Monday, 1 May 2017

Thirty days

My memory tag for 11 January 2016 is learning that David Bowie had died of cancer. It was reported that he had a prognosis of 18 months to live before this and had spent his remaining days revisiting places with his family, recording a new album (to be launched a matter of days before he died), and preparing a stage show, Lazarus, featuring his music.

As a philosophical exercise, I wondered how it would be to know I had a similar period left and pictured my mental calendar coming to an end part way through 2017. At the start of the year, I put the number of 150 days on the time left. Now it is down to 30 days. Recently, I calculated the date of my hypothetical last day.

It has been an interesting exercise. At various times, things that might have worried or stressed me in the past have faded out of importance, because life is too short to worry about them.

I've reassessed aspects of my life, deciding to make some major changes to my working life, which I am in the process of putting into action over the final 30 days.

The exercise has focussed my mind to put time into activities, such as music, which I have neglected for many years.

I have tried to avoid seeing a developing digestive problem as a sign of what will kill me on the scheduled date. I warded off the paranoia and hypochondria by telling myself that these symptoms were probably nothing and it could be something sudden and unexpected like a traffic accident that is scheduled for my final day. I've had the tests anyway, and the problem is real, but not life threatening. I'm hoping that the change in my working life might make a difference.

So the final days are ticking by towards 29 May. We are moving country again and so I have seen all my wife's family to say goodbye and will be seeing all of my own over the coming 30 days.

It is important to value relationships. Although we do not know how many days we have left, they are numbered.

I don't really expect to die on 29 May. I certainly don't want or aim to make it happen. But I am approaching the day with a certain amount of trepidation, while making the most of the days until then.

I feel that something will happen on that day. Some change, even if it is only to how I look at life after it has passed and the future dates on my mental calendar stretch before me again, with a question mark hanging over how may are left.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The music of the calendar

I am trying to learn to play the guitar once again. I've never progressed very far with it. I've also tried keyboards, but again stalled.

I can follow music, but don't have an ear for music. My singing wanders around all over the place as I am not really aware when I'm in tune.

A singing teacher at a class for poor singers I attended one time asked if we had an experience when we were told we could not sing. Everyone had, usually around the age of ten, while the ear is still developing. Being shamed can put you off so you miss the next stages in development.

In my case, I used to love singing lessons at school and was very enthusiastic. When I returned after a week away ill, my friend told me the teacher had said how much better the last lesson had been because my awful singing was not present. Mrs Lees. That was you.

The singing class was a one off, but convinced me that I could still develop my ear.

The "sing true" app has shown me the same. The iphone version is here (this is an unpaid and unsolicited endorsement - see my advertising policy).

I am progressing through the exercises and developing my ear for relative pitch. The app also includes features for singing and hitting a note.

It struck me that my failing is I have no memory of pitch. When the app plays me a selection of notes, it is difficult for me to capture them in my mind. I have tried visualising them on a music staff as they are played, or picking them out on my guitar or keyboards.

Some people have chromesthesia where they associate colours with notes, which may help.

I don't and the visualisation process hasn't got me very far so far. In fact, I first tried visualising notes over two years ago, as described in this post.

It struck me this time around that what I really need to develop is a memory for sounds, not a cipher for them. This is an undeveloped muscle.

So it occurred to me that I could link sounds to my mental calendar to automatically run through the scales when I review the images pinned to it. To get used to hearing notes in my mind.

As a week has seven days, I can run through the scale C - B. Or as in the Sound of Music, Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti.

I'm starting low on the Monday of the first full week of the month. The next Monday is an octave higher. Five octaves, the range of my keyboards, is enough to cover a month.

At present, my focus is on trying to hear the note in my mind's ear - to audiate - as I step onto the day on the calendar and move up in pitch as I step to the next day. Whether the intervals or the absolute pitches are correct doesn't concern me at moment.

For the time being, I'm working on audiating the sounds. I can do it, but it is very forced to hear a note in my mind. Hopefully practice running through scales as I conduct my reviews will help. Then I can refine to assign the correct notes to the calendar days.

My aim is to be able to play by ear. To be able to identify the notes in a tune just by hearing it - and being able to hit them when I sing.

Assigning them to the calendar is only to make the practice routine, not to provide a way to visualise the notes. Just as I use Lembransation as a memory palace to remember people's names, the names of their kids, the names of trees and birds, when I saw particular films for the first time and other facts, I hope to improve my memory for notes.

It may be the extra association will also help my refresh process by giving another way to place an image with the correct date.

