Monthly Archives: October 2012

My Earliest Memory

Okay, I figured I’m gonna induce flashbacks and make you recall your earliest memories, I should be willing to do the same.

So here it is. Confessions of a fat kid.

Scribbled in mom’s handwriting:
January 1992
“about 9 1/2 – 10mo.”

Our family moved to Texas on my 3rd birthday. Apparently I got car-sick and chucked up my birthday cake all over my grandmother’s velvet back seat.

Happy freakin birthday to me. and Mimi. Sorry about that. If it’s any consolation you don’t have to worry, I don’t get motion sick now. You can stop reminding me of this occurrence every time I ride with you.

I don’t remember very much about when I lived in St. Louis.
Hardly anything, if I was honest. Just snapshots. Quick flashes in my memory.

I remember,  the curtains on the window next to my crib were  a pattern of red, blue, and green airplanes.

I remember the ice cream man. The back deck. The swing-set. The “woods” behind our house.


The treasure. Priceless.

The first vivid one?

I remember finding where mom stashed the Whoppers.

I had seen her put them up once. Lewis & Clark “aint got nothin on me.” Adventurer from birth. I slyly pretended to go down for a nap, waited ’til she was gone and escaped, climbed on top of the toilet seat, opened the sink cabinet, reached for the treasure, and plunged my hand to the bottom of the bucket. I then happily plopped myself down on the stairs and ate them triumphantly, while waiting for my mother to walk by.

I’m sure it would’ve been hard not to laugh,  seeing me cradling a pound carton of chocolate, half of it now in my stomach, with a huge grin.  I don’t remember what happened when she did find me, but…. seriously who keeps stashed candy in the bathroom??! That was obviously a rookie mistake which deserved to be outwitted.

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Your Earliest Memory

courtesty of

Courtesy of


Here’s an interesting project— try to think back to your earliest memory.

your VERY earliest.

Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

——- — — – – — – – –  –


(insert waiting theme song from Jeopardy)

Okay, not that long.  Geez, don’t have an aneurysm.

It’s really hard isn’t it? If you’re the average person you don’t have many memories before the age of 4.

Maybe a couple, a handful at most. They get progressively fuzzier, the younger you were when it happened.

Don’t feel bad. You can chalk it up to Childhood Amnesia.

The problem.

Yup, that’s a real thing.  Childhood Amnesia. Something about our brains not done forming or something stupid like that…..

And the worst part: it’s proven you actually remember less and less of your childhood as you get older.

I’m not talking about losing them when you’re old and wearing dentures. Right now. Whether you’re 14, 24, or 44. The memories are slipping through our fingers like sand. Not all at once, but rather -piece by piece. We cup our hands and hold most of it….but given enough time, the majority falls through the cracks.

So why does this matter?

Well, apart from sentimental reasons…..the little stories in our life will add up to the giant narrative.

We construct the base of our identity from these memories.

I like to think it works a lot like the Implicit memory. Every day, you tie your shoes, without thinking about how you do it. Although you only learned it once, it  now it affects you subtly every day.

Certain experiences define us. They shape us. Mold us slowly into a different person.



The push-back: I know some people might say, “good! I don’t want to remember some of my childhood!”


but this is really extremely frustrating for me personally.

I didn’t always feel this way…..but I’ve realized I want to be able to tell my kids stories about everything– how I grew up, the good and the bad.

It makes me reconsider just exactly how much I may have intentionally blocked out too. It begs the question, can we intentionally try to recall those memories?

[Don’t worry, I’m not going all Inception on you. It happens all the time in our daily lives.]

For example, children who were abused maintain a sort of partial brick wall, which may come tumbling down when an event/person later on in life pulls the bottom one out. Believe it or not, that trigger is almost never a therapist, trying with all his might to force it to budge. It’s random.  [ ]

If those extreme cases – the farthest, most disassociated, unwanted memories – can be salvaged……surely our normal ones can. Right?


Note: There is a difference between recognition and recall. —-Recognition is the association of a memory with an event or physical object you’ve encountered. So, you might see a baseball glove and suddenly remember how your grandfather took you to a Texas Ranger’s game. Recall is more like a Fill-In-The-Blank. It’s not even multiple choice. You have to remember something, with nothing in front of you to help.


So, what to do about this?

Well, the brain is a muscle, like any part of your body. Time to pump the iron.

If you’re looking to improve your memory, with training techniques, there might be far more indirect brain benefits than you realize:

It will keep you telling those hilarious stories at social events, lower your stress, keep you better organized, stay mentally healthy, more alert, and better grasp concepts.


