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Senior Correspondent

The fact that I cannot recall exactly where I read it is symptomatic of the condition. If it comes to me, I'll share it with you, but the source isn't all that important — it is the idea. I notice it in myself, so no doubt others do as well. Someone will ask a simple question or make a rather innocuous statement. They will then look at me — anticipating some sort of response.  But I am elsewhere. The question or statement has sent me off into the labyrinth of my mind. So they just keep talking. By the time I am ready to respond to their question about the issue of Japanese whaling, we are off to a discussion of when the Thomas boy, bless his heart, will get out of reform school.

I've read those books on memory that advise you to construct a "memory mansion" or some such thing. You have a room for various memories — say a birthday room. And in the birthday room is a large roll top desk with lots of little colored drawers. Aunt Matilda's birthday is in the blue drawer because she had blue eyes. You open the drawer and there is a slip of paper that says "June 5th." Ta da. Aunt M's birthday is June 5th. I have no such mansion.

I have this labyrinth where I have been stuffing things for 65 years. Countless novels chuck full of characters and plot lines, the names of tens of thousands of students, ideas — good and bad, faces, sensations, tastes, magazine articles, TV shows, movies, magic moments, terrible times, friends, lovers, enemies, pets, meals, pictures, paintings, poems, characters I have portrayed — everything that makes up my life is there in the labyrinth of my mind.

The article — the title, author, and source of which I cannot currently recall — is lying about in there in the labyrinth, and points out the obvious: The labyrinth started out as a simple pattern: Dad, Mom, Food, Awake, Asleep, Clean, Messy. That was it. As we grow we toss more and more stuff into the labyrinth. The "build a mansion" folks are advocating existential compartmentalization. I have trouble with that. It is the worldview that lets Michael Corleone take communion while his minions are off slaughtering the competition. It is the worldview that lets us do things in one room of the mansion which are unacceptable in another. The labyrinth admits, actually insists, that everything is connected. It is not as neat as the mansion, but it is more truthful. It asserts that all the stuff in the labyrinth has to answer to the four tenets of Distilled Harmony: Foster Harmony, Enable Beauty, Distill Complexity, and Oppose Harm. Some of the stuff in my labyrinth, especially the early stuff, doesn't measure up too well. But then that was before the labyrinth had yielded up the idea of Distilled Harmony, which I can trace back to sometime around the turn of the millennium which was when, maybe in the fall of the year. Oops, see what I mean?

There is a lot of data processing to do when someone asks you, "What do you think about that Danish zoo where they killed the giraffe, fed it to the lions, and then killed the lions to make way for a new dominant male lion!?  Is that crazy or what?" You don't just say, "Totally." or "That." The reality is more along the lines of, "Excuse me, I need to hit the labyrinth for a while."

The article goes on to explore why younger brains tend to have more simplistic labyrinths. They don't use those words, but that is the general idea. Younger brains just have less stuff to sort through since the seminal days of Dad, Mom, Food, Awake, Asleep, Clean, and Messy. So younger brains come to "the truth as I see it" more quickly than do folks with larger labyrinths to sort through. Hence the young, the quick, and the facile are seen as "smarter" than Uncle George who seems to spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about "simple things," like industrial robots, or fracking. I do need to point out, however, that it strikes me that age is not the sole factor in determining the size of the labyrinth. For the labyrinth to grow you have to keep putting stuff in there. If you spend all day at a mind-numbing job and all evening in front of a big or little screen that simply affirms your already established conclusions, you are going to have an inner world more suited to a mansion. Mansion building allows you to stop adding rooms, stop adding connections, you just rearrange the furniture a bit. Fundamentalism — religious, political, culinary, whatever — seems to me the ultimate form of "mansion building." The "book" or "leader" or "common sense" tells you what rooms there should be in your mansion. If you encounter something that doesn't fit in those predetermined rooms you just ignore it, or chuck it into the huge room called "bad stuff."

I read something about that once. Let me look. I'll be right back. It's here in the labyrinth somewhere. But don't wait up for me.

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