I was reading Dr. Sanjay Gupta's blog post memorializing Michael DeBakey, a surgeon Dr. Gupta called a "medical legend." One of the comments from a medical student says that Dr. DeBakey said in a Q&A session many years ago that his biggest regret was wasting too much time. How anyone considered a pioneer in their field can think they have wasted too much time speaks of either tremendous arrogance or almost saintly humility. In Dr. DeBakey's case, who credits his mother's sewing instructions as the key to his success as a surgeon, I'm willing to bet it was the latter.
In my career, I doubt I'll be saving any lives, but I am highly likely to be wasting quite a bit of time. There's the 10 minutes I waste every day listening to Ann Curry gush uncontrollably every morning while I wait for my local news and weather; the hour I spend tooling around on the Interwebs every evening, looking for nothing in particular; and the untold weekend days where I can't seem to get up before 11, then lay in bed for two hours reading trashy books, only to finally get washed, quaffed, dressed and ready to meet the world by 4pm.
Did I do the laundry? Nope..but I still have some clean undergarments so I guess it can wait until next week. Did I go through the mail? Nope, but the stack on the kitchen table hasn't fallen over yet, so it can wait another few days. Did I exercise? Nope. Woke up too late and then ate too late, and who wants to go to the gym on a Saturday night??
Of course, the amount of wasted time in my life is nothing compared to the useless junk taking up space in my brain. There is a scene in Jim Henson's iconic film Labyrinth where Sarah is dreaming about searching for her brother and finds herself in a junkyard. An old woman tries to distract Sarah by offering the girl all of her favorite toys from childhood. Eventually, Sarah remembers what she has come for and yells something to the effect of "I want my baby brother!" (Sorry guys, no youtube luck, though I tried).
This scene haunted me as a child, and even still gives me the heebie jeebies as an adult. In a way, I wonder if my mind isn't a big junkyard, filled more with advertising slogans than literary passages, juicy celebrity gossip instead of complex philosophical concepts.
For example, the other day, I noticed a frozen food lunch my boss was eating. It was Thai peanut chicken or something, in a "zesty" sauce. I thought to myself, "Zesty--that's a word for green things like, cilantro, pesto.... and Zest soap."
I actually spent a few minutes wondering why "zest" the name for the soap means something like enjoying or relishing an experience; but the simple addition of a "y" to the end of the word evokes images of Latin food. Certainly "zesty" wasn't the right world for things with peanuts in it, and although the mango flavored Zest was a tremendous failure, I still stand by my belief that it would have worked if they had kept the soap green.
All this, and I could have been contemplating a solution to our country's current economic difficulties, or learning a new word like "piquant."
Maybe, I simply don't have the mental stamina for such intense intellectual musings. Or perhaps I can blame it all on Corporate America.
DeBakey didn't grow up with television and failblog. He didn't grow up in a world where every waking moment was a bombardment of marketing strategies aimed at convincing you consciously or subliminally to become another lemming.
I can't help it if I grab the Sunny D from the fridge and think to myself, "It's not OJ or the purple stuff." The jingle just eeks out of me, perhaps like a maestro finds himself humming the Moonlight Sonata when driving at night.
What I'm really arguing is that the consumerist culture that pushes Prada and iPhones on my generation and American Girl Bistros and Guitar Hero on the one after me is making us dumber. Certainly, others have wondered the same thing.
So, my brain, which has infinitely less capacity than the late Dr. DeBakey's has no chance against all the catchy slogans and sitcom theme songs that have been engineered, focus-grouped, and triple-tested to stick in the deep nether regions of my consciousness--and the equation for finding the area of a circle and the definition of a gerund are not. And that urban legend that we use only 10 percent of our brains during the day? Untrue. So much for the possibility of finding an alien technology that could help me remember my shopping list.
And this blog? Has it been a waste of intellectual energy and time? You tell me.