My Practical Tips:

Yes, I’m hitting you with the diet stuff first. Let’s get it out of the way. Hey, if it makes you feel better, I’m medically allowed to add wine to this list.

  • Get enough sleep.

(Yes it’s that simple. No, we don’t do it.)   Nothing makes for a foggy day like being sleep-deprived. The reverse is true: nothing makes you feel more alive and alert than a full night’s sleep.

  • Carry around a notebook

Whether you’re nostalgic or frustrated, a new parent- creating a book of bedtime stories, or collecting material for your memoir, ALWAYS carry a note book with you. everywhere. Best advice I can give you.

  • Exercise

Stimulates production of new synapses, essentially new pathways which are applicable to any situation (whereas learning Sudoku might not help except in number-related puzzles). Also, the increased oxygen to the brain= good thing. Trust me. Last but not least, when you work out, (whether cardio or weights) it releases the feel-good chemical endorphins. (see link for targeted work-out tips)

  • Play video games   (for real)

Neuroscientist Yaakov Stern of Columbia University said in an article, “It requires motor control, visual search, working memory, long-term memory, and decision making,”  [also ability to control and switch attention among different tasks.] “People get better on tests of memory, motor speed, visual-spatial skills, and tasks requiring cognitive flexibility.”

  • Stay creative.

Don’t just do busy-work and boring work. Do something everday you love, for you. Writer Charles Bukowski didn’t believe in the “tortured genius.” He believes our motives affect our performance.

  • Laugh

It’s good for the soul. And apparently your memory retention? Also, don’t forget to laugh at yourself! Many memories are embarrassing, but don’t let that stop you. You might find some of them hilarious now, which you swore you’d never speak of again. In fact, tell it to a friend. Laugh until you cry. You never know, it might bring up other pieces of the event, if it happened with a friend.

  • Drink green tea.

Not only is it good for your brain, it actually has 7 other healthy benefits.

  • No More Mean Girls. Make real friends & real memories.

Surround yourself with healthy relationships. Ok fine, we can still watch the movie. I just mean, friends are the ultimate memory booster. They always remember stuff for you, good or bad. They induce those memory recall situations. Not to mention, people are the most important memories.

  • Try meditation, reading an old book, visiting where you grew up, yoga,  crosswords & Sudoku, using Mnemonic devices, active listening to radio news, trivia games, or (my favorite) photo albums.


I’d love to know:

What proven method did I leave out?

What unconventional method works for you?

What’s your strongest memory?

What triggers your flashbacks?

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Pictures & Memory Association

Above: 10 year-old Neo Makoena on his birthday, playing in the street. 

Quick summary: Neo was born HIV positive, by no fault of his own. Even if you don’t need to know the story of the how…all you need to know is that he should have died in December. BUT “H.I.V. can’t kill Happy Birthday”

He’s a fighter and a conquerer with a beautiful heart. He got to enjoy another year’s celebration of being alive. God bless you buddy. May I always remember to dance as carefree as you do.

So, lately I’ve been thinking about how pictures create “a radiating web of associations” in our mind.

Isn’t it crazy how a picture can take us back to that moment, in the snap of the fingers? With just one glance, we are submerged in that memory. We are there. Taken back in time.

I don’t know what that might be for you — a picture of your family, a long-lost relative, a lover, a childhood snapshot…..but it’s powerful isn’t it?

I took that black & white picture this summer, during a photography stint in Capetown, South Africa- documenting the youth of the slums.

The associations a picture creates can be “good” or, in the same regard, “bad”.

I’m not sure how you would label this one…..but I can tell you this. It still haunts me today.

It was…surreal being there. My head was swimming. The reality didn’t (fully) kick in until I returned stateside.  I don’t think anyone can truly comprehend a 10 year-old staring down death with a smile…..until you actually meet such a person. Seriously, I don’t. You have to put a face to a name.

Seeing this– suddenly flashes memories from that day: endless talks in the car, driving what seemed hundreds of miles, fighting mental and physical exhaustion, Edwin’s orchestrating of the gigantic party like a proud father, food, the words on the cake – burning into my retina afther the flash, a donated DJ,  presents from the community, the whole neighborhood packed into to every square inch of the property- spilling out onto the street, music blaring, Neo’s mad dance moves, children running, Edwin trying to speak over the numbing buzz in my brain, my unsolveable anger for the whole situation……

It’s powerful– somehow I still am transported back there, upon seeing the pictures.

Let me tell you why.

The doctors said that Neo should have died in January. Yet there he was. Smiling. Dancing. Living.

Above: Mother (left), Neo (middle), Edwin (right)

It’s almost as if you could write more than just a few lines to describe some of your memories… could write a novel.

It’s a never ending web of associations. One thing sparks another….

