This is a milestone posting. Since I began this blog, this will make my 1000th posting. I never imagined that I would achieve it, nor did I set out to do so. It’s just been so much fun sharing ideas, information, tidbits, and more with those few people who drop by from time to time that I just stuck with it. I hope you’ve enjoyed some of what you might have seen or heard here. I’ve certainly enjoyed having the forum. I can’t promise another thousand, and that may be a relief to the reader. I will try to continue putting up some thoughts, entertainment, info, and just plain silliness. Hope you’ll stick around.
For the 1000th posting I’ve chosen this song, “Scraps of Paper,” by Eric Bogle. Eric has been writing and recording folk music for a long time and has failed to become as big a star as he deserves to be. He does have a loyal cult following, and I’m proud to count myself among that group. This song is one of my favorite songs ever. Listen to the words. I think most of us can relate to the message he is offering up. I know it touches a part of me every time I hear it.
I just read that Kim Peek has died. Most of us would be at a loss to know what this means, or even who Kim Peek was. The truth of the matter is, he was one of the most unique individuals to ever live, and I’m sure you’ve heard of him even if you don’t know it.
Kim Peek was the man upon whom the 1988 film “Rain Man” was based. The movie was about an autistic savant played by Dustin Hoffman, and it shed a humane light on the travails of autism while revealing the extraordinary powers of memory that a small number of otherwise mentally disabled people possess, ostensibly as a side effect of their disability.
The film won four Oscars, including best picture, best actor and, best original screenplay. But it never would have been made if Barry Morrow, one of the writers of the screenplay had not had a chance meeting with Kim Peek, who inspired him to write the film.
Mr. Peek actually was not autistic — not all savants are autistic and not all autistics are savants — but he was born with severe brain abnormalities that impaired his physical coordination and made ordinary reasoning difficult. He could not dress himself or brush his teeth without help. He found metaphoric language incomprehensible and conceptualization baffling.
But with an astonishing skill that allowed him to read facing pages of a book at once — one with each eye — he read as many as 12,000 volumes. Even more remarkable, he could photographically remember everything he had ever read.
Indeed, Mr. Peek, who died Dec. 19 in Salt Lake City, had perhaps the world’s most capacious memory for facts. He was 58. The cause was a heart attack, said his father, Fran Peek.
Almost all documented savants — people with an extraordinary depth of knowledge and the ability to recall it — have been restricted in their expertise to specific fields like mathematics, chess, art or music. But Mr. Peek had a wide range of interests and could instantly answer the most arcane questions on subjects as diverse as history, sports, music, geography and movies.
“He was the Mount Everest of memory,” Dr. Darold A. Treffert, an expert on savants who knew Mr. Peek for 20 years, said in an interview.
Mr. Peek had memorized so many Shakespearean plays and musical compositions and was such a stickler for accuracy, his father said, that they had to stop attending performances because he would stand up and correct the actors or the musicians.
“He’d stand up and say: ‘Wait a minute! The trombone is two notes off,’ ” Fran Peek said.
Mr. Peek had an uncanny facility with the calendar.
“When an interviewer offered that he had been born on March 31, 1956, Peek noted, in less than a second, that it was a Saturday on Easter weekend,” Dr. Treffert and Dr. Daniel D. Christensen wrote about Mr. Peek in Scientific American in 2006.
They added: “He knows all the area codes and ZIP codes in the U.S., together with the television stations serving those locales.
He learns the maps in the front of phone books and can provide MapQuest-like travel directions within any major U.S. city or between any pair of them. He can identify hundreds of classical compositions, tell when and where each was composed and first performed, give the name of the composer and many biographical details, and even discuss the formal and tonal components of the music. Most intriguing of all, he appears to be developing a new skill in middle life. Whereas before he could merely talk about music, for the past two years he has been learning to play it.”
Mr. Peek, who was dismissed as mentally retarded as a child and later misdiagnosed as autistic, led a sheltered life, with few people outside his family aware of his remarkable gifts. Then, in 1984, he met Barry Morrow at a meeting of the Association of Retarded Citizens in Arlington, Tex. Mr. Peek’s father was chairman of the group’s communications committee, and Mr. Morrow had helped create two television movies about a retarded man named Bill (played by Mickey Rooney).
