July 18th, 2007 07:36 EST
A Beautifully Annoying Mind
Some people are troublesomely gifted. Their gifts get them in trouble and cause trouble for others. I’ve been thinking about this ever since I put down Malcolm Gladwell’s endlessly fascinating Blink. The book talks about that critical moment when the right brain, having formed an impression, hands it over to the left brain for exegesis. For example, a person acutely adept at reading microexpressions allows the left brain to overrule the initial interpretation.
This is one of my few fields of expertise. My childhood, like many others, was passed allowing adults to convince me that the way I saw things was imaginary: the adult left brain overriding the childishly innocent right brain. Aside from the fact that it eventually drove me around the bend, several bends in fact, it had the salutary effect of convincing me that anybody trying really hard to convince or dissuade me was pursuing an agenda that might not be in my own best interest.
I was sent to boarding school at age five. At that age, in those circumstances, you either get very good at reading microexpressions or you get worked over. In my case, I got very good at reading them and was worked over anyway. But I probably would have been abused a lot more if I had not gotten so good at reading people. But therein was another cause for going around the bend, for finding bends to go around. I was good at reading people but for one reason or another I had no filters. An impression socked my right brain like a wet mackerel, and before I could even contemplate turning it over to the ministrations of left brain, another wet mackerel socked me, and another.
It got so that church socials, hymn sings, parties, dances, mixes, as they used to be called, were simply invitations to go bonkers. I could not handle that many impressions coming at me at one time. You could argue that all I had to do was deal with one person at a time, but I simply couldn’t handle the traffic my exquisite antennae were rerouting to the various parts of my craziness. It was like somebody throwing a toaster in my bath. I didn’t feel there was a chance of getting out of such occasions alive.
How can I live like this? I wondered. My answer was to pretend I was okay. It reminded me of being a sailor on liberty overseas and seeing an Australian sailor wallowing in a storm drain. I offered him a hand, but he waved me off, saying, I’m okay, mate. That’s how I lived most of my life, like the Aussie in the drain. Until, that is, in my old age, I said to myself, You don’t have the filters to handle more than two or three people at a time, so give yourself a break and don’t try.
Cops and spies and artists are often gifted this way, and I have no doubt it has helped me write stories and poems. But having no filters isn’t like needing sunglasses or a better prescription. It’s more like having no skin or having your pants fall down in the middle of a speech. And what may be even worse—as Doris Lessing suggested in her Briefing for a Descent Into Hell—is knowing too much about someone else. Stuff you don’t need to know, or stuff that’s just too hurtful to bear, or stuff that perhaps could enable you to help the other person if only you liked him more. You get the idea, right?
I’ve always suspected we apprehend much more about each other than we cop to. Sometimes I suspect this would be a better world if we admitted it.
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