Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I went to bed last night, to the image of the Homunculus—Dr. Penfield, drawing the image of a body with giant lips and hands on the surface of the brain by shooting tiny electrical impulses, and asking the subjects what they felt. I can't help but imagine him doing this on the sidewalk, at the corner of Penfield Avenue and Mctavish, with people walking by, and dust rising with each car, and the subject sitting in a chair with a sheet over them, and their brain exposed to particles of air.
Last night, I fell asleep to the thought of how small my back is on these diagrams, compared to my lips and hands, and that thought made me sad. It also made me feel disjointed, my whole body mapped out on the surface of my brain—I think I'm three dimensional, but really, depending on how we look at it, I'm thinner than that, my body is drawn flat inside my scull.

I went to sleep with the vow to make my back bigger, even if it takes my whole life—to draw my back to scale, or at least larger than my hands and lips together, I wondered if my life would be long enough, is that enough time for such a huge endeavor?
Why do I find this so unsettling? The image isn't new to me, why does it suddenly make me dizzy? I fell asleep to two versions of me, one of them monstrous, staring at me, inculpating me: “you don't use your back enough, your hands, your lips, your legs look like sticks”. Every mirror distorts, and flattens. I imagined my back the size of a continent, and I knew that today I'd be writing, not traveling.

Friday, September 24, 2010

gray lies

Throughout my life, I've had a strange respect for the ability to lie well, to lie quickly, the ability to dismiss the truth as merely one possible version of events. I think of this ability as access to deeper level of truth, the shapes storytelling give to identity, the way memory rewrites itself every time it gets pulled out. In my mind, the liar understands this, and works with lies to build a richer self, to give memory the space it needs to breath.

I'm thinking of someone I know whom I suspect is a great liarwouldn't the best liars be able to organize their worlds so that their lies are impossible to notice? I may be making a giant leap, but I've always associated this suspected liar's immense forgetfulness with lies. And in this light, lies seem like the saddest thing in the world; a reality that is continually rewritten, that can only be the size of a single moment, a single impulse, and the manipulations that are required, in that moment, to shape things to one's desires.

Perhaps lies are like any other tool, marked by the impulses that drive them. But I'd like to believe that lies have mechanisms that are proper to them, to how we negotiate them, whether we use them habitually or not, whether we use them as a tool to manipulate others or not.
I was listening to WNYC's RadioLab, the episode on deception. In it, a study is highlighted, in which liars are found to have more white matter in their brains, a lot more.

Ok, so the part about the white matter doesn't mean a whole lot to me. I just imagine a bit of white in there, layered between the gray. White... the secret folds of alternate truths.

I think some more about lies, I'm confronted with an aspect of lying I'd forgotten about; the liars I knew as a child. They seemed so callous, so stubborn to carve a place for themselves that they didn't let anyone else in. They persisted in their lying; I'm sure they never grew out of it—they just got better at it. They had secret worlds, worlds of white within the thick and grey world we shared. I have to admit, this frightened me. I never thought that their physiology might be offering them an approach to reality that wasn't within my grasp.

The links between white, gray and lies, they don't necessarily mean that lies burry themselves in the brain's snowdrifts. White matter is related to the ability to make connections. White connects gray, to more gray... from what I understand. Gray skies, more gray skies, more gray. Between my adult fascination with the ability to lie, and my childhood disdain for it, and my solitary anecdotal account, in which I find manipulation and forgetfulness, I'm appreciating this comparison with gray skies, silver clouds, looking for shapes in clouds, and the gusts of wind that pull them apart.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Neuron forests

I'm tempted to believe that Freud was right; in the thickness of night, the unconscious tries to articulate desire, to negotiate wish fulfillment.
Late last night, while awake, walking around a familiar corner, my eye snagged on a book cover: Fundamentals of Human Neuropsychology. A sigh pushed through me, like a sleepwalking ghost rushing through my wind-pipes, struggling for freedom. The same kind of sigh that might push through when a beautiful stranger walks by, the sound of their steps echoing inside.
I caught myself sighing, out-loud, looked back at the book cover, and the part of me that was sleeping told the part of me that was awake what I wanted: to travel through a forest of neurons. Is this how Einstein felt when he dreamed of traveling on a ray of light?
The text-book cover shows a photo, beautiful density of pink trunks, and branches, soft.

Do you know those photos of Einstein wearing flip-flops at the beach? He makes funny faces at the camera. I've always wanted to be there, to feel that sand. I spent my teenage years walking on the beach, by my house. I remember wondering when I'd meet that strange collection of people, who make funny faces at the camera and travel on rays of light. I imagined what it would be like to discover their backyard forests, junkyard rust, silent wishing-ghosts, haunted forests.
Sometimes I get frustrated with how much of my understanding of reality is tangled up in my imagination. But today, I feel comforted that all of my imagination is tangled up in attempts at understanding reality.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

great tragedies

Great tragedies are multi-tiered. It's difficult to understand why their events can't be derailed—but what makes the greatness of a tragedy is, in part, the impossibility of derailment. Those intimately involved do everything in their power to untangle themselves; everything they do just tightens the knots.
Can life really be like this? When I encounter these stories, I marvel at how the writer has managed to create such a tight web—it seems impossible that real life would act so seamlessly. The real-life person would have to be a genius, carefully plotting their own demise.
And yet, when I look at my life, the lives around me, I see all kinds of entanglements—a turn of bad luck rarely rotates immediately into place. Usually, it sets a number of other things into motion, it pulls on those parts of a person's character that are the strongest, and weaves them into the momentum, pulls them tight—like trip wires.
Oh, the word “tragedy” is so dramatic!—and forget the word “luck”. But you know what I'm talking about, right? There's a momentum, a structure in experience, that makes tragedy such an appealing form, such a fantastic mirror.