Down Darby Lane

Memories to Mend the Restless Mind



Just as we began to believe our world might open up, that there may be a return to something we once regarded as ‘normal,’ fate showed up in multiple ways. I’ve told you about our record-breaking snowstorm and loss of power where I live in California. This happened at about the same time Typhoon Rai hit the Philippine Islands, ripping the roof off the home of a good friend. Currently, the East Coast of the U.S. is preparing for an epic winter storm they’re calling a “bomb cyclone.” And, to mention the tragically obvious – we have been invaded by yet another virus that promises to keep us captive.

We all react differently to the barrage of challenges we’ve experienced. Some people slip into hopelessness and depression, while others seem to find silver linings in every cloud that hovers over humanity.

It’s this latter group I want to talk about with you in the hope that we might tap the ability of the human brain (evolutionarily wired to latch on to negative experiences as a critical survival tactic) to override this instinct when it’s not helpful. I read a news story about people scheduling time to recall pleasant memories and have those feelings morph into a more lasting positive attitude. When I read feel-good items like that, I’m immediately skeptical.

So, I dove into scientific articles and consulted mental health professionals with more degrees than a kitchen oven. It turns out the theory isn't just happy talk - it's based on empirical research by qualified researchers. Here are some of the big words and findings:

The pressure of too much negative input triggers the “hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis stress response,” which throws us into a state of heightened awareness of danger (good if you’re being chased by a mammoth, bad if you’re in line at the grocery store). But when we call upon our memory to revisit positive memories, the corticostriatal circuits (say that fast three times) come to life and connect to parts of the brain that respond to positivity. According to the mega-brains at the National Institutes of Health, this demonstrates “… the restorative and protective function of self-generated positive emotions via memory recall in the face of stress.”

I’m excited about this and surfing through my own list of marvelous memories to conjure up when I’ve made the mistake of reading the news feed on my iPad. (How many hospitals are overcrowded because of Omicron? America’s democracy is in danger of falling? A midwinter forest fire in the Colorado mountains consumed how many homes?)

When there seems to be no escape from danger, it’s good to know that, with a little effort, we can impact our brain chemistry by intentionally thinking about events that once brought us joy, hope, pleasure, and a sense of control. Accessing our personal power is not a meditator’s fantasy or the result of alcohol or cannabis-laced gummy bears. Memory is available to each of us. It’s free, safe, measured, and reproducible in a laboratory through the tools of modern neuroscience.

Let me tell you one of my memories that’s been floating in and out of my mind this week as I contemplate the glacier that’s made my mailbox inaccessible for ten days – requiring me to watch for the little postal truck so I can run outside (wearing ice-spikes on my shoes) to catch the delivery driver before he skids down the hill:

It was ten years ago B.C. (Before Covid). My husband and I were attending a fundraising gala in Los Angeles. It was a glittery affair, and I felt like a country bumpkin in a Hollywood scene. Recognizable stars lit up the room, floating across the floor in tuxes and gowns worthy of the spotlight. There was Goldie Hawn, tossing her long blond curls and gracing a group of people with her pearly smile, the dashing Kurt Russell at her side. And Jane Fonda, queenly and tall and looking not a decade over 40, though I knew she was older than me. Bert Reynolds, Sally Field, and many other people who sparkled in a way that said, “I’m Somebody,” glittered like tinsel as they floated around the grand room. And then, sitting at a table in the shadows, I saw Sidney Poitier. He was solid gold.

I don’t know if it was the large glass of chardonnay I’d enjoyed or just an impulse, but I excused myself from our table and walked to his side. I dropped down on one knee and thanked him for his contributions to film and for his lifetime work that opened doors and broke through barriers. He took my hand and held it in his for a moment, said a few words to me, and then reached down and kissed me on my right cheek. My feet did not touch the floor as I returned to our table. I was, I think, swept along on a cloud, deciding to never again wash that cheek. And, yes, reliving that memory does bring back the emotional high of that moment. It’s with me now.

Sidney Poitier, an icon of American film, is gone, but the memory he left – that’s forever mine. And it’s provided me with a tangible example of how we can awaken positive emotions. Once we recall and experience such valued memories, researchers found, we hold on to those feelings, and they can alter our perception of the present.

I’ve been told that hindsight is foresight. And this drug-free, widely available, and doctor-approved technique fits right into the metaphor. Give it a try and let me know. I’m already planning a booster session.


***


Thanks as always for reading my blog - you give me something special to anticipate each week. To escape the bad news and trouble that's fed to us on an all too regular basis. We all have memories that lift us up. I'd love to hear about yours! I've heard from a number of you and here's a couple of notes that show the diversity of experience in our world. First, from Patsy, who lives in St. Croix (with her apologies for having it so pleasant): "Wow. I guess you don't want to hear about my wonderful family visit over the holidays. Coffee on the beach each morning, sunset viewing in the evenings, long beach walks, snorkeling, outdoor meals together, hikes, sailing." And then this from Betsy who's feeling America's pain: "So much hardship across the country. We too experienced 30 hours without electricity. And we have no generator. My oldest brother lost his home in the Colorado fires last week. It always hits home when it involves family or friends, doesn’t it?"


One of the (few) things I'm looking forward to in 2022 is all of you! Email me at darby@darbypatterson.com


And I hope that sometime in our relationship you'll check out my mystery Novel, "The Song of Jackass Creek." It's getting fabulous reviews and suited to readers who prefer character and plot over blood and guts - people and places remembered from my days as the publisher of a small-town newspaper in the Sierra. eBook and paperback HERE !



Friends and Readers,

A note about most of us, for better and worse, in the Arts. I think we long to share our thoughts and creations - and without you, we are lonely. Imagine, you wrote a beautiful piece of music and no one but you (and perhaps your cat) ever got to hear it. Or painted a picture that no one else but you ever saw, or wrote a story that no one but you read. Sharing is everything for people in the arts and your support is fundamental to the continued creativity of all artists. So, Thank you! 

Hey! Check out this awesome article by popular columnist Ed Goldman - it's about moi! Also subscribe to his clever, witty and smart blog!  

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My Mountain Mystery

My book has gotten fab reviews on Amazon! I am so excited readers like the characters, the setting, the plot - minus lots of graphic violence. 

If you are fond of 'cozy' mysteries please read The Song of Jackass Creek. Check out Reviews HERE.

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Short Story Collection 

Twisted is - twisted! And Gypsy's Wedding - well, you just have to be there!  Click on the books to see more ... 

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Sample Amazon Reviews

This is an excellent writer!

Darby Patterson is truly a talented writer. She describes this little town sweetly without boring the reader with unimportant detail, and her descriptions are vivid. She also develops her characters fully through conversation and action so the reader becomes acquainted with the main players and can form pictures of them early in the book. Her characters' thoughts, interactions, and past activities combine to portray the culture of Redbud throughout the story, and the story itself is creative and holds surprises along the way. I too hope Ms Patterson continues to share her talents with us!

Sondra Jensen

Awaiting the next installment

An invitation to linger in this vanishing part of California which has so much history is writ on every page of this book. I've visited places like Redbud with a creek burbling in the background as gentle breezes sough through the pines and cedars. I've found them quaint and rich with fascinating local lore and history. Jesse, as publisher of the local weekly is very nicely sketched, the authors background as a journalist comes through clean and clear in developing him. This small California mining and logging town scrabbling to hang on, I liked very much as a setting. I wouldn't mind sitting down with Jesse and having a beer and help him solve his next mystery. The test of a good book is whether you'd be willing to read it again, later. This book passes that test and I can't wait for the next installment.

Jack Howard

 

Please let this be the first of a series!

Wonderful book; adult without being ‘R’ rated, complex story and well developed characters. The people of ‘Redbud’ ring true and, as a native Californian, the lumber, real estate and politics are spot on. I hope this is the beginning of a series because the author has created characters you want to know better.

D. Holmes

My other passion
Sculpting for bronze - See more HERE
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