After Mr. Peek displayed his memory skills in a conversation with him, Mr. Morrow set about concocting a story around someone like Kim Peek. “I was absolutely flabbergasted that such a human being existed,” Mr. Morrow said in a 2006 documentary about Mr. Peek.
In “Rain Man,” the autistic character, Raymond Babbitt, has been institutionalized since he was very young but is reunited with a cynical younger brother, Charlie (played by Tom Cruise), who had forgotten about his brother’s existence. (The title comes from Raymond’s recollection of the infant Charlie’s name for him.) The two men take a cross-country trip, and fraternal reconciliation ensues.
The movie, a critical and box office success, was not based on Mr. Peek’s life, but in preparing for the role, Mr. Hoffman visited with Mr. Peek and incorporated many of his characteristics — a shambling gait, peculiar hand movements and occasional blunt utterances — into the character of Raymond.
When Mr. Hoffman won an Oscar for best actor for the performance, he thanked Mr. Peek in his acceptance speech. Mr. Morrow went even further: he gave his own Oscar statuette to Mr. Peek, who carried it with him to public appearances for the next 21 years.
In the wake of “Rain Man,” Mr. Peek became something of a celebrity, emerging from his shell to travel around the country giving demonstrations of his talent and advocating tolerance for the disabled. Fran Peek estimated that some 400,000 people have hugged Mr. Morrow’s statuette.
“We called it the world’s best-loved Oscar,” he said.
Laurence Kim Peek was born on Nov. 11, 1951. (He was named for his mother’s favorite actor, Laurence Olivier, and the title character of Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim”; Kipling was his father’s favorite author.) Kim’s head was enlarged, his cerebellum was malformed and, perhaps most crucial, he was missing the corpus callosum, the sheaf of nerve tissue that connects the brain’s hemispheres. It has been theorized that this disruption of normal communication between the brain’s left and right halves resulted in a kind of jury-rigged rewiring.
“Perhaps the resulting structures allow the two hemispheres to function, in certain respects, as one giant hemisphere, putting normally separate functions under the same roof, as it were,” Drs. Treffert and Christensen wrote. “If so, then Peek may owe some of his talents to this particular abnormality.”
When Kim was 9 months old, a doctor said that he was so severely retarded that he would never walk or talk and that he should be institutionalized. When Kim was 6, another doctor recommended a lobotomy. By then, however, Kim had read and memorized the first eight volumes of a set of family encyclopedias, his father said. He received part-time tutoring from the age of 7 and completed a high school curriculum by 14. He spent great swaths of time absorbing volumes in the Salt Lake City Public Library. He never used computers, his father said.
“How he learned to read, I just don’t know,” Mr. Peek said.
Kim Peek’s parents divorced in 1981, and his father cared for him alone until his son’s death. Besides his father, Mr. Peek is survived by his mother, Jeanne Willey Peek Buchi; a brother, Brian; and a sister, Alison, all of Salt Lake City.
“Rain Man” changed Mr. Peek’s life. In the documentary, he confessed that before the film, he never looked anyone in the face.
“Barry influenced me more than any other person,” he said of Mr. Morrow. “He made me ‘Rain Man.’ ”
Though his social skills never fully developed, he grew to be outwardly engaging. He enjoyed being among people in his travels and became comfortable as something of a showman. He began developing mental skills he had never had before, like making puns; his coordination slowly improved, to the extent that he could play the piano. He became more self-aware, even displaying a certain social agility.
During a presentation Mr. Peek gave at Oxford University in England, after he fielded students’ questions about the Lusitania and about British monarchs, a young woman stood and asked him, “Kim, are you happy?”
“I’m happy just to look at you,” Mr. Peek said.
I love this little snippet of an interview with Bertrand Russell from 1959. Russell was one of the greatest thinkers of all time. His books have been very important to me, helping me to understand and grasp difficult concepts and illuminating my search for truth and reason. I especially love his “Sole Barber Syllogism”, one of the greatest tools for finding truth from among preposterous claims.
