Saturday, January 12, 2008
Not About Bookstores

Even I am getting sick of talking about Fnorders. So let's talk about something else.

I have had, for reasons that will go unmentioned for now, lots of opportunities to read lately. The one immediate, obvious improvement I've had since moving to Portland has been the sudden accessibility of almost any book my brain fancies, for free, limited only by my ability to carry them back and forth. This is a good thing.

The one I'm reading now is Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia, and it's making me sad. It forces me to acknowledge that, in the end, I'm just not very musical.

Obviously I enjoy music -- if nothing else, the book also makes it clear that to have an intolerance for music is itself a fairly rare and disordered way of being. I respond to music just like most people, and it makes up as large a part of my daily life as it does that of most others. I would hate to be without it. But I don't have any special insight, or any special access. Music doesn't pour out of me the way it clearly does for some. My mind grasps it and understands it in the usual ways, but it's a purely receptive process for me, a one-way street. Music comes in, but it doesn't go back out again. It doesn't even make much impact beyond the sensory level -- my brain can't hold it and manipulate it the way it can other kinds of experience.

Just once, I would love to find out what synesthesia feels like. I can almost imagine it, as if there's some faint glimmer of recognition of something I might've once had but have entirely forgotten. I can try to fake it, but I can't fool myself into believing that what I imagine might be real. I can only sit here and listen with the knowledge that there are people who are enjoying music in ways that I'll never even understand, much less acquire for myself.

Tell me that's not sad.

It has a tendency to lead me to reflect on the way my own mind works, which talents it possesses in compensation for those it doesn't. I seem to have had a lot of conversations lately about the visual/auditory dichotomy -- who has what, and what it means to them. I have a number of friends who are quite emphatically visual, and a few who are more inclined to listen. I know what each looks like. The thing is, I can't ever figure out which one I am.

In school, where this question matters the most (we were told), testing produced inconclusive results -- not strongly inclined either way; or to put it more positively, able to access either with similar results. The same was true for the left-brained, right-brained question: neither one especially, or reasonably suited to both. There's never been a moment of strong identification with either -- I can learn by studying graphs or illustrations, but I can equally learn by listening to a lecture, or doing a lab, or engaging in a discussion. It's all the same to me.

In fact, having lived with this brain for a while now, I think I can say that I really do my best work when I can operate in both spheres (or hemispheres, I suppose) at the same time. My procedural abilities are average, and my creative abilities are average, but applying a process to creativity is something I can be very good at. My richest intellectual experiences have usually come down to conceptual analysis -- taking an idea, taking it apart, and trying to re-assemble it into something new. I'm good with conceptual structures and working through a process. This is how I tend to approach any intractable problem -- I don't "get" music, so maybe if I pull it apart and study its components, I'll find whatever it is that makes it work. Obviously it's not always a successful tactic.

But I look at the medium I've chosen for my own dogged attempts at creativity, and clearly it suits me very well -- partly visual, partly auditory, heavily structured and process-driven, and giving me plenty of space to disassemble and re-assemble my ideas both in my mind and in the physical world.

Maybe I could even simulate synesthesia cinematically. That sounds like an idea worth playing with.
2:05 PM ::
Amy :: permalink