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January 03, 2011

My Shiny New Neural Pathways

by Harley

Images The best way to stay mentally young, as you probably know, is to learn new stuff. That’s because learning new stuff builds shiny new neural pathways, synaptic connections that compensate for brain cells lost through aging and too many martinis. At least, that’s my understanding, but I’m no neurologist, so those of you who Only Come Here for the Science should research it further and report back.

Anyhow, I’ve been thinking a lot about my shiny new neural pathways and here’s why.  In November I found myself up to my eyeballs in a project that required me to learn cinematography, lighting, directing, sound engineering, editing and the bells and whistles of programs I didn’t even know my computer had. For someone with the world’s oldest cell phone Gecko (remember Gordon Gecko’s in Wall Street?) who doesn’t tweet and rarely texts--i.e., me-- this is big stuff.

I’d love to blog about my project, but I have show biz superstitions, and talking about a job possibility before the contract is signed is right up there with saying aloud the title of “the Scottish play.” So I can’t. But don’t worry. It’s not porn. (Both Me, Margie and William know about it but they understand the sacred tradition of omerta.)

But I can tell you this: the Secret Project is a longshot. It may die on the vine, like a manuscript you abandon after 200 pages. Like a part you don’t get, after learning seven scenes of difficult dialogue for the audition. Like finding yourself alone on New Year’s Eve, after a full year on match.com (hang in there, Mindy). So I tell myself it wasn’t for nothing, the hundred hours I spent on the Secret BrainMachine001_Front Project, because like those pages written, lines learned, frogs kissed, many new neural pathways were forged. In other words, I’m smarter than I was in October.

But wait, there’s more!

Last summer some thoughtful friend gave my kids a hand-me-down drum set, inspiring me to sign up for a free introductory lesson at Musician’s Depot. That drum lesson turned into 20 lessons and now I spend every Thursday afternoon with Thomas, age 22, who’s doing his best to turn me into Keith Moon.

Why? Will I ever be in a band? Yes, in 30 years, the Lipstick Chronicles Retirement Home Garage LknyGroupinternet Band. That’s if I practice every day, which I don’t. There’s really no practical reason for me to play drums (other than embarrassing my children) except to build new neural pathways.

The catch is, you can’t improve your brain in this way by doing something you’re already good at. Tackling that new recipe for pâté en croûte will only work if you’re someone who’s never turned on her oven. But not to worry, because being bad is good. The day I took up ice-skating, I fell and broke my wrist in 6 places. Fantastic! Think of the new synapses I acquired, not just in the 45 minutes I was wobbling around on the ice, but then riding in the ambulance (first time ever) and for the next two months, doing everything left-handed. That’s gold! You can’t buy those neural pathways.

Karl-rove-708-full-cropped-proto-custom_2 All it takes is the willingness to look like an idiot. You could learn the new tax codes, program your new iPhone, belly-dance, or try to understand your health insurance. Einstein might attempt a children’s book. Dr. Seuss could tackle theoretical physics. Karl Rove might learn to crochet ponchos, your grandmother could join a mercenary army. See how much fun it is?

Now’s your chance to declare your brain-enhancement plan or devise one for someone else. As for me, I’ll be out in the garage, working on the drum solo to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.

Animal_drums http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bQZ6l_cq5Y&feature=related

Happy Monday!







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Harley, I am so excited for you. I totally believe in the Neural Path theory.
Everything happened for me after fifty.
I decided that I wanted to learn skeet shooting, then target shooting.
I worked at it until I was able to hit skeets and targets and found it exhilarating.

I dove into knitting and have conquered complicated knitting stitches and patterns.
Recently, I have been studyting the art of writing. I want to expand and get inspired. As a matter of fact you are so clever and can put down words in such a witty fashion that I want to grow up to be like you.

Best of luck, Harley. I know that this is going to be a banner year for you.

The possibilities are endless! Never be afraid to try something new at least once. You don't have to do it again, but don't ever be afraid to try!

