The art of the mind | Reflection on Aging

By S. John Thomas

We all construct a story, a montage of life with all of our experiences, interpretations, perceptions and memories woven together in our minds.

The story in my mind is a piece of art, a masterpiece comprised of everything I touch, have touched and everything that has touched me. I think in colours and my masterpiece is constant, vibrant and forever. The squares are not just unique in their colours; they are unique in their textures. Synesthesia. A quilt, a quilt of amazing materials; different surfaces and roughness all contributing to such an exquisite piece. The tapestry could be the size of a postcard or the size of a building; some are simple, some complex, some exciting, some ominous. A new one each day is added to my life’s work.
art-of-the-mind-s-john-thomas 2Art is shaped and defined by what is all around us; it is part of us, not always overt, not always obvious, not always in front of us, not necessarily visible, but always present. The stories we weave, the art we craft, change as we age, and for some that is good, and for some that is bad. Some art become physical creations while other creations stay trapped in our minds forever.

Observe the Masters and how their works changed as they aged; often darker and usually with more rage and abandon. Mozart, Michelangelo and Raphael, a Master at 25, yet dead at 37, all displayed fascinating talents so early, yet re-invented themselves somewhat blacker later in life. Truth be told, Raphael’s darkness could have been explained by the syphilis, but in all likelihood he too would have eventually gone mad anyway.

I am not a Master but as I age I have begun to understand rage and abandon. My own mosaic, my daily collection of colours, of textures has always been pleasing and I have always seen it as something real, something tactile. Sometimes I have put these to pen, to paper; through charcoal, through paint or even through words but mostly what was in my own mind stayed in my mind. I have not exposed myself as the Masters have. Exposing themselves for all to see and for all to judge from pre-adolescence through the decades and beyond death.

The day is my canvas, my memories the brush strokes. As I age my oeuvre becomes harsher. The patchwork becomes harsher. The squares, the boxes, the doors are becoming harsher. They are becoming black. Menacing.

I hope my analogy is clear; my art, my medium, is my day, my life; it is me. And it is my mind; my capacity to think, to learn, to generate, to reason. To remember.

I used to be a voracious reader. Anything and everything. Fiction, non-fiction, text books, poetry, prose. Newspapers, magazines, periodicals. Popular, mainstream and off-the-wall, off-colour, off-beat. Those readings along with my own experiences fulfilled me and there was no blackness at the end of the day.

As I age, I feel my mind is closing and I need to feed it, but I can’t. I need to expand it; but I can’t. I need to retrain it; but I can’t. I need to challenge myself; but I can’t.

As I read, as I listen, as I think, I create a collage; I fill in the squares, the boxes, the compartments. Sometimes it’s a sentence, a paragraph, sometimes it’s a page, a chapter, a book, a picture. But sometimes it’s just a few words and sometimes it’s a single word. Sometimes I fill a compartment that already has something in it. Sometimes when I know I’m filling a black compartment, I read it again; I listen and concentrate so hard to the thought, to the information, to the words, to the waning memory. Ever so carefully I listen. Again and again I listen. It is with sadness because I know I’m putting it into a box I cannot reopen. I will not be able to retrieve it. I try tricks. I try to trick myself with prompters, with associations, with anything; colors, alliteration, numbers. But as I shut the book or stop listening, I look up and in a split second it is gone. It is with such utter wretchedness that for a moment I try, with such hope, to recall what was so vivid a moment ago, that is now gone. You cannot appreciate the profound grief at that moment.

Ebony or empty? Vacant or vacuum? Missing or misplaced?

I am scared. Now, even the forest green squares offer me hope. Hope, only because they are not black, yet I know beyond the corner exists ominous black.

As I age I look from left to right, top to bottom, I look to retrieve past thoughts and experiences from the boxes to recant my memories. As I begin to weave the contents of the boxes together I become troubled. I become disheartened. I become quiet. Slowly, subtly, but more frequently, it has become more difficult to get ideas out. It is as if my mind wants to keep them to itself. There is nothing scarier than opening your mouth and suddenly nothing is there. Perhaps there is one thing worse; you get halfway and then there is nothing.

Sometimes I find a single word; perhaps the right word, but with no context it might as well be the wrong word. What anguish the Masters must have felt when they could no longer find the right word, the right note, the right color.

What did they think when they came across the black box? When the mind sees the darkness and one stands isolated looking inwardly at that door, that space where some delightful memory is, a memory to be relived and treasured but untouchable. Or perhaps it contains that idea, that creative inspiration that the Master once saw so often.

I can close a book or read a single page or partake in a conversation and know instantly how the mosaic will look. Did the Masters also feel this and was the closing of the mind, the proliferation of black boxes what drove them mad?

Is this normal? Is this aging? Is this how we humans are built? Is this our destiny? Am I approaching my useful life cycle, somewhat earlier than expected?

Time and resolve are my barriers but also my allies. Can one battle this? And perhaps I am only slowing the inevitable but I need to fight this decaying of the mind. The black boxes are mounting and will soon be insurmountable. Is this the beginning of madness? Or is this simply aging?

S. JOHN THOMAS spent four years in England before moving to Hamilton and has been living within a 40 km radius of downtown ever since. While most of these years were spent on the fringe, he recently moved to the ‘core’ where he is immersing himself in the city with his wonderful wife.

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