Sunday, August 3, 2014


As I've written about many times before, in 2009 I had a brain operation that took some time to recover from (I couldn't read at all at first, and then only out loud, and then only certain things etc.) but within a year I was back to what everyone else saw as "normal" for me. But the way my brain worked had changed in some significant ways that wasn't obvious to anyone not inside it.

One of the major changes, which I've shared many times before, is that I compulsively made lists since was a child, sometimes written down or included in poems or as the structure of a poem or some other writing, but also just in my head when walking around or falling sleep or to help me fall asleep or back asleep etc. And when I started this blog I often would post a list every few days. It was the biggest category in the blog archive.

If I met you for the first time at a dinner party or whatever, I'd probably pretty quickly ask you to name your current five favorite books, or movies, or records, or top ten, or whatever. It felt important to me to do this, to constantly reorder the world by stamping my rankings on it, and I was curious about how they compared to yours.

But from the first moment I woke up in the recovery room after the brain operation, that urge was completely gone. And to the extent that I couldn't even force it. Where I'd lay in bed before the operation and challenge my list making compulsion by creating requirements. like an alphabet list of favorite books with five word titles from A to Z or one word movie titles, etc. post-surgery even after deciding I would make a list in my mind of just my ten top favorite movies, say, I would lose all interest after one or two.

So, it's pretty much been that way ever since. I've made a few lists since but depended on the Internet or my book shelves or whatever to suggest titles, whereas before it was all in my brain. And I was able to do that only a few times and with much effort and energy and time involved.

Another list device I would use before the operation was triplets or trinities, listing things by threes as three was always a significant and even mystical number in my Irish Catholic upbringing, as in "Jesus, Mary and Joseph" or "The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost" (though that has long since been changed to Holy Spirit in Catholicism), or the shamrock that symbolizes The Trinity as well as Ireland, and so on.

Well, last night I actually was laying in bed and thought I'd try a list and decided to pick favorite soundtrack albums from movies, and for the first time since the operation, four and a half years ago, I didn't lose interest after the first or second choice. I made it to three. Then I lost interest or motivation or any ideas. But it seemed significant to me that I made it to three, like maybe something in my brain had shifted enough to make that possible.

So here they are, my top three favorite movie soundtrack albums, and very anticlimactically I'm sure:

The Secret of Roan Inish
On The Waterfront
The Last Emperor


-K- said...

Everything about "On The Waterfront" is almost absurdly first-rate.

Elmer Bernstein, I believe.

JenW said...

It's amazing how fine tuned the brain is and even more fascinating -how specific parts interact, send/receive messages, regenerate etc...
So before your surgery, your basal ganglia may have had a "hyper" communication with your orbitofrontal cortex & anterior cingulate gyrus- thus the list making ability. Your content- like movies, poems, abc order etc has a more psychological component-based on experience, interest...
Your neurologist might know if those lists may return. It's incredible stuff. Congratulations & continued good health :-)

Lally said...

wow Jen, you know a lot more about the brain then I do...thanks as always for your encouragement...and K, it was Leonard a boy the movie and the soundtrack had a huge impact on me...I was around the age of the kid in the movie who's in the gang that Brando's character, Terry Malloy, started years before (I think it was called "The Golden Warriors") and who reminded me of kids I knew in Jersey at the time and I identified with (that kid was from Hoboken, where the flick was shot, and grew up to be a dockworker, running a forklift if I remember correctly)...the music was so powerful and seemed revolutionary to me at the time, almost nothing like typical Hollywood movies then (though there'd been some in that more avant grade direction, Bernstein took it further and therefore it sounded more radical, like using what sounded like a boxing ring bell sound etc...