Wish you could come over with your drum set - for my 67th birthday my piano teacher discovered that I have a gift for composing. I've been composing music like mad ever since. Thought I had those Neural Pathways all shined up, until I dove into composing a symphony and found myself on a past vertical learning curve. Having passion makes the days smile.

For years I’ve helped a really cool organization – Lib4All.org – with their fundraising. In a nutshell they fight Islamic extremist with education instead of bullets.

Because of my contacts through them, and considering the spiritual nature of my “Penelope Spence” series of books (genre in 5 words or less: “Science-based Spiritual Thriller), I’ve received an interesting offer. Two years at a Tibetan style monastery in northern India.

For a guy who seldom ventures more than 5 miles from his house the idea of going half way round the world is silly on its face. But having just married off my last child and with no debt and a fully funded retirement account for “She Who must be Obeyed” it has given me pause.

If I were a Hindu or Shinto, and with all of my obligations to this reality marked “paid in full”, I would already be packing.

My end of the next “Penelope” book is already finished and will be released whenever the publishing gnomes get around to it. I only have one more contract to fulfill and, since to return the advance would punch a big old six figure hole in the retirement fund, when it is completed I might look at the offer more seriously.

Stay tuned.

Harley: While not porn, does the title have “MILF” in it?

Rod: Ewww. But on the Tibet thing: So intriguing!

Until I was 49 I had never left the US, other than to venture into Mexico for a few hours, or overnight in British Columbia or the other side of Lake Erie. Since then I've been to three other continents, which really changed the neural pathways, since I had to learn to communicate in three other languages. So far. :-)

At the age of 55 I took horseback riding lessons for the first time, and found my inner cowgirl. Who knew? And almost three years ago we bought a farm in rural Kentucky, again expanding our knowledge of oh, so many things, including pasturing horses, planting and/or cutting down trees, cultivating lavender and garlic, putting up electric fences (man, were we proud of ourselves for that one!), keeping the mouse/fly/carpenter bee populations in check, among many others.

Harley, what a great way to start the new year, with a project to immerse yourself in. Break a leg, and all that stuff!

Harley - Wishing you luck with this new project! Keep us posted, please. It sounds super exciting. As does The Lipstick Chronicles Retirement Home Garage Band!! YeeHaw and Boy Howdy, what will I have to do to be a part of that?! I don't have a smidgen of musical talent. Maybe I can be a roadie??

Kaye, I'd say that not having a smidgen of musical talent might just be a prerequisite.

Holy Cow, you guys are all inspiring me! This was worth getting out of bed for.

Yay, not a smidgen of musical talent is ME! MAy I be in it, too? (Heather is good at this stuff...she can manage us.) (Can you imagine THAT??)

Harley, break a leg. (Not a wrist.)

NAncy M: Wedding photos???? Anyone???

Totally cool, Harley! I can't wait to hear more. I'm a big fan of learning new stuff. A year ago I decided to learn how to knit. I love it! Next up? I want to learn how to make artisan breads.

Remember all those macramé hanging plant thingies from the 70's? Does anyone use them now? No. But think of how much smarter the world is as a result of everyone learning to macramé.

Gee. And I was feeling brave because I've signed up for a poetry class.

About the TLCRHGB, I can't sing or play a musical instrument, but I can cook and I have voodoo dolls. Am I in?

Judy, I have the very best artisan bread recipe, and it's very easy. Here's a link:


The only thing you must have for this bread is a dutch oven that can go into a 475-degree oven, lid and all. It's worth buying one for the bread, trust me.

P.S. Harley, good luck with the Secret Project. Blond Bond and I are both breathless with anticipation.

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida on the college radio station meant the current DJ needed to go to class and his replacement was late. If it was not Iron Butterfly, it was the FM soundtrack.

Between being the keeper of the Princesses and being an IT guy, I learn new stuff every day. TLC may even help my newest project, buying a training bra.

