I was interviewed for a few hours one afternoon at Bube’s Brewery, while they were getting ready for their “beach party,” and I sampled a flight from their new brewer. The piece on me for the Sunday Magazine of the LNP 3 October 2018 was called “Memory, Myth, and More.” The setting as “surreal.” The writer, Mike Andrelczyk, heard me at Hippocamp, and called me “passionate and hip, peppering his lecture with pop-culture references, as well as arcane religious and scientific facts.” My favorite was his description of me warming up “by first exploring a few tangents, and then dropping gems along the way,” and said I struck him as “a real-life character from a Tom Robbins novel. He was only missing the Ferrari.” For my 65th birthday in October, Lindsey and Byron would come to watch me drive a Ferrari 458, a Lamborghini, and a McLaren a few laps each around a track at the Pocono Raceway. Best birthday present ever. [I have cut and pasted the article below, from the LNP archive, which doesn’t have images].
Teske interviews mnemonist, Bowers Writers House, Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, PA
Interview on The Breaking Free Show, a YouTube show hosted by Marilyn Shannon
Interview published in the Sunday Magazine of the LNP, Lancaster News Paper, Lancaster, PA, 3 October 2018.
I played “Dr. Novak,” on a background television show, where you can hear my voice talking about addiction with my guest “Arlington County,” for a film called The Special, directed by B. Harrison Smith,which previewed at the Appell Center, York, PA on 28 June 2019. Here’s the Facebook page for the film:
Interview: John Teske on memory, myth and more
LNP (Lancaster, PA)
Publication Date: October 3, 2018
By Mike Andrelczyk
I met John Teske on a beach inside a Mount Joy brewery last month. Bube's Brewery was preparing for its annual beach weekend and staffers had just finished pouring two inches of sand across the barroom floor. The setting was perfectly surreal for a Sunday Interview with a former professor of psychology.
"They have a new brewer," Teske told me while ordering a flight of six sample beers. A frequent visitor to Bube's, Teske had brought along his growler, too.
Teske, 64, retired from Elizabethtown College in 2017. He continues to write often for his blog, "Neuromyth," and is working on a book about memory and the death of his father. Last summer, I sat in on one of his lectures about stories, memory and the brain during a writing conference in Lancaster. He was passionate and hip, peppering his lecture with pop culture references as well as arcane religious and scientific facts.
At Bube's, Teske and I talked for nearly two hours over our beers. His answers were crafted as lectures in miniature. He warmed up to an idea by first exploring a few tangents and then telling anecdotes that dropped gems along the way. He's a beer-drinking, gun-owning, blues-loving psychologist who once met the Dalai Lama.
The longer we talked, the more Teske struck me as a real-life character from a Tom Robbins novel. He was only missing the Ferrari.
But he confided later, "My wife thinks I should drive a Ferrari."
You recently retired after more than three decades as a professor of psychology at Elizabethtown College and remain a world traveler.
What keeps you in Lancaster County?
I have grown to love this area. My wife loves live theater and there's tons of little theater companies. There are more brewpubs per capita than, like, Portland, Oregon. I've got growlers from like six different places in the area.
I'm a blues lover. Marietta has the Blues and Brews fest. They've got a blues fest in Lancaster. I just found out this year, there's a German club in Mount Joy that has an Oktoberfest, and it's massive.
This area has a bunch of great colleges, so there's a lot of smart people around. (And) I just started taking scuba here in Lancaster. I'm not sure I can think of a better place to live.
Do you miss being in front of the classroom?
I loved being a college professor. ...I loved being in front of the classroom and doing something significant and interesting, but in comparison to not working? I'd like to spend more time on writing and traveling.
There's something interesting about writing those blogs. I'm doing something very similar to when I'm improvising a lecture in class . (The) difference is I get to include a lot more of me, so there's more of an art to it.
Your blog is called neuromyth.com What is neuromythology?
It's an approach to looking at how people understand themselves and their world by looking at how stories, particularly myths, engage your brain and your emotional life.
Earlier you were telling me about a memoir you're working on about the death of your father and buying a gun.
I'm working on a memoir called "Son of a Preacher Man." My dad died and I was looking at object-relations theory. It's a psychology theory that says you sometimes replace a loss by incorporating something. The same thing happened with my dad and the weapon. I was going to buy a saxophone and learn how to play it. They were too expensive. The M1 carbine was a hundred bucks.
