Last night, my brain hurt. It didn’t hurt like a pulled hammy or had a broken heart. My brain felt more like a piece of Play-Doh if Play-Doh had feelings and resided at a public day care center where it endured the daily torture of being squeezed and stomped and ripped apart by two-year-olds on Red Bull.
Because my brain hurt, I decided to take two Tylenol before going to bed. I set a bottle of water and a bottle of Tylenol on my bedside table. While watching a commercial on crispy fried chicken, I grabbed the bottle to shake two pills onto my hand only to feel and then see that I was pouring cold water on my palm.
With the water dripping between my fingers, I thought of Patty Marx, a staff writer for The New Yorker, a former writer for Saturday Night Live and the author of “Let’s Be Less Stupid: An Attempt to Maintain My Mental Faculties.”
Marx got the idea to write the book, a hilarious look inside her brain, after having one too many senior moments.
“I put the butter dish in the sock drawer,” Marx told me in a recent interview. She noticed other things about her aging brain as well — she forgot her brother-in-law’s name while he was wearing a name tag; while on a call, she hung up the phone to look for her phone.
Like many people of a certain age, Marx worried about the potential causes of her frequent “brain farts.” Did she have dementia or Alzheimer’s? When doctors assured her she did not suffer from those disorders, Marx was relieved, yet still perplexed that her brain sometimes took a nap.
She writes: “Of late, I’ve been worried about it. My brain, I mean. Although the combination to my junior high locker seems to be stored indelibly in some handy nook of my temporal lobe, right next to Motown song lyrics, could it be that elsewhere up there, not everything is shipshape?”
So, she set out on a scientific study of the brain, her brain, to better understand its aging process. “This study and this book,” she told me, “is not about people who have dementia or Alzheimer’s. It’s about people of a certain age with normal brain functions who begin seeing their brain slow down.”
Marx wanted to see if she could reverse the aging and, in the process, make herself smarter. She studied the research of leading neurologists such as Michael Merzenich, who theorizes that we don’t lose memories but that “we are seeing, hearing and feeling less saliently” as we age.