I am a linguist who loves literature and who is fascinated by science. I quantify randomness. I paint. I travel in a power wheelchair, hoping to capture the ordinary.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Underwater breathing (when the trolls come)

Trolls in The Hobbit
Sometimes those who seem to love (or understand) only what is big and loud trample what they have never even noticed was there. Sometimes what they trample upon is the sensitive person's treasure, the tiny miracle the quiet visionary has been holding in her palm.
Carved Eggshells by Beth Ann Magnuson

She says in a whisper, too trusting, wanting so much to share the joy, "Look. Look at this little piece of me. It is the most beautiful thing I know to be mine." 

An excited troll lumbers over and smash--it is gone. He did not even know something could be that small, that intricate, or that holy. 

Her devastation is chalked up to childishness. "Bah!" says the troll. "I see nothing here! Why do you waste time?" 

When violence is caused by insensitivity, by a lack of perception of what one sees so clearly, who is to blame? How to cry foul?

In a gifted mind, where worlds are intricate and sensitive, this destruction can become the daily bread, simply a way of life:

One of the most common experiences of gifted children is a unique way of perceiving. They make more abstract connections, they synthesize diverse experiences, and they make sophisticated conclusions at an early age. Not that the gifted child's unique perceptions are always "true" to the rest of us, but they are powerful. The result is a child growing up with a reality somewhat different than the reality of her peers -- and often different from her parents, teachers, and allies.

Villa Epecuen, Argentina
Because they are different in other ways, gifted children are often isolated anyway. Somehow these multiple tendencies toward isolation reinforce one another to the point where the majority of gifted children feel lonely, left-out, or different.

This combination of unique perception and its concurrent isolation yield an emotional vacuum. After all, for most of us, our emotional selves develop by "bouncing off" of all those around us. (Joy and Loss: The Emotional Lives of Gifted Children, Joshua Freedman and Anabel Jensen, PhD)

As adults, we learn to live with it. Kind of. Despite the wreckage it will cause in our jobs and relationships, we go underground sometimes. It is sometimes at the bottom of the ocean, where sounds are muted and all is touch and flow, that we breathe best, and we remain unshattered.

In The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, Andrew Solomon writes, "Mild depression is a gradual and sometimes permanent thing that undermines people the way rust weakens iron. [...] Like physical pain that becomes chronic, it is miserable not so much because it is intolerable in the moment as because it is intolerable to have known it in the moments gone and to look forward only to knowing it in the moments to come. The present tense of mild depression envisages no alleviation because it feels like knowledge" (p. 16).

It seems to me that this is more than a feeling of knowledge. Instead, it is often linked directly to knowledge. In a world of trolls, knowledge is a liability. How to extol the virtues of complexity to a boss who demands that you create something "fun"? How to present the ecstasy of subtlety to an audience seeking more "pizzazz"? To them, their way is obviously better.

So we hold our tongues, and sometimes our breath. And sometimes we dive down for air.

Don’t Tell Anyone
by Tony Hoagland

We had been married for six or seven years
when my wife, standing in the kitchen one afternoon, told me
that she screams underwater when she swims—

that, in fact, she has been screaming for years
into the blue chlorinated water of the community pool
where she does laps every other day.

Buttering her toast, not as if she had been
concealing anything,
not as if I should consider myself

personally the cause of her screaming,
nor as if we should perform an act of therapy
right that minute on the kitchen table,

—casually, she told me,
and I could see her turn her square face up
to take a gulp of oxygen,

then down again into the cold wet mask of the unconscious.
For all I know, maybe everyone is screaming
as they go through life, silently,

politely keeping the big secret
that it is not all fun
to be ripped by the crooked beak

of something called psychology,
to be dipped down
again and again into time;

that the truest, most intimate
pleasure you can sometimes find
is the wet kiss

of your own pain.
There goes Kath, at one PM, to swim her twenty-two laps
back and forth in the community pool;

—what discipline she has!
Twenty-two laps like twenty-two pages,
that will never be read by anyone.

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