Now that Christmas is here, we can focus on New Year’s. This is a special one, in that it isn’t just the end of the year, but the end of a decade. The first decade of a new century and millenium. I thought it might be nice for me to reflect back over this decade from a personal perspective.
The decade started out with the worries of a supposed “millenium bug” that was going to crash computers around the globe, impacting the electric grid, travel, communications, and all of the other things we had come to rely on in a technology rich environment. It ended up, like much of the decade, as an overhyped, exaggerated, distortion of reality. The decade and millenium started up fine and all of those who went out and stockpiled food, bought generators, and case lots of ammo for their assault rifles were left scratching their heads as to what to do with their hoarded caches.
For me personally, the decade started with a nice secure job that I had held for a long time, which soon vaporized in a rash of budget cuts by the corporate office. This led to a career disruption that ended well. I made my final career shift to a job that I enjoyed, where I made friends I never would have met otherwise and who changed my life in mostly positive ways. It was a career change that allowed me a new and unique perspective I would otherwise have missed, and I am more glad of this change than I have been about many other things in my life.
The decade saw our son buy a home of his own and our daughter attend and graduate from a fine liberal arts college. It saw our son get married, for better or worse, and our daughter become the adult child that most parents dream of and are happy with. It was a decade of starts and stops, ups and downs, laughter and tears. Kind of like most decades of any of our lives.
It was the decade that saw the passing of my mother and the loss of that last connection with the days of my childhood. With her died the ability to have someone else for me to talk with about those long ago days. Her death left me as the sole repository of family memories that only we two shared in those years after my father’s death. Those things that happened, places we went, people we knew that had all went by the wayside before my younger siblings were born or of which they have cognizant memories. This left me in a position I never envisioned for myself, the keeper of the family memories.
The “aughts” as they will likely be known, saw our nation go through upheavals, political, religious, economic, and social, that none of us could have foreseen before it began. It saw America become a baser, poorer, nation in so many ways, but yet ultimately a nation that had the courage and open-mindedness to elect our first non-white president. A nation that could still hope and dream and aspire even after a decade of political turmoil and chicanery unmatched in our history. The decade ended up being one of resilience and aspiration, hope and inspiration. Hopefully an illumation of better things to come in the next decade, rather than a harbinger of dashed opportunity and unrealized dreams.
It was the decade when I finally put to rest forty-five years of work and sacrifice and labor, and took up the gauntlet of moving gently into that good night. It was the year in which I retired and began to enjoy the results of the fruits of all of that labor. A year in which I slowed down, stepped off the treadmill of constant activity and stepped back and reflected on it all. A year of supreme hope and desirous ambitions for a long and comfortable future wherein I can realize some of the dreams and aspirations that drove me to toil for all of those years. A year that I hope to be a harbinger for meeting new challenges, facing new horizons, and being new places and doing new things. Otherwise, what was it all for, those years of sacrifice and toil?
I am glad to see the decade end, but will never move far away from it in my memories. I am glad for those new friends and new opportunities that the decade provided. I am glad for the continuation of older relationships and the realization of meeting even older opportunities and ambitions. I am still glad to see this decade end. Mostly because it signals the beginning of a new decade. One that promises new challenges and rewards, friendships and opportunities, and the strengthening and rewards of all of those that have come before. A new decade that will hopefully find me in new places with new adventures and new opportunities, some of which I have dreamed and others of which I even currently may have no clue. Hopefully a decade which will warm my body as well as my soul, driving out the cold and pain and lethargy of a lifetime spent in the frozen hell of the upper midwest. Whether it’s a decade of more unrealized dreams or one that leads to the realization of those dreams that sustained me during those years of hard work and sacrifice, I will find out early in this new decade. I can only wonder, fearful that it all ultimately comes to naught, and hopeful that a brighter day might yet warm my face in the rays of permanent sunshine and the winds of a warmer future.
Whether this new decade becomes the last stop on my life journey or just another waystation on that journey, it is one I heartily embrace. It is a decade filled with mystery and wonder. It is the future, and so it is that which lures us into the unknown, for better or worse. It is that to which we all aspire, above all else. Whether I slink away into the cold corner of sameness, or bloom fullblown into the sunshine of new places and opportunities, this new decade will be, for sure, unlike any I have ever lived, or will ever live again.