My Brain is 80% Song Lyrics

In 1977 my sister spent hours in our living room trying to get me to snap my fingers and kick my leg back at the same time as the disco song “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees played on our parents console record player.  To this day I remember the lyrics: 

Feel the city breakin and everybody shakin,
And were stayin alive, stayin alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin alive, stayin alive.

Just the other day my wife and I were headed to the grocery store and Willie Nelson’s song, “Always On My Mind” came on the radio.  I started singing along knowing every word.  

Little things I should have said and done.

I just never took the time.  

But you were always on my mind,

You were always on my mind.

My wife suddenly turned the radio down and said, “Your brain has got to be mostly song lyrics!”  Perhaps there’s something to this.  I write notes to remind myself to send emails, give the dog his monthly heart meds, or pick up items at the grocery store.   I can rarely tell you what I had for lunch yesterday, but I can remember a song lyric from 1977.  

Rest assured, I’m not alone.  I think more people than we realize have this “issue”.  There are now websites devoted to selling shirts, mugs, and bumper stickers that tout, “My brain is 80% song lyrics!”

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Scientists have attempted to explain this over the years.  According to one research study I looked into, our short-term memory can hold around seven items at a time.  After hearing a song for the first time, the lyrics are stored in our short-term memory.  However, that information quickly migrates over to our long-term memory within minutes.  By the time you listen to a song several times, its forever memorized.  

Radio jingles are the best! I have a friend in Nashville who has made a living writing them.  He says the best jingles are designed to infiltrate our minds instantly, stay there for years, and then pop up when we’re shopping.  When was the last time you were at the store and saw a box of Band-Aids and recalled the song, “I am stuck on Band-Aids’ cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me.” Or better yet, “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz”.  I don’t even need to mention the name of the product.  I bet you’re singing!  

Neurologist and Psychologists who study the effects of music on the brain have found music with a strong emotional connection to the listener is difficult to forget. I also read recently music can help Alzheimer’s patients remember things better and learning to play an instrument may delay dementia.  I think we all can agree that music is powerful.  It has the ability to even lift up our spirits on a gloomy day. 

Perhaps all this music in my head is not a bad thing after all.  Our brains hold about 2.5 petabytes.  That means if our brains worked like a digital video recorder on our television, we would have to leave the TV running for more than 300 years continuously recording to use up all that storage.  

That’s a relief!   I still have room for a few more thousand songs up there. 

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Thanks to the Bully

You can’t pick up the newspaper or turn on the television these days without hearing some story about a child being bullied.  

It’s nothing new, especially on the school grounds, but with the Internet and modern technology, the schoolyard bully is way fiercer than they were even 20 years ago.  

 

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The National Center for Educational Statistics reports nearly 1 in 3 students are bullied during the school year (64 percent of children who are bullied don’t even report it). Looks, body shape, race, and gender expression are the top  “reasons” for being bullied.  

I’ve got to say, these numbers are alarming!  

I remember in grade school having a sign that read, “punch me” taped to my back. I walked around maybe 10 minutes before I realized the joke. It seemed so innocent back then — I don’t ever remember being punched. To me, it was just a cruel joke.   

Another incident I remember was being called a nerd in high school for being more interested in photography than sports. I never let that bother me either. In fact, looking back, I think it propelled me peruse my passion even more.  

These days bullies are even using social media to taunt their victims to death.  Cyberbullying, as its called, is a type of bullying that happens electronically. It can be a text message, email or an online post. Some children have reported being taunted on social media sites or had the bullies share embarrassing photos or videos of them online for the world to see.   It’s not just the stocky athletic boys picking on the skinny boys either. Girls get in on the action too by spreading rumors to harass their peers or by getting a group of kids to gang up on one or more of their peers. Researchers say girls get away it more because adults are less likely to pick up on their tactics.   

Last year a girl jumped to her death after some classmates allegedly bullied her online and posted a message that she should “drink bleach and die.” Two teenagers were arrested on felony charges in that case.  

Incidents that were once isolated to the playground, classroom or hallway are now in the palm of the bullies’ hands in the way of smart phones which has made cyberbullying even easier.  

Some argue bullying makes children stronger and its all part of “growing up.” The reality is children who are bullied are more likely to be depressed or in some instances suicidal. Show me a child who is being taunted daily, and I’ll show you one who is powerless, depressed, or possibly loosing all interest in school and the world around them. Other warning signs include unexplainable injuries, changes in eating habits, declining grades, and sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations.   

Research also shows that many youngsters give up sports because of bullying from the sidelines. Sometimes its teammates, but most often the ferocious behavior comes from coaches, parents, or other adults who are taking the game more seriously than they should. Constructive criticism is acceptable, but negative comments should not be tolerated. They’re children, not professional athletes!

It’s time we as a community stand up to the bullies of all kind. Children shouldn’t have to endure this at any age. Encourage those kids around you to speak to a trusted adult if they’re bullied or see others bullied. It’s proven that more than half of bullying situations stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the student being bullied. I think schools should also ensure that students who report such acts are protected. 

According stopbullying.gov, there are some practical ways that parents, school staff, and caring adults can help children understand bullying and hopefully prevent it:  

•Keep the lines of communication open. Check in with kids often.  Listen to them. Know their friends, ask about their school, and understand their concerns.  

• Model how to treat others with kindness and respect

• Talk about strategies for staying safe, such as staying near adults or groups of other kids.  

• Urge them to help kids who are bullied by showing kindness or getting help.  

October is typically designated as National Bullying Prevention Month. It’s going to take more than just a monthly observance to tackle this issue. It’s going to take parents, educators, community leaders, and all of us working together to impart to these youngsters the importance of getting along and working with others. Television, movies, and video games may glorify it, but its time we step up as adults and teach our children otherwise.   

Oh by the way – to the guy who called me a nerd for being interested in photography and for being part of the school newspaper, I now support my family with that camera and this column for that matter. Hope you’re doing well.  Thanks for encouraging me!  

 

Welcome Visual Clutter

Tomorrow is the official beginning of spring.  All flowers may not be blooming quite yet, but you can count on seeing political yard signs sprouting at every street corner.   Are they effective or just an eyesore?

I counted 10 signs in a row for the same candidate along one city street. Does more signs in a row equal more votes?  I doubt it!  It’s more like visual clutter.

Political strategists will admit that signs are effective especially in local elections where name recognition is important, but they don’t necessarily persuade voters.   In fact, people who put signs in their yard are already supporters of a candidate or political party.

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There’s a term used in advertising called the “mere exposure effect”, which says that the more familiar we are with something, the more we tend to like it or the more often a person is seen by someone, the more likable they appear to be.

How does this relate to campaign signs?  Let’s say you have no idea who is running for a particular political office.  But every day on your way to work you pass a “Vote Charlie Brown for Town Council” sign.  On election day, you may be more apt to for good ole Charlie Brown because his name was more familiar to you.

According to sign makers, the best signs are always ones that have no distracting backgrounds, use bold typeface, and no more than seven words. Our attention spans are short, and even shorter at 25 or 30 miles per hour.

A bad sign, on the other hand, could backfire on a candidate especially if the photo isn’t clear or the text is too difficult to read.   I can’t help but wonder if the candidate can really handle the office for which they desire if their signs look like they were done by a preschooler.

Then there’s the cost of them.  Standard two-sided signs can cost up to $6 each.  500 of those can put a big dent in a campaign budget.

I say its time we look past the signs, dig a little deeper, and make sure the candidates views are in line with our own.  With turnout falling lower than ever before in recent elections, we need to do everything we can to engage our friends and neighbors in to casting an informed vote.

Even though they can be an eyesore, campaign signs still have a place in our elections but they shouldn’t take the place of one-on-one voter contact.  I for one like to hear what the candidates have to say, what their plans are if they’re elected, and where they stand on issues that matter to me.

A bigger, more flashy sign, can’t take the place of that.

Getting Old

Harrison Ford once said: “You know you’re getting old when all the names in your black book have M.D. after them.”  

Growing up I would sometimes snicker when I would ask my grandmother how she was doing and she reeled off a list of ailments.

“Oh I’m fine” she would say.  “My head has been hurting, my stomach was a little upset yesterday, my right foot is numb now, but otherwise, I’m doing fine.”  

As a youngster, I guess I never realized all of the “perks” of growing old.  Of course you do get free coffee and a discounted biscuit at some fast food places, but there’s also the wisdom and experience that comes with growing older.  

A few years ago a group of researchers at a New York university interviewed thousands of Americans and found people 50 and older were happier.  Their anger had declined from when they were in their 20s and their stress levels were not nearly as high as they once were.  

I’m now well into my 40s.  I recently realized my arms were no longer long enough to read the newspaper.  I tried everything before finally succumbing to the idea of progressive bifocals. . . one focal length for seeing up close and another for seeing at a distance.  We can thank a wise man named Ben Franklin for coming up with that idea.  As the story goes, he got tired of switching between two types of glasses, so he devised a way to have both types of lenses fit into one frame.  

I’m sure Franklin would really enjoy my new glasses. Not only are they a bifocal, but they also magically turn into sunglasses when I go outside and have some fancy coating on the lenses to ward off computer glare and car lights at night, as well as prevent scratches.  

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You can barely turn on the TV these days without hearing a commercial for a cream or a pill that is supposed to make the aging process more bearable.  I did a little informal poll, asked a few senior adults I know their take on growing old and found some rather interesting results.  While there are no remedies to prevent aging, here are a few things they shared.  

• Laugh at yourself.  Laughter is better than medicine, right? 

• Maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Whether it’s a walk around the block or cutting the carbs, healthy eating and exercise are keys to a happy life.  

• Watch less TV.  Get out more, travel, meet people, and have fun.  (A recent study showed retired people spend upwards of 40 hours a week in front of the TV.  That’s too much sitting!)

• Volunteer.  You have a lot of wisdom to impart to the younger generation. Teach a Sunday School class, help a children’s group or adopt a cause you’re passionate about.  

Perhaps that list is the true fountain of youth.  Perhaps the “aging cure” is to let others know there’s nothing to worry about.  

After all, as the saying goes, “Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.”

Shhh … I’m Busy!

Have you ever felt your cell phone vibrate against your leg, reach into your pocket and realize your phone is not even there? Or perhaps you felt a vibration, pulled out your phone only to find no one was calling.  

Rest assured, you’re not alone. It’s actually called “phantom vibration syndrome”.  

Since 2007, there have been numerous university studies done to explain this phenomenon. Some attribute it to an obsession with keeping in touch with friends and family, while other studies attribute it to something similar to hallucinations. In other words, we’re so connected to our smartphones these days we can barely go a few minutes without checking it just in case someone “needs” us.  

I say we’re addicted.  

Psychologists have compared it to people who are addicted to drinking or smoking. When they see someone doing either of them on television or in the movies, they immediately want to grab a drink or a quick puff. 

Cell phones have become so much a part of our daily lives it’s difficult to realize just how attached we are. I know I’m guilty. On several occasions I’ve interrupted, or ignored to some extent, a live conversation just to answer a text. What has the world come to? 

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Before you start pointing fingers, if you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you may be guilty, too.  

Do you check you phone at every traffic light?

Do you pull out your phone in the middle of conversations with your friends just for a quick check?

Do you walk down the street checking your phone and almost walk into traffic?

Or better yet, are you on your phone at school or work even when you’re not supposed to be?  

A few weeks ago I went to dinner with a group of photographer friends. We all placed our cell phones in the center of the table.  The first one to pick up their phone, had to pay the bill. Luckily, I didn’t end up with the bill.  

If we’ve gotten to the point where our legs vibrate, our fingers hurt from texting, or we use our phones so much the battery is dead by noon, it’s time to unplug and pull back from our “addiction.”  

Perhaps this is the new norm in our society. Of course I grew up having to wait until after 10 p.m. on Sundays for the rates to drop so I could make a long distance phone call. Things have certainly changed in just a few short years. Having a cell phone in your hand is like the new “busy signal.” It signifys we’re too busy for those around us sometimes.  

I’m clearly the wrong person to be deciding on any “technology rules.” I’m just thinking it’s time we put down the phones in meetings, at the dinner table, in the check out lines, and just enjoy those around us. After all, when the phone dies, our loved ones are begging for a good face-to-face conversation without interruption.  

I’m just hoping I can take my own advice.  

 

The power of words

With Valentines Day just around the corner, the word love takes center stage. Love is a strong word.  

I love my wife, my parents and even my dog Zeke.  As Americans, we also love coffee, fast food, and chocolate brownies (brownies are my favorite by the way).  

