Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dead neurons

I'm trying to remember my first impression, back in high-school, when I met my first neuron, drew its shape, gave its parts names. They came across as prickly cells, electric cells. Other cells, soft and rounded like pillows, could adapt, divide, propagate. Other cells were bunny-cells, traveling about, cozying up to different parts of the body. But neurons were glass cells—they were sharp, and they broke, fried, exploded. They did not divide to make new cells. They just lay there after they died, like broken bottles on the side of electric highways, as you slowly lost your ability to think clearly.
So, ever since high-school, something about neurons scares me. Lately I think of them differently, I'm actually surprised by this memory of exploding glass. But I'm reminded of this fear that invades various parts of my life, various versions of mortality... in which there is no precise end where everything stops--no, rather a lingering end, where the highway is littered with broken glass and you smell something like alcohol, or spilled milk, or the ocean, but you can't quite place the smell, what it is, what it means.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Smart neurons

As neurons are connected to the processes of thought, well—I think of them as smarter than other cells. Ridiculous, I know. What does “smarter” mean? I have no idea, but whatever it is that differentiates neurons from other cells, that will inform my definition of “smarter”.
Okay, so I'm looking on the internet to find out what is unique to these cells. I'm told that the main differences are that when neurons die, they are not replaced. They make new connections throughout life, but they don't reproduce. Their membranes are specialized to communicate with other cells both electrically and chemically.
Hm... So, in conclusion, smart people fall in love fast, and hard, and often—they are well connected, they are always making new connections. They communicate electrically (static electricity) and chemically (they smell good). They don't have kids, ever. And when they die, no one is able to replace them. Or maybe no one really wants to replace them.

a home village

A dog is lying next to me, in the shade--my mother's home village. The water, fishing nets hang in a low line over the blue surface. A small white boat in the distance, this house was once a post-office. I'm sitting with my back against an old brick well, old and dirtied drinking-water somewhere under me. I flew over those clouds to get here, a whole landscape of them. They've thinned and spread, to show me the sky-blue reflected on the "grande rivière" and the ocean beyond.
This was once the post-office, letters from soldiers would wait here, people who ate and drank with my great grand-parents would come here, to pick up thick envelopes filled with scrawling narratives about things I can only imagine, and they'd come here to see, past the forking road, the traffic coming from three directions plus the river, and they'd come here to talk about the same sorts of things they would fold into envelopes, only maybe with more words, and without the same kinds of flourishes.
Now the post office is elsewhere, that generation is thinning. Boxes full of my childhood letters are in the attic. While exploring, this morning, alone in the house, I spotted my handwriting, not recognizing it--in a small crate, stacked up over a heap of boxes recently moved here from storage, with the furniture and coffee cups from my childhood in other houses. My mothers still hangs on to a few things for me; a thinning number of things. There is a beautiful and tanned family lowering a boat into the water, I hear their child, a heron, cars over the old bridge, cattails amongst the wildflowers, a wind from the ocean, and the boat's motor starts up. I smell a whiff of gasoline, the song I'm planning to sing at my sister's wedding comes on, a NB flag sways on the other side of the river, crickets, like the mechanical sounds of other places, the background music of tall grass, of tall memories that I don't have a firm grasp on because they aren't mine yet.
I'm trying not to think about anything too close to me, but it's strangely difficult to pinpoint what makes something close.

Monday, August 9, 2010

without personality

Every now and again, I think about L’Écume des Jours, a novel by Boris Vian in which very little attention is given to building the characters. We can tell them apart―all four of them have distinct characteristics, maybe two or three each. Our understanding of them relies on our stereotypes. And beyond this, the story isn't about characters growing, changing through circumstances. They experience their circumstances, the vivid poetic quality of experience turned into a surrealist tragic fantasy.
I'm brought back to how much of appreciating life and experience doesn't rely on an understanding of personality. In my looking at psychology texts, I'm intrigued by this small divide that seems to exist between attributing behaviour to circumstances or to personality.
I often find myself wanting to leave characters simple within their circumstances, merely vessels that exist and move within situation. Situations that aren't overwhelmingly dramatic, sweeping through life and overpowering the inclinations of personality–just life… with the smallest of its details, breezes rustling hair, the kind of hair we all have, even those of us who shave our heads, tweeze our eyebrows.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Vaughn, John, Yawn

I’m very much drawn to writing narratives where characters names are similar. Almost everything I write has at least two characters with quasi-identical names.
Why am I drawn to this? I don't think I always do it consciously; often it isn't even a name that I particularly like; often the characters emerge at different times, and it surprises me they've ended up in the same story, and that they're so firmly attached to keeping their names despite the possible confusion.
What is it to give multiple characters same/similar names? Does it flatten them out? Or does this create a layering: contradictions, conflicts and similarities becoming parts of one multi-bodied, similar-named, fuzzily defined individual?
These questions are, for me, magical ones. They're questions about reading, crafting texts, about hiding meaning in random connections, like a god might, if it wanted us to look for signs, clues, some secret message.
I'm looking out the window, watching people walk by, wondering if this kind of meaningfulness is the one experienced in some psychological disorders. A hurried girl holding a bright yellow handbag waits at the cross-walk, an old woman approaches wearing a bright yellow sweater; its the same atrocious shade of yellow. On the other side of the street, a few meters away, a bright yellow car is parked. Yellow is a complex symphony, layered, the light goes yellow, the cars speed up, and, I can't help but want to believe in beauty. In the magical ability of coincidence, to give me the desire for meaning (or speculations about meaning).

*Following a similar tangent, and to explain the significance of the drawing, one of Ashphalt's first names was "never the same name twice"--very energy consuming, as far as names go. We try to stay true to it, and hardly ever call him Ashphalt.