One of the things people can do when they get old and begin losing their vision and hearing and memory is to observe these phenomena, maybe
somewhat as a scientist would, or perhaps as an artist would. Depressing though these phenomena may be for those who are experiencing them, they are nevertheless fascinating on
many levels. Being myself a painter with vision loss, I have learned that there are things to be discovered in altered vision, just as there are things to be discovered in the
altered vision of peyote, for example.
Artists with vision loss have done some wonderful work based upon, or necessitated by, the changes in their eyesight.
Stimulation of the imagination is one of the byproducts of blindness or deafness, and memory loss too. Not long ago, I was agonizing over
having forgotten the name of a writer who had been a favorite of mine a few decades earlier. For several days I labored to remember the name, and finally, after about a week,
William Saroyan popped back into my head.
I began to wonder about how this had happened, what process had occurred that had enabled this word to reappear in my memory. I decided that
each word we know is a castle in the brain, which is of course a vast world. Each of these word castles is inhabited by good brain cells which are devoted to the protection and
promotion of the word that is their castle. Each of these thousands of word castles is in communication with all the others, and each is aware that it is playing an important
role in the ever-unfolding drama taking place in the universe of words. The good brain cells inhabiting the castles all realize that their health and well-being depend in some
degree upon that of the others. The word castles make up a confederation of sorts, and they help each other to rebuild, when that becomes necessary.
Every word castle is constantly being threatened by the hordes of bad brain cells living outside the castle walls. These malefactors make
attacks on the word castles, especially the ones that are somewhat isolated. The strongest word castles, for example the one which is one’s own name, are seldom assaulted
by the barbarian nihilist cells, owing to such a small chance of success.
Now and then a castle is overrun and destroyed by the zombie-like denizens of the world outside the castle walls. When this occurs, one of
two things results, either the castle and its word are lost forever, or the castle is rebuilt sufficiently to make itself and its word recognizable once again.
A fairly large number of word castles feel themselves to be in a tenuous position, owing to the fact that they are seldom visited and seldom
communicated with. The loyalty and intentions of these castles are never in question. Yet they cannot help feeling vulnerable. And with good reason. The barbarian zombie
cells have a talent for sensing weakness. This castle, they say to themselves, is not going to get help from anywhere. Let’s attack it forthwith. So the
hordes climb over the walls, and soon enough the castle is a pile of rubble. Fortunately, in most cases there are a few inhabitants of the castle left alive in the debris after
the barbarians have gone. These few hearty survivors manage to send weak signals to nearby castles, which in turn notify some other word castles in the vicinity, and the
rebuilding project begins.
It is difficult of course to know exactly how many and which castles have been obliterated. Now and then a foreign visitor to the world of
memory cells reminds us of the loss, and by that means too a castle may be rebuilt.
In the case of the 'Saroyan' castle, it had been somewhat isolated for a time, and was taken by assault without me realizing it. But
a signal emitted from the ruins led to the eventual reconstruction of the castle.
I cite this allegorical explanation only as an example of one way that those of us suffering memory loss (and other losses) can make use of
our new found handicaps. It is as N.F. Simpson, the British playwright, said, “I am like a dwarf in the circus. I give what scope I can to such deficiencies as I