Monday, May 18, 2009

Still Confused After All These Years

I always thought that I’d get smarter as I got older. Instead, I seem to be getting more confused. When ex-football quarterback and politician Jack Kemp died recently, my first thought was that he was already dead. I was confusing him with Jack Kent Cooke, late owner of the Washington Redskins, among other sports teams.

During the course of my lifetime, there have been intermittent bouts of confusion, many now clarified. For instance, I no longer believe that Audrey and Katherine Hepburn were related, or that Jose and Mel Ferrer were related. (Imagine my confusion during the years that Mel Ferrer was married to Audrey Hepburn.) I no longer wonder how Robert Wagner went from being mayor of New York to starring in It Takes A Thief, but now when I hear the name Jon Favreau, I have to discern from its context whether it’s the speechwriter or the actor.

I also admit that I occasionally have trouble when it comes to differentiating Christopher Wren from Christopher Robin; Alex Haley from Arthur Hailey (Roots and Hotel, after all, both took place in the South); Andrei Sakharov from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (although I don’t normally confuse physicists and writers); and Tantalus (who had trouble with water) from Sisyphus (who had trouble with rocks).

I can also see where some people would have to think twice about the difference between John Maynard Keynes and Maynard G. Krebs. Both espoused a general theory of employment, certainly; as a beatnik, Krebs’ theory would have been to avoid it at all costs.

On the other hand, it’s easy to tell the difference between Stanley Kubrick and Stanley Kramer, simply because Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner is just a little more straightforward than 2001: A Space Odyssey. Similarly, I don’t confuse Arthur Hiller and Arthur Miller, because no one would put Love Story in the same class as Death of a Salesman.

But I fear the amount of information I do know is outnumbered by the information I don’t know and may never learn, such as the difference between:
    ● a concerto and a sonata
    ● a psychopath and a sociopath
    ● baking power and baking soda
    ● jail and prison
    ● a republic and a democracy
    ● jam, jelly, and preserves
    ● a dolphin and a porpoise
    ● an accident and a collision

If I don’t know these things by middle age, when am I going to learn them? And even if I learned them, would I remember them? There are many things I used to know but don’t any longer. I used to be able to distinguish car makes at a glance; now they’re all aerodynamic blurs. I used to be able to trace the corporate lineage of most mergers and acquisitions. All forgotten now.

Criminy, maybe these are just previews of coming distractions. The human brain is a puzzle. What if senility is just the logical effect of having too many pieces of information in our brain? Eventually the pieces start dropping out of the jigsaw, and the picture doesn’t make sense anymore.

What a depressing scenario. I fear my only hope is to head to the DVD player and put in a double feature of Love Story and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

1 comment:

  1. Frankly, it's impressive you know what you don't know. Much better than not knowing what you do know.