Lib4All.org is loading up in a new tab as I type, I'll Google anything.

I tested three different distributions of Linux last year. My current favorite is called Peppermint. If you ever wanted to play with Linux, give it a shot. From Peppermint I learned about Prism. (http://prism.mozillalabs.com/) Prism will turn a web page into a desktop application. Or, you can make TLC a desktop icon.

Rod, There are so few Buddhist jokes. Here is my favorite. What does the Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?

Make me ONE with everything.

I forgot!

Can I be TLCRHGB's first groupie?

I love that Buddhist joke! But make those tofu dogs, Alan. And Rod, what's that sound? One hand clapping? The tree falling in the forest? No, it's Northern India! Chanting "Rod. Rod.Rod."

And yes, you can be the groupie, and Ramona, of course you're in. You can be the road cook.

Who will drive the bus?

At my house, we call this Neural Pathway stuff "adding wrinkles to our brains". This explanation was given in first grade to my oldest daughter. Thankfully, it is a common occurrence to hear "I just added wrinkles to my brain!"

For 2011, I'm planning on signing up for a digital photography class at our community education center, learning to lay ceramic tile (on the backsplash in my kitchn), and learning to setup and work on a scaffolding (to paint the cedar beam in the vaulted ceiling in my bedroom).

Alan - good luck with the training bra shopping. My daughter (10) prefers the little girl sports bra version with regular straps instead of the racerback. She prefers hers to come from Target. They come in colors and often have simple bows on the front. She originally wanted the little girl verion of the big girl type. That was until she got a couple and learned that hooks and bands with heavy elastic are NOT comfortable! Good luck.

I'll drive!!! That way I can get a class A permit, which will surely mean new neural pathways for me. I can also beat a tambourine, hang and focus stage lights, and act as bouncer/bodyguard. Am I in? Pleeeeease?

This year I am diving into the wonderful world of digital photography and will have my first knitting lesson on Wednesday. I am so excited! I'm also slowly learning chess and getting braver about watching my husband's favorite movies (horror and things with subtitles). FYI, we watched the original Godzilla a few days ago, and it was really very cool.

Nancy, I hope the weekend was a smash!

Since I've always wanted to be a backup singer, this is my official application for a position as same.

Pretty please?

I want to learn to speak all of those sexy Romance languages (I'm talkin' French and Italian here). Don't ask me why. Fantasy is big with me. Does making stuff up count as 'learning new things?'

Alan P. While there are not that many Buddhist jokes there are plenty of cartoons. Look on my FaceBook page (Click my name below) and check out the “Lighter Side of Zen” collection on page “4” under “photos”.

There are also some hilarious cartoons about the Writers’ Life sprinkled around on the page and in albums.

Remember. A warped sense of humor is a terrible thing to waste.

Yesterday I signed up for BlogHer '11 so I can learn more about the technical side of things. And since I am so not a techie, I imagine I'll be firing off lots of new synapses!

Kerry and Karen, you're in.

Deborah, are you kidding? Of COURSE it counts.

I can play the radio, Harley! Good luck on the secret project. I have the same superstition and wait until all the papers are signed.

Road cook! I can dig it.

FYI, I am a graduate of the "I cooked it so you'd better eat it, and with a smile on your face, buster" culinary school and training academy.

And yes, there will always be a vegetarian option.

But no beets, Ramona. I don't like beets. And by the time the TLCRHGB is ready to roll, we'll all have dentures, so keep that in mind.

Ooh, Karen, thanks for the link! And I volunteer to be the TLCRHGB bread baker.

Back-up singer, dancer, and second cook, please. I like beets, but I put out things as buffet so you can pick and choose.

Good luck with the Secret Project, Harley. I also look forward to someday hearing you play the drums on a cover version of Led Zeppelin's "Rock & Roll" :)

Count me in as head Groupie and Boy Toy. I used to drive the bus for our old high school group, "General Hershey's Marching Necrophiliac Band”. For those too young to remember, Gen. Hershey was in charge of the draft during the Viet Nam War and the Beatles had just come out with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band.” I wish I was half as smart and clever as I thought I was my senior year of high school.

