All things come to a beginning

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Make senses

I was off work last week, so I blissfully spent my afternoons reading the newspaper front to back. With my mom by my side, so we could exchange our (absolute minimum of) "Huh!", "Did you see...?", "Are you done with that section?"-statements. There was a tiny article in the Thursday edition, called "Paintings can be heard". It talks about something called "Synesthesia", which is defined as a neurological condition (2 out of a 100 people) in which two or more bodily senses are coupled. Apparently, the brain of a newborn has a large amount of connections between its various parts that are lost as we age. Some people's brains, though, continue to have a higher level of connectedness. As a consequence, the observations of their five senses are interconnected. For example, as per, "In a form of synesthesia known as grapheme → color synesthesia, letters or numbers may be perceived as inherently colored, while in ordinal linguistic personification, numbers, days of the week and months of the year evoke personalities". It is involuntary, and possibly inherited as an X-linked dominant trait. If your genes aren't synesthesically inclined, fret not, psychedelic drugs will get you there too.
My mom and I both liked the article and ended up talking about how easily your senses can trick you. For example, when my mom can't hear what someone is yelling from another room in the house, she turns on the light. What? Why?

I've been working phones at the university, answering questions about registrations and degrees and exams, and thoroughly enoying the wide array of voices that I'm presented with. Not just the accents, but the pace (some people sound like they're storming the beach in Normandy and need to know what is expected of them RIGHT THIS INSTANT, while others chat with me like we go back 15 years and naively believe that we're the only people in town who know about the doctor's wife's drinking problem), the tone, choice of words...Every so often, I get to put a face with the voice, like when people come into the office later to hand something in or pick something up. There was a woman today who sounded lovely on the phone and didn't disapoint in person. She had a calm voice, confident but girlish at the same time - and she lived up to it: in her fifties, very kind, but quircky clothes and a naughty gleam in her eyes. Other times though, yikes. Cold shower. I wonder how I sound. People address me with "miss" or "ma'm", so at least I sound female. Probably young. Hopefully friendly and pleasant. Is there anyone who's not completely blown away when they hear their own speaking voice, though? Like in a voice message? Such a harsh confrontation!

Quote of the day (thanks Liz)

"For the science of happiness, sadness is not the opposite and is not the enemy. To appreciate happiness we all need sadness to reawaken our capacity and appetite for joy [...] Of course, sadness is not to be mistaken for depression, that state in which our emotions are stuck in despair; and happiness is not to be confused with mania, in which our exuberance is trapped in overdrive and self-destructive levels of out of control optimism. By contrast to those two unhelpful and inflexible attitudes, feeling happy or sad is our free and dynamic response to living life by the hour and so can serve to both guide and motivate us. A heavy heart might be painful, but it serves a healthy purpose. And this certainly needs saying because for a long time now "how to increase your happiness" is a promise that's been packaged and sold as a consumer product much like icecream or alcohol. If organise is the new black, then happy is the new sadness-free diet promising a swift end to all our ills. "I just want to be happy!" is the mantra we hear around us all the time. We even claim that being happy is more important than wealth or beauty or recognition, and think ourselves rather enlightened for putting happiness firm at the centre of life's bigger picture. but we're mistaken. happiness is only one small wheel in how a life works [...] At the very least sadness is an indication that we care - a seal of authenticity".

Words can only get you so far. There's a Calvin and Hobbes comic I've always loved, where Calvin says "If your knees aren't green by the end of the day, you ought to seriously re-examine your life". One thing I no longer have to teach my nephew about happiness.


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