“There’s no such thing as a three-year-old caterpillar.”

caterpillar on garbage can Mount Royal

“There’s no such thing as a three-year-old caterpillar.”

There it is, on a scrap of paper that I find as I do a clean-up of my desk.

“There’s no such thing as a three-year-old caterpillar.”

Where did these words come from? They are written in my barely legible handwriting, but did they come from my mind, or did I jot them down while listening to, watching or reading something else. But what?

I do a Google search, but this particular string of words does not, come up. An article about bird cherry Ermine moth caterpillars, or web worms, transforming a cemetery in Essex, England does, however, come up. So I read that and watch the accompanying video. I am impressed, but no closer to the origins of “There’s no such thing as a three-year-old caterpillar.”

Its source obscure, I concentrate on what it might mean. It occurs to me that a caterpillar that does not change into a butterfly is just a worm. So, if after 3 three years of believing you are a caterpillar you still don’t have wings, face up to the fact that you are just a worm and be the best possible worm you can be.

Then again, perhaps the person who wrote “There’s no such thing as a three-year-old caterpillar,” and there is a slim chance that person is me, did not mean it to say that at all.

If you want to read all the non-tanka writing on this blog, click here.

For all our aging fathers

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Another misstep
He’s losing the fight against
Gravity—for now
You pick him up—dust him off
This is not the final fall

The earth wants us back
All this stardust that is us
Waves from each to each
And none can escape forces
Indivisible yet fine

Even the bright sun
Will fold in upon itself
Collapse to darkness
Today? Today waves sparkle
Clouds rise white above the Gulf

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To read all the Tanka, and writing about Tanka, please click here.

To read Songs about Sex, Death & Cicadas by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

Our Lady of Perpetual Dementia

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Whatever pain you feel
We will never ever know
Demented—old—sweet
Neurons—snow-covered branches
Soul—so much electric meat

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Depth Charge: Some conscious sources for this poem include re-reading poems and writings from 30 years ago about my grandmother’s slow death from Alzheimer’s; the equation of “soul” to “electric meat” comes from hearing Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine, speaking on CBC radio’s Tapestry–the second half-hour; and the central visual image comes from looking at the snow-covered branches outside my window.

To read Songs about Sex, Death & Cicadas by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

Facebook and Alzheimer’s: A Tale of Collective and Social Memory

While other people are being snatched away from us, we are being filched away surreptitiously from ourselves. –Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, Letter CIV

When Seneca wrote these words, he was trying to convince us that it was pointless to grieve for the loss of loved ones, because we are ourselves are being changed and worn down by the passage of time, the departed have merely suffered time’s final blow.

I think he has missed a deeper point, however, that the death of someone we loved, with whom we spent a great deal of time and shared many experiences represents a significant change and loss for us because of the oft overlooked collective and social nature of memory. When a friend or family member dies, a huge section of our memory is erased; we still have our memories of them, but we have lost their memories of us.

AGG's parent's 2012-12-25 10.27.50

“When a friend or family member dies, a huge section of our memory is erased; we still have our memories of them, but we have lost their memories of us.”

In our individualistic society we like to delude ourselves that we are autonomous, freestanding entities, including our minds and memories, but it just ain’t so. Memory is collective in the sense that communities are built on shared common experiences and social in the sense that we rely on family and friends to revive (and revise) important experiences.

In traditional, stable societies collective and social memories would be fairly synonymous. If you stay in the same community and consort with the same people all your life, what you remember as a group and as an individual have a much larger overlap than if you are constantly on the move, changing cities, social groups, employment, careers, family members, friends and lovers.

AGG at the age of one

“When we used to have life-long contact with our families, there were usually several generations who knew us from childhood, not anymore.”

This is where the power of modern media comes in. It is crucial for creating collective memories in such a mobile mass: Where were you when Kennedy was shot? What were you doing when the Twin Towers came down? I don’t remember the Canada-Soviet Hockey series of ’72, how about you?

Social memory has become more and more estranged from collective memory and ever more fragile. When we used to have life-long contact with our families, there were usually several generations who knew us from childhood, not anymore.  Families are scattered and old people locked in lodges. Particularly tragic is when stroke, dementia or Alzheimer’s prematurely rob us of our shared social memories.

It seems to me that the explosion of popularity in social media like Facebook, Twitter, blogging and Tumblr is due in part to a desire to reinforce not just collective memory, but , more importantly, social memory. We can no longer rely on a stable group of lifelong acquaintances to mutually reinforce identity through shared memory creation, re-creation and re-vision, so we pass around Internet memes in an attempt to find shared reference points and entrust our photos and stories to the Web and the Cloud, vainly hoping that cyber chatter and networks can replace shared lived experience.

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For a concrete example of what I am talking about here, check out my poem Facebook Photo.