Harley, good luck with the Secret Project!
I wish to be your roadie too. I can loudly shout and applaud.

Harley, I've missed your posts.

Congrats on the Secret Project and the drumming. At age 30, in a funk, I called the local music store and said I wanted to start drum lessons. Great decision. It sounds like you're enjoying it as much as I did. Drumming is so gross motor. And the feedback is instantaneous. Man, the endorphins are rushing just thinking about that shiny set in the basement. I don't play much anymore, but once in a while, nothing beats a good wail. Have fun!

We should all be half as smart and clever as we thought we were back in high school.

Speaking of smart and clever, here in California "that's a wrap" on Governor Schwarzenneger. While I didn't vote for him, I wished him well and realized he inherited a big fiscal mess. Today I heard on the radio that during his time in office, the budget deficit tripled. Gulp. They're now considering shortening the public school calendar year by a few months, in order to save money. Bigger gulp.

We should stop electing people based on their celebrity status, it seems. They never do as well as they think they're going to.

Might have something to do with that thinking they're clever thing, a holdout from high school. Most of us outgrow it and are gracious enough to cringe at our younger selves. Then there are those who still think they know something because they've been on TV or in the movies. Aiyiyi.

Does having babies make new neural pathways? (If so, are there any remaining brain cells to traverse the pathways?!) After two babies in the last two years (and that will be all of that thankyouverymuch!), I know I've learned a LOT...I'm just not sure I can remember any of it...

I'm terrified of driving anything bigger than a compact car, so I was going to volunteer to be the bus driver - you know, so I could learn a new skill, but I see that someone beat me to it! So, how about if I learn the skills that I need to be a bus mechanic? Currently, I'm proud of myself if I can replace the ribbon on my IBM Selectric typewriter (aka The Dinosaur) in under fifteen minutes! (There are still a handful of functions that cannot be done on a computer.) Learning to be a mechanic would take a lot of bravery on my part! You might need to be brave, too, to climb into a bus that was tuned up by me.

I'm a lousy dancer; how about if I volunteer to do something about that, too, and dance along to the music?! You will surely need/want lots of dancers won't you? I LOVE listening to dance music but I have too much respect for humanity to attempt dancing with someone else. There are rumors that I trip over air molecules... But I'm willing to TRY to learn to do better...Anyway, if this is to be a Retirement home band, I just might be able to handle retirement home "dancing"...

As for nonTLC retirement garage band learning: I have always wanted to go sky-diving. My physical therapist nearly fell over backwards when I told him that several years ago. I'm not much more graceful now than I was then, so I guess sky-diving is out...for the moment.

Okay, Harley, you inspire me to take piano lessons again. I'm determined to play Erik Satie's simple Gymnopedie #! before I die. And I already know where middle C is on the piano. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBiPQKK1upk)

Quick drive by. . .love this post, love your attitude!

How I'm adding new synapses this year? Organizing my office (definitely something new).

I can sing and dance, have a loud voice (to make annoucements to the audience), and have played the piano, guitar, clarinet, flute and bongos (no, not at the same time). Except for the loud voice, none of those abilities are anything to write home about. I'm also not shy and will do them all anyway. Can I please join the band? Please? Pick me. Pick me. Plz?

About 10 years ago, my son took drum lessons, and I'd sit around and wait for him. I got the excellent idea to take clarinet lessons at the same time. Did you know you had to practice to master an instrument? Who knew? I did. But just like when I was a kid, hated it!

I'd practice for a chance to be in the TLC band, though. Think of the fame, the applause, the money...that's worth practicing for, right? Okay. Maybe not.

Harley -I took drum lessons for a couple years after my divorce in the 80's but it turned out to be impossible to find an apartment to keep my drums in for practice! I will be your drum groupie as well since I never got much past the basic paradiddle. (yes that is a word!)

