isn’t that bad, he hedges. Worst I’ve seen! I half-joke. He laughs wryly and moves on.

The plane bumps on air and shakes back and forth.

It’s 4:27pm GMT, and I think we’re lower. I really should change my time. Later.

4:36pm GMT: a flurry of activity as the flight attendants bring around the landing cards. Canada’s are big compared to the UK’s. Yet somehow you’re not supposed to fold them while carrying all your stuff and staggering off a long flight. The British have more common sense in the design of their cards. Seems appropo this is timed for when we are close to flying over and north of Ottawa.

(Later, I learn they have kiosks that demand you tear off the side part and discard it – really, I could have done that on the plane when not laden down – read the cards, ask questions, then spit out a copy you show bored customs agents about, I don’t know, three times with the third taking it from you.)

Pilot comes on to say we’ll be descending in 20, landing at 1:25 local time, only 10 minutes late, and then he gives us the bad news of light East winds, overcast, rain, and 2C. Well, for now, I can still enjoy the sun. But OK, really is time to change my iPhone’s time zone.

It’s 1:01pm Toronto time, time to gather up all the various bits of me and put them back in my purse. I’ve fully charged my iPhone through the handy seat plug. Nice to have one of my own, unlike on my last flight.

We’re in a bank of clouds, dropping to the ground. Looking at the wing, it’s like we’re standing still.

Flaps up, only ten minutes from landing. Person in front of me hasn’t put up his seat. Two flight attendants have gone up the other aisle checking recalcitrants. None on my side. Sheesh. Finally one arrives and helps the young man pull forward his seat back.

The light is dimming as we descend through the clouds. Boy, the popping in the ears is bad. Not forgetting my gum this time!

We’re on the ground. Cloudy cloudy cloudy. But unlike London, I feel like I can still see, like I don’t have my sunglasses on. Toronto light levels are much higher than England’s. My iPhone connects to Rogers but no can do in the texting department. I guess Lebara doesn’t let you use your UK nano-SIM card outside of the UK.

And that’s it folks. Now comes the tedium of standing up on legs too stiff to move, either competing with or waiting for crowds to exit the plane as we funnel through two customs agents at the end of the passage from the plane, waiting – oh, not waiting this time! – for my baggage, then finding my prebooked limo. Ta-ta.

Brain Power

Reading v. Learning: A Thought Exercise

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Is reading learning? Are the higher cognitive aspects of reading really just learning and concentration? Are my problems only learning issues and not reading ones?

If it’s solely a learning issue, then logically I would have the same kind of issue with any kind of learning. If learning is the issue, then the modality of learning should have no impact on outcome. So let’s compare.

When my physiotherapist teaches me a new exercise, he demonstrates it, may guide my movements, observes my physical motions, and counters any mistakes. I have no problems learning new exercises. Now, you could say muscle memory is not the same as mental memory, that learning a physical movement requires different kinds of cognitions, thus you cannot compare it to reading. Yet, after my brain injury, up until relatively recently, when I walked, it took conscious thought to walk. On the outside, I may have looked like I was walking normally, but on the inside of my head, I was telling myself to keep moving, to move my right leg forward, to continue the forward motion, to move back to the centre of the sidewalk. I had to remember cognitively how to walk so that I could tell myself how to do it. Muscle memory comes after conscious memory. I didn’t realize how much conscious thinking went into the simple physical act of walking until the day I stopped doing it.So yes, I have to learn physical movements cognitively before they become embedded into muscle memory, and I must be able to concentrate in order to learn them.

No problem on either count.

I will say the memory fades after a week or two if I do not do them after I have been taught. But I don’t believe that that fading time is abnormally short.

But okay, let’s assume physical learning is a different beast from mental; let’s compare reading to learning through spoken language. When my neurodoc told me to tell myself “it’s 2014” when I’m having a flashback, I retained that instruction and no matter how many months or weeks or days apart the flashbacks occurred, I recalled that instruction well.

But that’s a simple instruction. I would have retained that if he had written it down for me, no? Hmm. Written instructions I keep in order to read over and over because I do forget them.

What about a complex spoken instruction or question? He asked me a question recently that I had trouble retaining, but that was because I wasn’t paying attention to him at all but to something else. When I pay attention, like when he gives me my reading homework assignments, which I don’t write down, I remember them. I also have no trouble following his reasoning, learning what he wants me to learn.

My concentration is measured as excellent, much better than a normal person of my age and gender, yet paying attention to someone when they’re talking is far easier, especially face to face when I can see their lips move and their body language, than paying attention to text on a page or screen even using all my strategies and devices. That problem is unique to reading ergo it’s not (simply) a concentration and learning issue.

What about flow: do you  need to be in flow to learn? No, but you do need to be in flow to escape into a good novel to the point of losing all awareness of your surroundings and bodily needs like hunger. Reading a good novel is not satisfying unless in flow. I have not missed being able to enter that state of flow when learning these past 15 years, only when reading good books.

What about the big picture? The hardest part for me about my reading assignments is building up the big picture, of adding fact to visual to concept as I read along so that eventually the entirety of the piece reveals itself to me and I’m able to retain it. Trying to keep hold of what I’ve read while adding to them is taxing. But that’s learning! Isn’t it? Or memory? Or some more complicated cognitive process? When my neurodoc goes into his expository mode, I have had trouble listening for that long. and I told him a couple of years ago to keep it short. When he does that now, the biggest trouble I have with it is his vocabulary and the way he uses words.I don’t have trouble building up a picture in my mind of what he’s telling me when I can understand his vocabulary. That is language not learning.

I think it’s a false dichotomy to say the higher cognitive functions of reading are learning and concentration. Yes, learning is involved, but I remain convinced after this adequate thought exercise that my main problem with reading remains – reading.

Books

NaNoWriMo: Chapter 4 on Twitter

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Chapter 4 sees Chantie take BobbyFlax up on his offer to help her learn to navigate the Twittersphere.



Books

NaNoWriMo 2014: Chapter 2 on Twitter

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So far, my Twitter experiment is working out. I write my chapter; go rest, eat, drink; think over whether I should tweet out a few excerpts through my own account; decide yeah, extra work but good for the readers; type out my tweets and my characters tweets into a separate document; think them over: did I miss any necessary detail? Am I being too obtuse (I’ve been accused of that!)? And most importantly: is the character count including hashtags within the 140 limit? Then I go to it and hope for the best.

So here, in case you missed them or are unable to follow me and my growing cadre of characters on Twitter, are today’s tweets of my twovel: