My brain

I don’t really prize much in life. You could take all of the stuff I really can’t let go of, and fill a few small boxes with it. Some photographs and some of my mom’s journals, and my journals before I started writing almost exclusively on a computer. Everything (and we are just talking about objects, NOT creatures or people) is otherwise replaceable.

I don’t own any art that would leave me heartbroken if it was stolen. A few inexpensive prints from some neighborhood shows, and my own sad attempts to paint like Jackson Pollock. The same goes for all of my books. I don’t own any special first editions or collectible books. They are among the cheapest editions I could find used on Amazon for the most part. Maybe the bibles my mom gave me, that’s all I would keep.

Of course, all of the clothing, furniture, kitchenware and toiletries are highly replaceable.

While I have accumulated more stuff than I ever have in life, it’s not stuff that couldn’t go off to Goodwill or leave in the next bulk trash pickup if my wife were to suddenly land a sweet gig in a place where we couldn’t keep a lot of stuff.

Aside from my wife and my impending son, and my dog, and suppose her cat–there’s me. I am worth saving to the extent that her life would be harder without me making a few extra books and helping raise the boy. But, my physical self is not something that I hold up to be some kind of timeless treasure. My body is clearly decaying in ways that no extra time at the gym or macrobiotic diet is going to fix. I can accept that. I don’t want to be grotesquely overweight, but a few pounds is not keeping me awake at night. I’ve never had the remotest potential for a career in which my body matters.

This leaves me with the question of all things cerebral, spiritual and soul-like, but mostly, I tend to focus on my mental faculties from the perspective of asking myself constantly if I am just as quick-witted and capable of remembering things as I was when I was ten to fifteen years younger. The answer usually returned is “yes,” although, there is occasionally a memory of me being capable of doing something much more amazing with a math or computer-related problem than I can do today. But, for the most part, I’ve always been a solid, B+ student who can grasp hard math and science at the college freshman level, and do no better.

All of my reading of math books and study and doing math problems last summer essentially got me to where I could remember a little easier some of the basic things a student is supposed to know about the X and Y axes and Sin, Cos, Tan, etc. I could perform advanced algebra, like division of polynomials, by the end of the summer, and then I kind of just gave up. I woke up one morning and the zeal I had for things math-related had left me completely, and I just wanted to think about art and literature and music, and not worry about the fact that I couldn’t make myself progress any further than I had in college.

My brain has memory capabilities that I would say are completely average and unexceptional. If I devote a lot of attention to remembering something, like a password that I will regret forgetting, I seem capable of remembering it, even if it is a complicated string of characters. But, there are plenty of other things, like Excel formulas and Javascript functions that I go and Google when I need to use them. This could just be a lot of laziness on my part, or there could be something inside of me that is truly resistant to remembering information that would forever seal my fate as being nothing more than a computer nerd.

I purchased a subscription to Lumosity, and I have to admit, I did my best with all of the little brain games on the very first day, and got progressively worse and more frustrated until I could hardly stand it anymore. I subscribed to a daily email from Wikipedia and tried to memorize whatever random trivia had dropped into my inbox each day, and I just couldn’t do it.

As much as I take delight in reading books and thinking about my existence, I know damn well that I am not a great intellectual by any stretch of the imagination. I consume fine art, music and literature with the same kind of gluttonous zeal that a populist might follow his favorite sports bands and reality TV characters.

In spite of my understanding of my limitations, I wake up each day feeling like I need to improve myself somehow. As I get older, the only area that really makes sense to improve is inside my cranium, sense all of the basketball practice in the world would only make me a tired, sore man.

I am hopelessly a primitive individual. I don’t like added layers of sophistication to anything I use. The car salesman was trying to sell me Pandora and Bluetooth and uploading my address book to the car with a custom screensaver on the dashboard, and I just wanted to see how the car accelerated, braked and handled curves. The fewer damn gadgets and flashing, beeping shit getting in my way of driving, the better. If they are going to computerize everything in the car, why do I still have to go to Google to find out it’s my motor mounts that are making the noise the mechanic at the dealer can’t or won’t fix?