Let's see things I want to learn, Origami and how to shoot a gun, oh and how to ride a motorcycle. Not all three at the same time . . . I need me some new brain wrinkles. I also want to re-learn how to knit. I just finished Kate Jacobs book the Friday Night Knitting Club and it inspired me.

Alan, when I was 16 or 17 my mom asked me one day if I wanted to go bra shopping, um, a little late there, without those training years to convince me of their necessity, I never got comfortable in them (yes I have had fittings) and only wear them when the clothing dictates the absolute necessity of them. We have a brand in Canada called Elita which apparently is a favourite for the training set as well as us less endowed females of the older persuasion.

Deb, how about learning to drive a Zamboni?

Margaret, my husband is learning one of the Gymnopedie on his Chapman Stick, which he took up a few years ago.

Gaylin, what kind of gun do you want to shoot? BTW, my motorcycle and my drums are red. And if you can play the drums, you probably could knit, shoot and drive a motorcycle at the same time.

Amy, I don't know enough about handguns to know which one would fit a small hand and it is not easy to find a shooting club in Vancouver, that being said, a hand gun to start and if my vision is good enough I would like to try shooting a rifle.

I think I will go to a bookstore today and find a book on Origami, paper folding first then deadly weapons!

Gaylin, how about folding paper weapons? Tackle both at once!

Love the new pathways concept - and it is true - one needs to exercise the brain as much as the body.

I try different puzzles all the time, but at this point, I'm not sure that counts.

Hmmmm. I would like to learn how to kill someone with two fingers and leave no trace evidence. It may be tough to get any decent practice time on that one. Perhaps I will take yoga - assuming persons of roundness can do any of that stuff.

Amy, I LOVE the Zamboni idea! When I was in my twenties I took figure skating lessons. I believe my instructors decided to take early retirement, as I could not master even the very basics, including the proper way to fall. They despaired of ever being able to teach me anything.(Those pesky air molecules always get in the way of me doing anything gracefully.) I doubt I'd fall off a Zamboni, though, and I'd feel like I was still part of the skating world.

It might be more realistic for me to try - again - to learn to crochet, or to try to get beyond the basics in knitting. I can knit simple scarves, and once even managed a simple pair of slippers. I have NEVER been able to manage to crochet at all, and envy people who have mastered both knitting and crocheting.

Because of this blog today I have decided to take knitting and tennis lessons. I used to be able to knit when I was a kid, but have forgotten all kinds of things (like how to purl, sheesh), and I've never learned to play tennis. But we have a friend who loves to play but isn't any good, and I'm fairly sure I could get a game once in awhile with him.

Thought about learning to ice skate, but we have so few times one could practice here, it's not very practical.

I've always wanted to learn to fly, too, but that might stretch the budget to the limit right now.

Wishing you the best on your secret project Harley. I play trombone and guitar, could fill in on keyboards and bass, and even know a few tunes on the banjo. I'd drive the bus. Heck I'd do anything to be in the TLCRHGB. Oh and I sing bass.

By the way, I picked up all those instruments again when I turned 50. I hadn't really touched them since high school.

Also, I've read that very rhythmic tasks such as drumming have an additional affect on neural circuits but I can't remember exactly what.

Kathy, anyone can do yoga. It's a misconception that you have to be tall, thin, and able to become a pretzel shape. And it makes you feel great.

Becky, I totally want to see you play piano, guitar, clarinet, flute, and bongos at the same time. That should be your synapse-building exercise.

Karen, I'm stealing that artisan bread recipe. I treated myself to a Le Creuset dutch oven, so I'm all prepared.

I have recently started knitting, and love it. I've been doing counted cross-stitch for years, but that probably isn't building shiny new pathways anymore. I also have the piano my mother had when I took lessons as a child - I haven't played since I was about 12. I think I may take lessons again.

Another thing to try for that synapse building - writing. I've been saying forever I want to do it. I need to do it, dammit.