[I’d love to hear what pictures do that for you]

Well, I found myself writing this poem, in response to reviewing them. I hope it helps explain things further.

Ode to Neo

Your mother realized she was pregnant, the same night she wrecked her car

checking for blood transfusion, the worried chaos beyond the immediate, a deafening crash of

“what will he think when he finds out?”- -smack, another painful blow, again undeserved

you see, she found out the bad news too, she had been given AIDS from someone else

when she got home, nobody could tell the difference between another black & blue bruise

a broken family, an only twin, you were no stranger to the pain when birth came

without a Dad, but Edwin made sure you had more- a Godfather closer than heaven

he held you, baptized you, bought you clothes, called over the whole neighborhood to play,

one last party to defeat the slurs of death, you danced over your own supposed grave

December’s calling should have given you a new name,

but instead

you threw down that badge and entitled your own –

the fighter: one whose feet move too quick for death

now, I know I have no room to talk about shed tears, but

remember, this is hard for me-

a paradox I can’t deceode

a metaphor I can’t create

a picture from which I can’t look away

A party so full of life, amidst the wreckage

It was not our gifts, which gave you grace to smile tonight

I realized the contrary was my lesson

You were slowly teaching us

how to shine

kids and adults alike

how to move to the music, to run in the streets

not denying the darkness

but shining in the midst of it

the very thing we long for as old men

wishing we could have done

Neo, dancing at the party

Neo, playing with his friends in the street

Edwin (the godfather) suprising Neo at his school, giving him clothes as a birthday present

*This post goes out with special love and dedication to Edwin Louw from These Numbers :  a family man, a mentor, a friend to so many, an inspiration, a role-model, a teacher, and above all– a father to so many.

Edwin, I miss you dearly from this side of the world. Please give Neo a hug for me. I will do my best to continue providing captions to the endless amount of untold pictures. I will do my best to tell the story well.

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Creativity Requires Willingness to Look Silly


My writing process is a lot like setting a kid free in an amusement park.

The only difficult part is deciding what to ride first and how to spend your tickets.

I immediately regress to being a fifth grader without a filter, or a concept of what is “appropriate” for that matter.

I guess that’s what I love about writing. It….frees me.

[When you’re truly passionate something, you’ll do anything to achieve it. Nothing will limit you]

You see, kids don’t care what they look like. They just do it. No matter how silly or stupid.

If you look back on your childhood, you know I’m right.

God, if I could remember half the hilarious stuff we got away with…I’d have a bestselling memoir on my hands.

I mean, come on. Do you really think you can grow up in a house with 8 other family members, and not have some wild stories?

When we weren’t organizing our own soccer teams and choosing sides, or seeing how many of us we could fit on a mattress without our grip being jolted loose as we hit the bottom of the stairs…..we were finding new ways to give our parents hell.

Not intentionally. (most of the time).  Kids are just naturally creative and find new ways to do something when you tell them “no”.

They really think outside of the box when they want something. They don’t let obstacles stop them. It’s all or nothing.

Okay….just go with me on this.

Do you have that one memory that just sticks out for some reason? And its random- you have no idea why?

I really hate how we forget the majority of the “minuscule” or “mundane” events in our lives. I put quotations around that because, whatever little guy is up in my brain deciding what’s “important” and what’s not — I wanna punch him in the face.

I think the intro to Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years says it best:

“The saddest part about life is you don’t remember half of it. You don’t even remember half of half of it. Not even a tiny percentage, if you want to know the truth.  I have this friend Bob who writes down everything he remembers. If he remembers dropping an ice cream cone on his lap when he was seven, he’ll write it down.  The last time I talked to Bob, he had written more than five hundred pages of memories.  He’s the only guy I know who remembers his life. He said he captures memories because if he forgets them, it’s as though they didn’t happen; it’s as though he hadn’t lived the parts he doesn’t remember”

My examples:

I remember stealing a two-pound bag of powdered sugar from the pantry in 3rd grade, sneaking up behind my brother, Drew, jumping from the top of the couch spread-eagle, and smashing it WWE style on his unsuspecting head. It snowed in our living room that day. Seriously, everything was covered in white. I vividly remember how it was the first time my mother tried to scold me, but couldn’t hold back the smile and enormous laugh bubbling up.

  Drew [right], me [left]

When she asked me why I did it— I have no idea. Probably because I didn’t care about the consequences (just being honest). I was living in the moment.

Yet I do not remember getting attacked by Dalmatian dogs as a child, splitting my face open. (still have 3 pretty badass scars on my face from it). I remember getting my first set of cowboy boots, a vest, a toy pistol & rifle, and the whole get-up – as a 6 year old probably. Yet I can’t remember the name of the guy I taught a Literature Seminar with, just this summer.

Despite what psychologists might say about the reason why certain memories fade and other remain, as due to painful or important events…..I have to disagree.

There’s some important things I wish I could remember, and some random things that always manage to surface.

Frustrating to say the least. And you can just forget intentional recall. Nothing’s worse than when someone says, “Oh do you remember….?!” — and you have absolutely NO recollection. No matter how hard you try.

You see, in our lives — it’s a jumbled mess. It takes old age for us to be able to neatly piece together a comprehend-able storyline which others can smoothly follow in its re-telling.

That’s why we love novels.

They follow rules of concise chapters. An entire year or two is broken down and summarized in 200 pages.

We expect the writer to only give us the most relevant information. But, unfortunately, our brain doesn’t work like that.

Neither do our lives.

So, whether you’re an artist or not,

We don’t get to skip over the embarrassing parts, the screw-ups, and unrelated hardships. (although everyone else remembers them for me. Gee thanks.)

We have to be willing to risk looking stupid, to appear silly, if we are ever to write an interesting narrative with our life.

Somewhere along the way…..we mistook growing up & maturity for the structured & mundane.

Give yourself space to run.  Room to make mistakes. Room to create a story worth living.

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There’s nothing like walking back through your front door after a long trip away, or collapsing into your own bed after a long day.

Home is a special place.

Wherever that is for you.

No matter how hospitable someone is, it’s never quite the same to be a guest in another’s home. Not quite as comfy or…safe.

I think home is a place where you let down your guard.

So I can see why falling in love  with someone has a lot of the same qualities.  And getting married for that fact.

Home is a hard place to define. We use phrases like “home is where the heart is” to describe the feeling….because it’s temporal. It changes. It’s hard to pin down. It’s not confined to walls.

It’s dependent upon people as much as it is a place.

College is as much about finding your next home, as it is about trying to leave your parent’s. It’s a slow process. A kind of limbo we get stuck in. Between kid and adult.

Dorms don’t really help that.

They’re minimal, whitewashed, impersonal, and void of any semblance of familial warmth.

If you’re lucky like me, you had the chance to “move off-campus” after you’ve done your time in the small prison-shaped rooms, possibly with a solitary window.

But I do see now why most schools require you live 1 year on-campus first. They understand that home has a lot to do with community. Not just a physical place.

Now I live in a 7 bedroom house with my best college buddies. It’s a beautiful southern house (which if you want you can read more about in my previous post).

But the place in that picture…is important to me for another reason.

I was adopted into a new sort of family. The other guy in that picture is one of my closest friends now.

I didn’t go “home” (to my parents house) for two years after I left for college.

When I did finally go back, I didn’t recognize my hometown. The usual shock I suppose: high school quarterbacks working minimum wage jobs, your sweetheart married, religious zealots now drunk dropouts, the nerdy kids who became ridiculously successful, and an assortment of druggies, community college cop-outs, baby-mommas, and the lost friendships.

Not to mention the physical changes of the landscape. As the city slowly started to creep in on my quiet suburbia. The bike trail I used to ride on with my best friend, taking long day-trips far away on countless adventures, was defiled by a modern transit system which links to Dallas. Well, there goes a piece of my childhood.

And finally, when I reach my old bedroom. It. doesn’t. feel. mine.

At night, I lay in bed, on the top bunk, unable to sleep. I jolt awake in the morning, wondering what strange place I’m in. It takes a couple seconds after I rub my eyes to realize the blurriness is just a side effect of unfamiliarity.

All this to say…. it’s a tough journey from 18 to your mid-twenties, trying to find where you belong.

I realized after being gone for 3 months, drifting sleepless through the unforgiving deserts and mountains of Africa, the place I missed most was…..that little ‘ol town in Southern Oklahoma.

Yet, when I am home, in Durant, I am still restless. I must continue my search.

Ethan Cox says it best on his blog,

“Both sides of my grandparents also live in Willis (less than 2 miles from my parents’ house). Needless to say, I feel at home in the Bottom [Willis nickname]. However, I have a certain unquenched spirit that spurs up especially strong when I’m at “home.” It’s a spirit of travel. I have had the privilege of visiting a couple of continents, and now I can’t seem to get my fill. I don’t know what “home” really is, but my spirit feels most affirmed when traveling. Maybe the road is my home. “

I’ll give one last example, because it may do better justice than me.

One of my favorite movies in high school was the movie “Garden State.” It had a clip in it I didn’t really understand… until I had been gone at college for a few years.

Now, I see it. I understand. Destined to forever be in search of that place, until you recreate it for your kids.

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