Cognitive exercise with Tom Hanks

Cognitive exercise with Tom Hanks

By Carmen Rioja


For a healthy brain, physical activity and an attentive mind are necessary to reinforce knowledge and increase psycho-affective health. Strengthening the bonds of solidarity with other members of the community leads us to exercise the areas of the mind concerning sustained attention, memorization, analysis, dialogue, and more. We are in charge of our neurological health, which will ultimately be reflected in all the body’s functions. The American Psychological Association states, “A multiplicity of studies has demonstrated relationships between lifestyle factors, brain structure and function, and cognitive function in aging adults.”


The community in San Miguel de Allende is extraordinary and offers numerous opportunities to get involved in some activity of interest. Added to this is the stream of Zoom videoconferences—a new era for meetings, through which we can experience a bit of serendipity while exercising the brain in cognitive activities such as classes and lectures.


If, when my dear boyfriend dumped me, they had told me I was about to meet the internationally famous actor Tom Hanks and that we could talk in a small group and ask him questions directly—if they had told me that he would not only give me literary advice live but would also be my old typewriter restoration technician—my personal consultant—and he would learn my name by heart and explain with generosity and affection how to repair my typing machine that I had at home…I would have cried less.


If I had known last week that Hanks was on his way to help me repair my typewriter—and by my typewriter, I mean not just the mechanical one, but the internal one that prompts me to get up every morning—then I definitely would have cried less. And to think that I was ready to give up Zoom and all the networks!


The old typewriter of my Mexican friend’s grandfather had waited in silence for decades since its owner died, as all forgotten things suffer in silence. His grandson had brought it to me, and I, who am a restorer and writer, had already done everything possible for it, but I had gotten stuck trying to adapt modern tape reels to this old model. Well, it would soon be restored to life thanks to the direct intervention of Hanks, many miles away in California, during a videoconference with And when I say direct, I mean that I showed him the machine in question on my desk through the camera of a tablet and he, through another screen in his house, recognized the precise model—the Remington Noiseless Portable 1932—and revealed to me that it had a hidden reverse button which would fix the whole problem. The button would serve to rewind the tape. I would never have guessed it alone!


Hanks, in addition to being a winner of two Oscars® and seven Emmys, is an expert technical engineer in antique typewriters, has built a small collection of mythical models, and is the author of one of the most difficult genres, the short story, publishing “Uncommon Type.” And yes, like all those who are very talented, he is himself an encyclopedia of historical information. He knows how to ask the right questions, understand the characters, connect the dots, and present the data so that the story is built in the greatest and most fun way possible. You’re going to get all dirty, he warned me.


The next day I followed his precise instructions in a process that took about three hours and multiple red and black ink stains. Thanks to Tom Hanks’s tele-intervention, before nightfall my friend’s machine was resurrected. The first thing I typed was a thank you note.


We had just created a short story together. 


And this is how the brain and the general state of health benefit. It’s all in how the story is approached.


The accelerated pace of technological evolution is already here, and we can resist, or we can catch it and use it as a tool—a tool to travel to other spaces, to other minds, to other currents of thought, sources of information, scientific reports, theoretical discussions, survival methods, or any of the dozens of magnificent works of art and expressions of fine art that can be accessed.


For example, to motivate and strengthen the use of my cognitive skills, I committed to a date next week with Matthew McConaughey himself; he is going to tell me and other listeners (by the way, there are still tickets) the insights he had while writing “Greenlights,” while Jamie Brickhouse will talk about “Dangerous When Wet.” See you there!


Carmen Rioja is a Mexican artist who specialized in art restoration and creative workshops. She likes to write stories and poems and throw them in imaginary bottles into the sea. Carmen has published the books “La Muerte,” “Niña,” and “Rojo 43.”