I don't expect hearing music to trigger recall of different memory tags - numbers do not trigger the images tagged for those days of the month to come to mind.

Early days. Let's see where it goes.

If anyone is willing to share how their memory of notes and tunes works, please do leave a comment.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Across the years

In my last post I wrote about pros and cons of my current method for refreshing older memory tags pinned to my mental calendar. The method has changed over time. Currently I recall images for a two-week block of days from each month since I began this process of remembering every day that passes. I don't spend long doing this, just covering several months of my calendar every day.

This gradual progression over the five years I have filled since beginning this process rarely reminds me of what I was doing a year ago as the dates don't coincide. So I have missed birthdays.

The solution is a simple change to my morning review of more recent days. This review passes a two-day window over every week of my calendar for the past six months. To finish, I review the images for every day of the past month.

The change I have made is to add a short review, recalling the images on the same date from when I began this process over five years ago.

In fact, I'm doing this as a two-day window to benefit from the association between adjacent days. So today being February 22, I have recalled the images for the 22nd and 23rd of each month. If there is a birthday tomorrow, I'll remember.

Navigating my mental calendar is now a familiar exercise, so it is easy to locate the day of the week on which these dates fall. Today is Wednesday, February 22, 2012 was also Wednesday. I already recalled the image in yesterday's review so it is familiar to me. A conversation with a particular friend. The image for the next day comes easily to mind – I have been reviewing this sequence for five years, after all. A bike ride.

And so to February 22, 2013. I know this is a Friday (the patterns are clear to me). The image tag is the sound of the security chain running through my cycle helmet as I lock up a different bike in a different city on a different continent. The next day the tag is a particularly important conversation with my wife.

February 22, 2014. A Saturday (the progression is one day when it is not a leap year). It takes a moment to orientate myself on this day. I need a sense of the year. Where I was. What was the theme of this part of the year. When it doesn't come to me instantly, a quick scan of nearby days reminds me, and I know this was a day I had my haircut with my 80-year-old barber in the city I was in at that time and then took the car I had borrowed to check the tyres and oil. The next day's tag is driving to my sister-in-law's to return her car.

February 22, 2015. Sunday, obviously. This part of the year is marked by the illness of a relative. I was visiting and on this day, after a cross-country run in the morning, other relatives dropped by. I left for the city I was working the same day. The tag for Monday comes to mind because it is also about running, this time in a forest near to where I was staying. My landlady's daughter called by when we were chatting in the kitchen, on a run of her own. I learned of a nearby nature reserve for the first time, despite living on and off for over 20 years. My memory tag for the next day is running to visit it.

This was two years ago and I am shocked it is not more recent.

February 22, 2016. Monday, of course. I'm still not fully used to the idea that 2016 is now history set in stone.

The hardest tags to remember were those from 2016. In fact, the tag for February 22 eluded me yesterday. I had to stop worrying at them and let it float into my mind today. It did so while I was having my hair cut (tag for today!). On February 22, 2016 my wife and I went for breakfast in a café we had not visited for some time. She forgot her sunglasses, so I ran there on February 23 to collect them.

This journey across the years is a new addition to my refresh technique and the fabric of my mind is still flexing under its impact on my perceptions of the passage of time.

If I had not begun this Lembransation process, these years would be as indistinct now as those that lay further in the past. The memory tags can transport me back, but sometimes the tag is all I remember. It is really a proxy for the memories of the day. My mind has otherwise let it go, it seems, as with so many of the earlier days in my nearly 52 years.

And yet... this flexing of my mind feels like exercising a new muscle, perhaps strengthening abilities to be able to step into the image and relive the moment, exploring from there. This has happened unexpectedly a couple of times already.

There is a philosophical aspect to this as yet unclear. The person I was five years ago is not the person I am now. I travel back not only through time and space, but through the layers that construct me. I'm not a stranger to myself, but the younger version is different.

On the monthly cycle of these visits across the years, I see my younger self recede, yet it is my present self that is moving forward.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Pros and cons of big chunks of days

I have slipped into a new routine for reviewing the past images pinned to my mental calendar from when I began this process on December 17, 2011.

I recall the images for sequential days from 7 - 21 of each month to the present date. Starting on the 7th of the month, gives me two weeks to complete the process.

On the 21st, I loop back to the start and recall 21 - 7 of each month, again giving me about 2 weeks to complete the process. It is easy to find where I had reached in the review, because there is a freshness about the images recently remembered. It doesn't take long to find those that are more faded and due for sharpening.

Covering the end of the month like this makes it easy to orientate myself. Finishing on the 7th of the month, I only have to step back three week to reach the 28th of the month for the next section.

