04 December 2012

December 4th.

December 4th by Jay-Z on Grooveshark
If there is a deeper symbol of "being successful with the cards life deals you" than sampling your own mother, I have yet to see it. Happy birthday to Hova, and thanks to Gloria.

02 December 2012

Terra incognita.

The brain is such a fickle and mysterious organism.  I mean I have reason to believe this statement is true in general, but it's abundantly and profoundly true for the only brain I have ever used.

Lately I've been writing this honors thesis which I will defend at BYU this Monday -- circumstance which has provided the occasion for me to fly home this weekend.  Yes, most people write an honors thesis before they leave college.  I can take a long time to get to things.  I'm working on that.

So for most of the past month, maybe a little more, this paper has been occupying tons of space in my head.  Do other brains work like this?  It's like other interesting thoughts couldn't move in until the lease expired for this nightmare tenant who was renting out every room.  Not even non-interesting thoughts could move in.  I would have liked to use some of that space to figure out what smartphone to buy, which credit card to apply for.  Heck, I could have used some of it to cook myself meals.  Sorry!  No vacancy!  So most of the month I ate bagels and burritos.  I was lucky to remember to apply for a passport just barely in time to get it (fingers crossed!) before I go abroad with my family later this month.  I was not lucky enough to remember to apply early enough to avoid the hefty expediting fee.

And it's not like this tenant used the space productively.  That would be great: I could have one room making connections with existing literature, another room configuring code for maximum efficiency, and one in which to just sit with the sun streaming through the blinds and craft gorgeous sentences.  Alas.  Most of the rooms in the house were devoted to the single-minded production of worry, distraction, and worry about distraction.  This takes up a lot of storage space; new concerns pile on top of old ones, leaving little room for productive work on the paper.  And of course I would worry about how little space there seemed to be in my head for productive work, and the cycle would perpetuate itself.

The closer the deadline got, the more time and space were consumed on the paper.  I even stayed up all night a few times in a subterranean computer lab on campus.  Over the past week especially, fun things started happening to my mind.  Once, in the aforementioned underground lab, I fell asleep sitting up in my chair and had a really hard time figuring out where or who I was when I woke up.  I don't know how long I was out.  Another time I dreamt I had forgotten about my thesis defense and it was the next day, and I was freaking out.  There were a lot of weird data dreams that I won't get into.

Maybe the weirdest thing my brain did was to apparently clear out the room normally used for appreciating a wide variety of music.  I was stressed, so I wanted to listen to soothing music, but I simply had no patience for it.  I couldn't focus on NPR or the podcasts that had been teaching me Portuguese either. There was only one thing I could stand to listen to: Auto-Tune the News.  And I wanted it ALL THE TIME.

Maybe my brain was pregnant?

Well, my brain delivered.  I sent off the paper this morning.  And suddenly the smelly hard-partying coke addict who was renting out all the space in my mind for his industrial worry-cooking kitchen, driving away the nicer tenants -- he's gone, and I can peer out the windows, recall that the world is big and brave and good, and invite in some fresh air.

I turned on Fleet Foxes and almost cried.


I have a friend who is of the class of people who get invited to conferences for teenage savant entrepreneurs.  She told me she thinks these people are really good at viewing their brain as a tool, which does what they tell it to do.  "My brain is mine," they seem to understand, whether intuitively or through long practice I don't know.  But it can't be very long practice because a lot of them just graduated from high school three or four years ago.  At age 12.  Somehow they're able to go sit in a coffee shop and work at their computer for 36 hours on a problem they're interested in until they fall asleep, and then wake up and say things like "I don't know what's wrong with me; I've been sleeping way more than usual.  I bet I slept for 20 hours this week."  These are the people.  Their brain is theirs.

And my brain is mine.  But not really in the sense of "My table saw is mine" or "My Camaro is mine" or even "My grasp of econometrics is mine."  Not something I have built or acquired through my own efforts, or over which I exert total control.  I could probably stand to learn to exert more control over my brain.  But I think one of my life's biggest and most interesting challenges so far has been developing a relationship with my brain.  I've learned more about what makes it tick and what it just won't stand for.  My brain is mine, maybe, in the same sense that "My dog is mine" or "My girlfriend is mine" or "My kid is mine."  I don't have any of those things, so I guess my brain presents me a with a good chance to practice learning how to respect and care for and learn from a living creature for which I have some responsibility.   My brain is mine. To paraphrase Stephen Crane:

It is fickle -- fickle.
But I like it
Because it is fickle
And because it is my brain.