Sadly in today’s world the word love is not only overused and undervalued, but I believe it has lost its meaning in the process.  Love has rolled off our tongues so much we’ve become desensitized to it.  

On Monday, I heard someone talk about how much they love the beach, love watching a certain TV program, and even love their new shoes.  

Can you really love an inanimate object?  

Growing up, my parents would not allow me to use the word hate because it was such a strong word.  I remember being disciplined for telling I hated them. Yet, I was never punished for the misuse of the word love.  

Certainly nobody loves a person the same way they love their favorite food, song, TV show — you catch my drift.

Last year I photographed more than two-dozen weddings.  At almost every one of them, the minister talked about the attributes of love often quoting The Bible passage from Corinthians.  

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

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I was always taught love is caring for someone else deeply and unconditionally.  In other words, it’s more than just an emotion. I saw it play out a few years ago when a dear friend of mine cared for his wife.  She had Alzheimer’s disease and didn’t know he existed yet he loved and cared for her daily until her death.  That to me is true love.  

For me personally, there is great value in the phrase “I love you.”  These days, couples date a week and they’re ready to say “I love you,” then decide to part ways a month later. 

I often hear people end their phone conversations with “I love you.” I wonder does the person on the other end say, “I love you” back out of obligation, or are they really sincere?  

Of course love is not the only overused word.  Our daily speech is full of exaggeration.  For example, my buddy informed his neighbors he would “kill them” if they walked across his freshly manicured lawn.  He thinks highly of his lawn, but I doubt anyone would die as a result.  

Awesome is another word thrown about.  The meal was awesome, the game was awesome, even the vacation was awesome.  Were you really filled with awe over those things? 

Words are powerful.  By simply saying a word, a person can be sentenced to death or to live.  The tongue does indeed have the power to heal and destroy.   

Perhaps it’s the evolution of our daily conversation and subsequent social media interaction that has created this monster.  

We say things without really thinking about the meaning and power behind words.   I know I’m guilty of it.  I’m certainly not saying we give up on love.  The world needs more love than anything right now.  Let’s just vow to put some value and meaning behind it.  

The Smells that shaped me

Growing up in the small town of Crewe, Virginia, I would often ride my bike to the local newspaper office and watch them assemble the weekly newspaper.  I always thought it would be fun to work at a newspaper.  I still remember the smell of the ink and other chemicals that permeated the building.

 

Occasionally I made a stop at the local funeral home too.  The smells there were much different.  To this day that place smells like roses and baby powder.  During one of my visits, the owners convinced me that being an undertaker was a noble profession.  The idea of preparing dead bodies seemed so fascinating.  When I told my father about my career path, he assured me that those people made lots of money, far more than the people who worked at the newspaper.

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(Downtown Crewe, VA)

In the years that followed, I continued to explore the possibility of life as a funeral director.  In fact, my middle school career project was all about the skills and education necessary to follow that path.

 

During one of my bike rides around town, I stopped in the local drug store for an orange-aid.  The store had a small photo lab in the back that was actually run by the pharmacist.  She convinced me to explore a photography career.   I remember telling her that my mind was made up.  I was going to be an undertaker, but I would give it a try.

 

When I turned 16 and it was time for my first job, the newspaper wasn’t hiring, the funeral home never called me back, so I found myself working at the local radio station.

 

Those bike rides paid off in some respects.  I’ve managed to make a living as a journalist, photographer, and now here I am back full circle as a newspaper columnist.

 

I hope you will enjoy reading about my perspective on life.  They say we all have a story to tell; we just don’t always realize it.  I’m sure other people’s lives are far more interesting than mine.  Perhaps, in the weeks, months, and years to come, you’ll gleam some interesting tidbit that you can use in your own life.  I’m certainly no expert.

 

As an adult, I look back on my story, and realize the importance of friends, mentors, and advisors in the life of a child.  In fact, research shows that these relationships result in positive academic outcomes, enhanced social and mental development, and prevention of at-risk behaviors.  I’m thankful for those people who took the time from their busy schedules to impart some of their wisdom and guidance.  I can definitely say those relationships shaped me into the person I am today.  One of those mentors encouraged me to always take the road “less traveled”, thus the name of this column.  I’ve found it has less garbage on it.

 

By the way, I’m still waiting on that call from the funeral home, until then, I’ll keep writing.