- August 12, 2019
Driving home on S.R. 70, I encountered something scary that left me shaking.
I didn't know where I was.
For a long two seconds, I didn't know if I was headed east or west, or if I was headed to work, home or an assignment. Why was Walmart on my right or why was Lena Road to my left?
I shook my head side to side, squinted a bit, tried to refocus.
What the heck was wrong with me?
Fortunately, not much.
Best-selling author Lisa Genova, a neuroscientist who has a doctorate from Harvard, was kind enough to grant me an interview May 10 from her Cape Cod home in Massachusetts. Genova, whose 2007 novel "Still Alice" led to a movie of the same name that in turn earned a Best Actress Oscar for Julianne Moore in 2015, is speaking at a special hybrid fundraiser (via Zoom from Cape Cod) May 18 in support of the Brian Health Scholars program.
Genova didn't agree to an interview to discuss Jay's fuzzy adventures on the highway. She loves the work being done by the Brain Health Initiative and especially its scholars program. She calls those scholars "young ambassadors and young super heroes." She said they can make brain health "sexy and current."
She is so excited about the program she might become a driving force as the scholars program moves forward.
But on this day, she didn't mind discussing Jay's fuzzy adventures, either.
"Normal or not normal? It's like a game show," she said with a laugh.
We went forward and talked about losing your sunglasses when they are on top of your head. We talked about forgetting an old girlfriend's name, and not remembering where you put your car keys.
Normal. Normal. Normal.
She then explained herself in fun, easy-to-understand terms that explains why she will make a wonderful guest for the Brain Health Matters series. I was, indeed, having a conversation with a Harvard-educated neuroscientist and I was laughing. I am used to the normal doctor-speak of "corpus callosum fibers are interconnected to blah, blah, blah."
Lisa Genova is just what the doctor ordered for the Brain Health Initiative. Whatever part of the brain she uses, she knows how to connect with all of us. I guess that's why she sold more than 2.6 million copies of "Still Alice," and has other best-selling fiction books as well.
Genova began writing fiction after her grandmother, Angie Genova, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. She wanted to use the platform to reach the general public in a push to find solutions to Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. In a new world of "edutainment," it has been effective.
"Edutainment" could be a great tool for the Brain Health Initiative. If we can learn about such an important initiative in an exciting manner, we are more apt to share that information with others, and to urge them to attend Brain Health Initiative functions.
As Genova noted, people work long hours and they have many different things vying for their attention. Trying to get your foot into this particular door takes effort. Those who attend Genova's special appearance will find her engaging while passing along information that could lead to a better, healthier future for all of us.
"She can help the community resonate with these concepts," said Stephanie Peabody, a neuropsychologist who is the founder and executive director of the Brain Health Initiative.
The fundraiser, which runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., is part of the Brain Health Matters series and costs $100 for those who attend lunch at the Lake Club's Grande Clubhouse or $50 for those who attend via Zoom. For information or to reserve a space, go to www.BrainHealthInitiative.org. Click the "Outreach" tab and then go to the tab for the Brain Health Matters lecture series.
I'm not sure if Genova will play "normal or not normal" with her audience, but I can guarantee she will be interesting.
Genova will discus her new nonfiction book, "Remember — The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting," in which she explores how memories are made and how we retrieve them. After five fiction books built her audience on a world-wide scale, Genova can discuss her passion in a non-fiction book. Her fictional characters have dealt with neurological disorders.
Her fans have been asking about neurological disorders and she would answer them one person at a time. "Remember" gives her the opportunity to present the answers to those questions to a huge audience.
"I want to help people understand how memory works and why we forget," she said. "I want them to know what they can do to support their brain."
Peabody stressed the Brain Health Initiative is a region-wide study so everyone is welcome to attend.
Perhaps you might get some answers about your own awkward moments. Genova is likely to touch upon some of them.
So how about that case of losing your keys? Genova said losing your keys is normal, but if you find them and you don't know what they are for, that could signal a problem. Lose your car in the parking lot? We all do it, but if you are standing in front of it and you don't know it's your car, that signals a problem.
Forgetting proper nouns — names — is no big deal, she said. She said often we go to the "wrong neighborhood" when we try to remember a name. She gave an example of trying to think of the name of a famous surfer. Hmmm. Was it Lance? The brain takes you to the Lance Armstrong neighborhood. Now you are thinking about cycling. Yikes. Wrong neighborhood.
Eventually, you come around to Laird Hamilton. It took a while to get there. That's normal.
"Our brains are not designed to remember proper nouns," she said.
Forgetting other words isn't a big problem, unless you are losing dozens of words a day. Then it might be time to get checked out.
During our interview, Genova came back to my driving episode and noted that so much of our lives is routine and we are on auto pilot. We develop this entire choreography of our day and we can drive all the way to work and not be paying attention to the actual driving. It might be strange, but it is normal.
She then talked about one of her own experiences.
"I regularly drive over the Sagamore Bridge (Massachusetts)," she said. "It's a ho-hum thing. Then I am 10 to 15 miles over the bridge and I am thinking, 'Did I already cross it?'"
Alrighty then. Yes, folks, I am normal.