Lifestyle & Culture

Weekend Reading: Let’s Be Less Stupid

Patty Marx has been funny for many years—in The New Yorker, on Saturday Night Live and once or twice, when I got lucky, in New York Magazine. The author’s note at the end of Less Let’s Be Let’s Less Stupid explains that “After writing this book, Patty Marx got so smart that she changed her name to Patricia Marx.” See? Funny and smart. At any rate, her book’s subtitle is “An Attempt to Maintain My Mental Faculties,” and the book, published by Twelve/Hachette Book Group, recounts her attempts to do just that, most of those attempts hilarious but all too familiar to those of us on the far side of 25 (who am I kidding? the far side of 40, or more). It’s a great holiday gift and can be purchased here and here. This excerpt comes from the chapter “Shock It to Me, Baby.” 

TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO the Roman emperor Claudius, on the recommendation of his doctor, pressed electric eels against his forehead to ease his headache. For at least Reading1211Bwebtwenty minutes a day every day for the past four months, I have fastened a small apparatus to my head, treating my brain to pulses of electricity in hopes that the stimulation will make me more stimulating. Judging from the quality of this paragraph and the length of time it took me to write it, I’m doubtful that the electrons and protons are doing their trick.

The device I’ve been using—the Fisher Wallace Stimulator—looks like a garage door opener with a tail of two wires. At the end of each wire is an electrode embedded in a sponge the size of an Oreo. These sponges are placed—wet—against your temples and held in position by a navy headband. Touch one of the sponges while the machine is on and you will feel an unpleasant jolt. The electric current comes via two AA batteries and is about 1/1000 the strength used in electroconvulsive therapy, so no need to worry you will turn into a piece of charcoal. Evidently the device has enough oomph, though, to coax the limbic system (boss of your emotions) into stepping up its production of feel-good neurochemicals like serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine while suppressing the release of the feel-bad hormone cortisol.

The stimulator was approved by the FDA for the relief of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. There are lots of clinical studies and meta-analyses backing up these claims, and of course there are doubters, too. Chip Fisher, president of Fisher Wallace Laboratories, LLC, the company that manufactures and distributes the device, told me that it has also been shown to improve eyesight and help with autoimmune diseases, Parkinson’s, and ADHD—and he believes it could also make you sharper. Horses who’ve tried it have fewer episodes of cribbing, headshaking, and anxiety. (Hot tip: Electro-Fury at Saratoga in the fifth race to win.)

I should tell you here and now that I know and like Chip Fisher, so anything negative I may have to say about the Fisher Wallace product, let’s blame on Wallace, whom I have never met.

Citing the reverse women-and-children-first principle, I persuaded my boyfriend to try it before I did. Within minutes of turning on the controls, he had a slight headache. Isn’t it reassuring when therapy has an effect, even one that is painful or potentially harmful? At least you know the thing is working. When I tried the machine, I saw a faint flickering of light due to the electricity passing through the optical nerve. If there’d been a bulb inside my head, it would have needed changing. Neither of us had any aftereffects (strange dreams are a commonly reported occurrence), but I am still hoping that if I keep the therapy up I will be able to open a garage door telepathically.


Put your hand in a light socket.  Never mind.

From the book Let’s Be Less Stupid: An Attempt to Maintain My Mental Faculties. Copyright © 2015 by Patricia Marx. Reprinted by permission of Twelve/Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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