Cover of "Life on The Mississippi"

Cover of Life on The Mississippi

In his autobiographical memoir Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain says there’s been nothing else in the world like the marvelous science of piloting a steamboat on the world’s longest river.
Starting out as a teenager, he found he had got to learn “more than any one man ought to be allowed to know.” A pilot had to “get the entire river by heart and know it like abc.” Not only that, but because of the shifting currents and winds and tides, he must learn it again every 24 hours. An old landmark tree might have fallen over or a new shoal been formed.
In his tribute to pilots and Memory he writes,
“What a tremendous thing it is to know every trivial detail of 1200 miles of river and know it with absolute exactness.”
“Astonishing things can be done with the memory if you will devote it faithfully to one line of business.”
“I loved the profession (of piloting) far better than any I have followed since and I took a measureless pride in it.”
As a writer, I love to exercise my memory but it is not the only profession dependent on it. What about television reporters and actors who memorize their lines with grace at the same time as they address an audience?
Another fact of our society is widespread concern over ending up as an Alzheimer victim. At a recent video conference on memory I learned that 75% of elderly people will not suffer from it. However, the memory does age and become less acute, just as eyesight and hearing do. Tips I picked up to help cope are:

  • – your chances are good; cheer up and don’t worry
  • – slow down; expect multitasking to become difficult
  • – keep a notebook and write things down
  • – do physical exercise; it’s good for the brain too
  • – when you park your car, key the number of the spot into your phone or other device

This aspect of forgetfulness turns up in Life on the Mississippi too. Twain jokes, “For a long time I was on a boat that was so slow we used to forget what year we left port in.”
He was a multifaceted genius and one of my favorite writers.

You’ve just read, and I hope enjoyed, the latest of 45 posts and 95 pictures delving into the themes of cozy book basics and lives well lived. By clicking on the orange title at the top of each post you can read the previous one; or try opening the posts in  my annual report

Consider buying my family memoir A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void to relive a war bride’s adventures on a Swampy Cree reserve in the ’20’s and an Ontario minister’s daughter’s  turmoils in the ’30-’50’s.

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