I did think that I might vary the windows each time, but the most I've done is lengthen the window if I've overrun. So my current refresh is 7 - 28 of the month, as I wasn't ready to start on the 7th.

I continue to refresh a two-day window for every week of the past 6 months and every day of the past month, both in the morning and evening.

Now that I have over five years of full calendars, there are inevitably similar memory tags and even sequences of them. A longer run reinforces where I am on the calendar and the wider context of the year.

When I had fewer days to remember, I would cover the whole period in the same day, from start to present, recalling the images for just two or three days per month. This meant I would remember where I was on the same day for every year I have covered. With the long periods, I may not even cover the same month. For example, it's February, but my reviews are currently up to August 2012, and I'll probably only cover to the end of that year today.

So I missed the birthday of a friend's child. Under my earlier method that would not have happened.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Counting the days

My memory tag for Monday January 11, 2016 is waking to the news that David Bowie had died after an 18 month battle with cancer.

He died just days after releasing his last album and preparing a musical featuring some of his songs. It was reported that he had time and health to visit old places with his family.

I decided to embark on a thought experiment, imagining I had a similar time left for living. On January 1 this year (2017), I realised I had about five months of this time left, or 150 days. Those I am counting down. It is now February 17, so just over 100 days to go.

It is a thought experiment, even if hypochondria is telling me the pain in my right side is colon cancer. I've researched it, though, and it does not seem likely, as sometimes the pain is on my left side. Just IBS.

But perhaps it will be a car accident, robbery or terrorist attack that takes me. I won't make this a self-fulfilling prophesy, but it is easy to think that my days are numbered.

Which, of course, they are. The number I am counting down may be wrong, but one things is for sure, my days are finite and each one is gone forever when the clock strikes midnight.

Knowing this, is strangely comforting. I do not need to stress about small things.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Five years

The end of the year 2016 means I now have five complete years where I can remember every single day that has passed.

I review these days in a new routine to refresh the memory tags pinned to my mental calendar. 

Initially, I reviewed two or three days of each month, corresponding to today's date. So on January 12, I would briefly recall the images for, say, 11, 12 and 13 of each month. Every day, I moved the window along one day. As the days piled up, I switched to a two-day window, then I dropped the overlap, instead giving myself both the 12 and 13th to run through all the months so far accumulated in this process.

Now, I give myself two or three weeks to complete the review by using a far bigger window. At present, I am recalling the images for days 7 - 21 of each month. Two weeks. The longer run of days makes it far easier to recall the memory tags, compared to dipping in to find just an isolated pair. I'm part way through 2012 at the moment. I have until January 21 to cover all the month until 2017.

Then I'll start again, with a window from 21 - 7, that is, covering the end of the month and moving a week into the next. The day on which I finish orientates me for the start of the next window, as it is exactly two weeks later - the same day of the week.

This is for my long review. I also review the past month completely at the end of the day. Most days, I will run a two-day window over each week of the past 6 months, as has been part of my routine from early on.

The turn of the year is always a little disorientating. The completed year still seems so fresh, but now it is done and dusted. I have to identify a theme for the year as a whole to help me identify it among the other completed years.

The more distant years are well known to me from so many reviews. But I still gain insights roaming over them. The present gives everything a new context. 

I've still not lost a day, but with over 1800 memory tags, I can sometimes confuse a sequence of days across the years. At more mundane times, I may differentiate the days by capturing some minor details I want to remember, such as what I did for lunch. This is not remarkable, but serves to remind me of the places in my routine of the time, some of which have since closed or changed. Sometimes I stray into a sequence from a different year and have to correct when I run up against a day alerts me to the fact.

This process gives a profound measure of time. People have been born or have died. I have progressed with running, from my first 5 km race in 2012, to marathons and my first trophy. Today I looked at the light fitting above the bed and remembered it was four years to the day that I replaced it.

So much happens in a year. So much more in five. Events in the years before also come to mind, but however clear the memories, they are generally unanchored.

I have no reason to stop.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Remembering the Olympics

The Rio 2016 Olympics finished on Sunday. There is a four-year wait until the next edition in Tokyo.

I know what four years is like now, taken one day at a time, as the images on my mental calendar cover every day back to the London 2012 Olympics - and beyond.

I don't remember everything about the 2012 Olympics, but several key events are recorded in the memory tags for days during that period.

The opening ceremony took place on 27 July 2012. We watched it at gathering in a church, after the "All the Bells" ringing across the UK that morning. Much of the ceremony is memorable enough not to be specifically coded in my memory tag. The Queen and James Bond. Mr Bean. The Olympic Flame. The Olympic Rings in flames above the stadium.

