Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke

I can’t make my subjects and verbs agree today. They want to fight it out. I am working on an essay, the idea of which has been sitting inside my brain for two years now. Except I can’t find the Rilke line that inspired the original idea. I wrote it down in my notebook but I can’t find the notebook. And the Google is failing me.

There is one word that describes the thing I am writing about but I can not recall the one word. I can get around the word. I can get close to the word. But I can’t recall the word. I spent thirty minutes this morning looking through my Roget’s and scrolling through lists of synonyms of this one and antonyms of that one. But I couldn’t find it.

This made me cranky. I abandoned my work on the one essay, to work on something smaller and simpler. But the only words that would come were ones looking for a fight. And I am not looking for a fight. I am cranky because my brain won’t work the way I want it to because cancer. I am cranky and I am frightened and that is no way to go through life, especially when you are me and you are putting your words on the internet for everyone to see.

I am particularly concerned lately with my cognitive deficits and am looking, again, to find a work around or a path to further improvement or something, anything, that can move me from this plateau.

Neuroplasticity, epigenetics, transient hypofrontality, these are things that occupy my time, now. The brain can change itself. This is good news. This is great news. This is hope. Things can get better.

This is bad news. This is hard. My brain is broken. The best chance I have of fixing my brain is by using my brain. Which is broken. I do not have access to the medical assistance necessary for this kind of thing, the neuropsychologists, cognitive specialists, etc. I have to do it on my own, with my broken brain.

Listen, I wasn’t happy with my brain performance before cancer treatment broke it. Depression is hard on a brain. It changes neural pathways. Closes off bits. Dulls the senses. It was hard, seeing my own intellectual capacity fade that little bit more each time I experienced depression.

Being intelligent, that is my thing. It is me. It is the thing about me I like the most. The word pride comes to mind, with all its connotations, both positive and negative. I didn’t do anything to get this intelligence. I was born with it. What I have or have not done with it, that’s one me. But the having of it, that is an accident of birth, like the color of my eyes.

Intelligence is not predictive of academic success. I know this better than most. Growing up, I didn’t know I was smart. And then I knew but didn’t trust it. I got way more positive feedback for being pretty. So, I did that for awhile. I was pretty. In many ways, it was the easier choice. But boy howdy, in many ways I could not have foreseen at fifteen years old, it was much more difficult.

When I joined the military, a million years ago, I took a battery of tests. The result of those first tests made my recruiter very excited. I went on to take a second round of tests. Those tests made her even more excited. It turned out my test results put me in the 99.99% percentile of military enlistees. I took more tests. It turned out my IQ was pretty up there, too, in the 99.7% percentile of the general population. As soon as they could, they shipped me off to training and then more training and some training on top of that, all of which I completed at the top of the class, until one day I was sitting at a desk in the National Security Agency, working as intelligence analyst. My prior jobs had included managing a store at the mall and cocktail waitress. It was the beginning of understanding I had something else to offer besides blonde hair, a tiny waist and big tits.

Fast forward twenty-five years later, my brain is what I like most about myself and it is broken and I am scared I can’t fix it. I’m scared I can’t write my book. If I can’t remember the word that triggered the thought that made the line of poetry notable that instigated the long simmering thoughts, how can do anything?

writing wasn't easy for him, either

writing wasn’t easy for him, either

In another bit of Rilke writing I can recall, he writes about living with the questions. He writes about coming to terms with things that may not be answered in any other way than life happening and time passing. I have been living with so many questions, so many questions. Some have been answered. Others persist. And in their persistence, they deepen.

I dig and dig for answers. And hang on to scientific research and incantations – transient hypofrontality, epigenetics, neuroplasticity. They sound made up.

Life would be so much easier if I could remember the words.



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