Fifteen Minutes

Carissa Low Key 20

Short term memory.  Life recycled every fifteen minutes.  Memories of events eighty years earlier fresh in mind and filled with detail.  Twenty minutes ago?  Consigned to oblivion.  Calling my mother:

“Hello, Mother.”

“Hello.  Stephen?”

“Yes, Mother.  How are you?”

“Well, I’m pretty slow today.  I just finished lunch.”

“What did you have for lunch?”

Mother apparently turns to her caretaker.  “What did I have for lunch.”

“Fruit salad with lettuce,” I hear in the background.”

“Fruit salad.  Yes, I see some of it still on the plate here.”

“Is the weather nice today?”

“Yes, we have beautiful blue skies.”

“I think you had rain this morning.  Did it rain much?”

“I don’t remember the rain.”  (Aside) “Did it rain?”

Background:  “Yes, it rained a bit earlier this morning.”

“It rained a bit, and I can see the street is wet.  I don’t remember it.  My memory isn’t so good these days.”

And on the conversation goes.  Will it be so bad when fifteen minutes is the span of life’s existence?


“Brave New Voices” Reviewed Department

I had to watch it a second time.  On HBO Sunday afternoon.  Still powerful.  I also found a Washington Post review that pretty well hit the mark, with some severe criticism that, while I agree, nonetheless does not diminish the impact of the performances.  And, then,

But viewers who persevere will see something rather wonderful. The Denver team, in the evening’s final performance, changes the emotional tone of the evening radically by delivering a poem called “Score,” which directly confronts the problem of insisting that every poem be recognized as a masterpiece. “I dare you to give this poem a 7,” they shout at the judges. “I would rather have your respect than your applause.” And to the audience: “If you weren’t cheering so loud then you would hear the point behind the poetry.”

I was throughout reminded of younger daughter, Emily, who was herself enamored of poetry in high school.  I think she still is, but it’s subsumed in all else that she does.


When Today Is History Department

Sometime yesterday I watched the first few moments of A River Runs Through It.  Still a wonderful movie, for all its weaknesses, with intense if brief evocations of Norman Maclean’s perfect prose.  And the beautiful music from Mark Isham.  So I thought I’d post again what I originally said about this beautiful little book, back in April 2007:

Speaking of A River Runs Through It, if you’ve never read the book I highly recommend it. I think it one of the most perfectly written of American stories, by — coincidentally — a teacher on the college side of my law school, University of Chicago, Norman Maclean (now deceased).

In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.


As a Scot and a Presbyterian, my father believed that man by nature was a mess and had fallen from an original state of grace. Somehow, I early developed the notion that he had done this by falling from a tree. As for my father, I never knew whether he believed God was a mathematician but he certainly believed God could count and that only by picking up God’s rhythms were we able to regain power and beauty. Unlike many Presbyterians, he often used the word “beautiful.”


My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things — trout as well as eternal salvation — come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.

Like I say, A River Runs Through It. Check it out on

Robert Redford, director of A River Runs Through It, effectively used vintage photographs to set the scene of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Missoula, Montana (many of which may be seen in links from this search).  Which set me to wondering how viewers a century hence will view the billions of photographs of our own times.  Junk?  Priceless historical record?  Or will they largely have disappeared through failure of the magnetic and electronic media on which they are recorded?


Leap of Unfaith Department

I seem to be in a reflective mood today.  So, continuing that theme, I want to ask you to consider what it took for European civilization to get from this, featured but two days ago (1485):

To this (1565):

(This being Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s “The Harvesters.”  I especially encourage you to view the video that presents the Met experts’ commentary.)

My question is very, very serious, and in fact if you consider all its ramifications, in its answer will be found the domination of the West, stagnation of Islam and the Moorish/Ottoman Caliphate, and the relatively late-to-rise Asian civilizations.


Our work over three sessions was brief, but intense.

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2 Responses to Fifteen Minutes

  1. The failing memory thing is tricky. My mom’s response to it is usually “Well, if yesterday was a bad day, I don’t remember it!” Some of her housemates get very angry about it. Depends on the underlying disposition, I expect.


    • Stephen says:

      Yes, thanks, Dave. When I was much younger I thought my grandfather’s failing memory was rather humorous. No longer. At least it is pretty much age related and not something like Alzheimer’s or chronic dementia.

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