Good luck with your project, Harley - I can't wait to hear more!

Deb, I am with you on admiring people who can crochet, I could do the basic stitch in a long row but that was it.

Becky, I think I will learn Origami just so I can use cute flowered paper to make a paper gun!

Amy - my drum set (Sabian) back in the day was red . . . my 20 year old honda civic is also red! (where the paint isn't peeling)

Harley - keep enjoying your Thursday afternoons with Thomas, there is something to be said for making lots of organized noise.

On the Dutch ovens: Be careful about the handles on lids. Sometimes they are not able to withstand the 475 degree temps.

Mine is a Kitchen Aid, with metal and silicone handle, and a Lodge cast iron would work, too. Heavy as lead, both of them, though.

Corningware works.

Here's a discussion about use a Le Creuset Dutch oven for the No-Knead bread:


And conflicting opinions about other types of containers:


I was using the crock from my (very old) Crock Pot, and when I took the lid off I laid it down on a wet spot on the stovetop. Cr-r-r-racck!! It doesn't work as well in a hot oven with duct tape on it, I'm here to tell ya.

You guys are seriously fun!

Now I'm thinking that there must be a way to knit a gun, or perhaps bake a drum set in a Le Creuset Dutch oven.

Kathy, yoga is fantastic and it is for everyone, every age, every body type. Just find a teacher you love and go for it.

Off to practice my paradiddle. Back later.

I got a great book today called Trash Origami. Instead of buying expensive 'folding' paper - I can get paper from my recycling. Hmmm, what to fold first?

Anyone do Tai Chi or Chi Qong? I am thinking of adding one of those to my try new things list.

No, but it's on my list too, Gaylin. So let me know. It looks very spiritual and Bruce Lee-ish.

My neural path is apparently a maze. Or perhaps it's kind of like the Winchester house. Stuff went in . . . and up the stairway to nowhere!

The Le Creuset ones are clearly marked (plus the salesperson made it clear) that the knobs on the lids are recommended only up to 350 degrees. But they have replacement knobs for use at higher temperatures, which I have. So I'm good. :)

I'd love to try Tai Chi. Exercise that involves moving slowly is definitely my cup of tea.

Could I be the beet squasher? I can run over them with my chair before they get anywhere near a recipe. I am really good at that.

. . . and the beet goes on.

Well, folks, I think we have ourselves a band. Now we just have to wait long enough for all of us to retire. Let's regroup in 2035 and see where we are.

I can sort of play the spoons . . .
The Apple gurus keep showing me new stuff. The latest is a little picture book of the Frog Prince. I've put it on YouTube with music and frog chirping . . .

Laura, the Le Creuset round doufeu has side the molded cast iron enamel handles - no knobs - perfect for the oven.

Everyone has been so inspiring, and the news on creating new pathways makes me want to learn something new. Except I do not know what I want to learn. I am learning how to make origami again (was really good at it when I was a child but forgot it when I stopped). Does that count as learning something new?
Gaylin, if you are interested, I recommend collecting wrapping paper (especially already used ones, recycling at its best), and catalogs (the glossy ones like from See’s Candies are the nicest, just like their chocolates) for origami. If you can, try to get Japanese or Chinese origami diagrams, since they may be more user friendly. I recommend folding paper cranes first. Besides, if you fold a thousand paper cranes, your wish may come true. Have a blast folding origami!

I had to refresh the page 2 times to view this page for some reason, however, the information here was worth the wait.

I was thinking the same thing January 3, 2011, I wished I joined in. Perhaps I will learn the bass guitar and join Harley's Retirement home band.

I am going to take cello lessons at the ripe old age of 40! I'm scouting for my cello now!

Funny post! Here's a question - if willingness to make an idiot of yourself increases brain power, why is former Prez Bushie still an idiot?

I love your books - I'm currently reading "Dating Dead Men" and really enjoying it. Of course, if I have a date over, I'll have to put it out of sight lest the title freak him out.

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