If I’m going to train my brain to get better, I am emphatically convinced that I can do it without a lot of outside apparatuses. I am certain that most of my problems with memorization, visualization, focus, etc. have to do with the haphazard way we learn to use our brains as children–no doubt that if you could look inside my brain you might find any number of ways that I am grinding the gears and riding on the brakes with my thought processes.

My wife and I have been singing silly songs that we remembered from childhood. Earlier last weekend, I caught myself singing the “Apples and Bananas” song–you, know, the one were you swap out a vowel song and repeat “I like to eat, I like to eat, I like to eat, eat, apples and bananas.”

Pausing at the bag of apples I’d purchased to munch on a Gala apple, I noticed that I’d also grabbed bananas at the store on Monday. I hadn’t bought both kinds of fruit together in years. I didn’t even think about the fact I’d been singing the song until just then.

Such is the way my brain works. I like to think I’m above suggestive advertising, since I’ve been in marketing for years, but I’m certainly not immune to it. I would probably actually buy more stuff from advertisers if they just made up stupid songs like the apples and bananas song, sung it, and flashed the words on the screen. Seriously…not even say “15 minutes could save you 15%…” just flash “buy Geico Car Insurance and you won’t be sorry…” Nothing else, no stupid talking pigs or lizards, no celebrities, not even someone who knows how to sing in key. Just repeat it like a mantra, until I’ve assimilated it into my subconscious enough to go buy it. Maybe run your re-targeting ads online with the exact same format, so they follow me around wherever I click. Whose to say that this utterly boring form of advertising wouldn’t do any better?

Why, we’d all grow immune to it, you say…that’s basically what they did back in the 30s. But, we are already immune to advertising. I don’t feel the least bit compelled to pick up the phone and find out if 15 minutes could really save me 15% on car insurance, do you? I seriously doubt my basic, mantra chant ads, asking you to do exactly what the advertiser wants you to do, would do any better or worse than the current crop of ads full of sing-songy whistling and chanting hipsters acting like they are living in a perfect, hippy-dippy world without any problems other than their incredibly unsympathetic, first world problems.

What would happen if all insurance companies started doing it? What if? Some of us would keep switching and others of us would switch only every so often and a few of us wouldn’t switch at all. So what? The market share of the major car insurance companies probably wouldn’t change that much at all.

So why bother advertising at all?

Because you can always find at least a small percentage of the population who are susceptible enough to be programmed into doing whatever you want them to do. So, you might as well always sell to them, and for everyone else, you remind them that you exist.

But, other than that, there is really no need to advertise in the way companies do today. They spend billions of dollars to get inside our heads, figure out how to manipulate us and appeal to us, and in all likelihood their perfectly timed jingles and quasi-jokes and cute animals and kids all pretty much don’t do any better than simply asking or telling someone to buy your product.

You could alternate your ads that way. You run a woman’s voice telling you to buy your product and a man’s voice asking you to buy it one month, and the next month, you switch genders so that the man tells you to buy it and the woman asks. There. You have now four different ads you can run until the end of time or your company goes out of business.

Of course, the rationale for doing this is obvious: some of the population responds best to a Mommy figure telling them to do something and a Daddy figure asking, and some respond the other way. You could even argue that when we are largely in the middle of peacetime, we will want Mommy telling us what to do, and when we are at war, we want Daddy telling us what to do.

But, it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. For the most part, if I am not really in need of your product, and another product will do me just fine, I am not motivated by anything other than someone I really like asking me to try the new product. No amount of supercool kids and know-it-all yuppies make me identify with the people who use your product.

I could be in the minority, though, but I bet most companies don’t ever get the return on their advertising dollars they’d hoped for.

Anyway, this was supposed to be about my brain, and how I could make it work more to my advantage.

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