What have you learned about yourself since becoming a gun owner?
It's sort of meditative. Shooting is a meditative act. … It's about breathing.
I was teaching a class and (I was) explaining the argument about common good. Everyone contributes to common good and then you take out of it as you need. This smart-aleck kid said to me, "You're a gun owner, aren't you?" and I said, "Yeah…." He said, "You live in Mount Joy. Would you call the safety of Mount Joy a common good?" And I said, "Oh, God yes." He said, "Isn't you being a gun owner something that puts that common good a little bit at risk?" And he had me. He had me. So I sold all my guns. I've got nothing against shooting, but that was a message about the common good.
Then I retired and (shooting) is one of the things I like doing… so I've bought another gun and I'm back to being a gun owner.
I caught your lecture about memoir and the brain at a writing conference last fall. At one point I looked over and Tobias Wolfe (author of the memoirs "This Boy's Life" and "In Pharaoh's Army") was sitting next to me and listening to you, too. He later told the crowd how much he enjoyed your lecture.
I was having a beer at the bar later, and he came up and starting talking with me. We have different views. He believes that there is an honesty in memoir that is important to not give up.
Now, there's something that's nice about that, I will agree. But, the problem is, and here's the flaw, that means that if you fooled yourself first, it's OK to say it. … When you fool yourself, you don't even know you're doing it.
When you're writing memoir, you are trying to tell the truth, but we tell ourselves stories all the time. What's the real story? So, how you deal with that in memoir and autobiographical writing is you talk about it and own it.
This is actually the same notebook I was writing in during your talk last September. Let me see what kinds of notes I took. Here is one that says, "Read Oliver Sacks' 'The Mariner.'" I still haven't, however.
Oh dude, you have to. I actually read his autobiography, since I'm starting to work on my memoir. Oliver Sacks was a gay surfer and motorcyclist, plus a resident in neurology and a writer. He had that book "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and other Clinical Tales." That book is about memory and weird brain damage.
My first wife and I would make up different kinds of brain damage and it probably exists somewhere. … The brain breaks down in ways that are counterintuitive. You can lose your capacity to recognize people by their faces, but still read their emotions. Or there is another kind of brain damage where you lose the ability to judge emotion from people's faces, even though you can still identify them.
Why would those two things separate? But they do. Another standard brain damage is anterograde amnesia. You can't store new memories. You can develop new skill, but you can't store new memories. … there's something called blindness denial. This stuff fascinates me.
Bube's Brewery is reportedly haunted. What's the psychology behind the fear of things such as ghosts?
So many of our fears are projected. You see this especially in kids. A kid is driven through a dark wooded area and his parents have been fighting. He's more likely to experience that dark wooded area as being creepy or having some weird creatures in it. Because he's projecting. I think we all do that. We've all got these unacknowledged fears and angers in ourselves.
In some sense, our self-deceptions are what construct our selves. On this side is the stuff we're comfortable with and on the other side is the stuff that makes us afraid or anxious, which is why facing your fears is necessary to become bigger.
Can you train your brain to be happier?
No. I mean there are things, habits that you can develop that will make you healthier and feel better. Focusing on relationships and friendships, making sure you get exercise — stuff like that. It's not ruminating too much. … The other half of it is perspective. You can sit back and reflect. You get the bigger picture. Most of the time looking at the bigger picture is how to avoid depression.
You've given lectures on these subjects around the world. I believe you even met the Dalai Lama once at a conference.
The conference in New Delhi in 2013 was …"On World Religions: Diversity not Dissension," for which I spoke on "An Emotional Psychology for Religious Diversity," included the Dalai Lama in the final panel. All of the speakers were respectful of each other's views and pretty good about acknowledging the excesses and damages caused by each of their religious traditions.
The conference speakers got to hang out with His Holiness for a little while after the panel. He is an amazingly laid-back, peaceful and genuinely kind human being, open to many, many things and deeply knowledgeable. But his status, his religion and his genuine compassion may make him less observant of personal boundaries than most.
There was a photographer there, and we were supposed to get some decent pictures with him, but I never saw any, so we were left with blurry snapshots, sadly.