We were in the UK to see some of the events. On 29 July 2012, Brazil beat Belarus 3-1 in the men's football. The team included Neymar, a star already, but qualifying under the under-23 rule nonetheless. Neymar scored the winning penalty in the shootout in the final against Germany on 20 August 2016 (revenge for the 7-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup in 2014, coded in my memory tag for Tuesday 8 July 2014).

We had a few days holiday in Scotland after Brazil's game in 2012 and my memory tags capture the people and places visited on that trip. The Olympics is background with no key events recorded on my mental calendar until 5 August 2012. We were driving to our next destination listening to commentary of Andy Murray in the tennis final at Wimbledon. We arrived in time to watch the end of the match, which he won, and then go on to play in the mixed doubles final, which he and his partner lost.

The men's single final this time around was also on Sunday - 14 August 2016. Murray won again. Memorably, the BBC interviewer congratulated him on being the first person to win a second gold medal in tennis and, to his credit and acclaim, he responded that Venus and Serena Williams had already won four gold medals each. His victory is included in the image on my mental calendar.

Back to 2012. We went to Hyde Park to watch the Olympics on big screens on 8 August and returned for the women's open-water swimming the following morning. In Rio, this took place off Copacabana on 15 August, memorable because the Brazilian swimmer, Poliana, dragged from the Serpentine with hypothermia in 2012, won Bronze after a French swimmer two places before her was disqualified for obstruction.

That day in 2012, we also went to watch volleyball at Earls Court and the women's football final at Wembley (USA v Japan, 2 - 1). The defeat of the Brazilian women's team on 16 August 2016 to Sweden is in my memory tag for that day.

Super Saturday in 2012, when three Golds were won by Team GB, took place on 4 August 2012, but I had to look that up, because it was not in my memory tag. We were actually travelling that day to Glasgow on our return south. The details of that journey and the hotel where we stayed are pinned to my calendar and have been refreshed in a fraction of a second when I have run through these date in periodic reviews. But in those reviews, I've never recalled it was Super Saturday as well. Stopping to think now, my memory of watching the wins of Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah, is distinctly vague.

But I remember the emotion and pride afterwards the British population had in the GB athletes - and in itself for celebrating their victory so enthusiastically. Even the right-wing, xenophobic tabloid The Sun was full of praise and repeated a joke doing the rounds on Twitter: "A Muslim, a mixed race lass & a ginger bloke walk into a bar. And everyone gets them a drink." Usually minorities would be the target of the punchline - now the punchline was they were accepted as heroes in modern Britain.

Of course, my calendar since then has the vote to leave the European Union on 23 June 2016, following xenophobic scaremongering and followed by a rise in hate crimes against minorities.

All the same, the three GB athletes deserved a drink once more with Super Saturday mark 2, on 13 August 2016, taking Bronze (Rutherford - long jump), Silver (Ennis-Hill - heptathlon) and Gold (Farah - 10,000 metres). I was there to see it in person this time, as we visited Rio to follow the Olympics. Elaine Thompson took Gold in the women's 100 m in the same session and Thiago Bras, who went on to win men's pole vault, qualified for the final. Most of our tickets were for cheaper qualifying rounds, but we gladly paid for the tickets to see history being made on this day.

Mo Farah also won the 5,000 metres in London 2012. I don't have it in a memory tag, but this time I do remember watching the race, particularly the commentator saying it was slow. I've checked and it was on 11 August 2012, so I've now added into my image for that day, which reminded me of a bike ride.

Is it cheating to modify an image so long after the event?

Seeing as I make the rules, no.

I avoid making false memories, creating an image for something that must have happened, but for which I have no memory. In this case, I remember the event, but didn't recall the date. Sticking a pin in it is allowed. I've decided.

It also provides a symmetry to remembering Rio 2016. My image for Saturday 20 August 2016 includes Mo Farah winning the 5,000 metres for the second time. In both cases, this was a week on from his 10,000 metres win. Patterns like this help me.

The remainder of the London Olympics pass in the background. My memory tags are about other trips and visits or work I was doing. That is, until 22 August 2012 and the closing ceremony. My tag is cycling to where we are staying, knowing it is on that evening. The ceremony itself is not in my image as my conventional memory serves up details of it.

I followed Rio 2016 more closely and spent more days attending events and this is reflected in the memory tags.

Now I have two Olympic Games in this period of remembering every day that passes. Four years to Tokyo. I will be filling the days until then.