As I’m sure this entire blog evidences, I’ve never been shy with words. I joke with friends that I can and will talk about any subject for as long as permitted, and probably a little longer, because I really love thinking about things and finding out what other people think about them. It’s not usually the ideas themselves (although I do love a good idea), so much as the exchange of them, the stuff that happens in the brain during conversation and interpersonal engagement, and that spinning reverberation of reflection that happens for hours/days/months/years afterwards. I think that energy of new perspectives is our most potent fuel, in the libidinal sense, and I am delighted to get utterly lost and charged up in revitalizing thought.
I’ve been an oversharer since well before the internet or social media. I think of my body as the semi-permeable membrane by which my subjective experience is barely contained from spilling out all over the world. It’s extraordinarily hard for me to resist sharing my thoughts or opinions, or to refrain from expressing myself, and it’s only through a terrific act of decorum and self-control that I can manage any semblance of politeness or quiet (though I am a compulsive interrupter, and I do feel bad about that). It’s never that I’m not listening to other people (I do, very carefully), but that everything they’re saying is triggering new whirlwinds and thought trajectories, and if I don’t sputter out a few words here and there, I’ll lose them entirely (maybe that’s not a bad thing).
I’ve always thought it was an artist’s prerogative to be a more open version of humanity, to live in a transparent enough way that others can recognize the familiarity and sensitivity of experience. I tend to be terrible at hiding my thoughts or emotions (one of my exes said I wear my heart on my face), but I think it’s to do with not seeing the point in repressing all the things that make me human. I also may be unusually attuned to people’s body language and small facial movements, so I frequently can tell most of what people are thinking and feeling, even when they’re making a strong effort to “not say anything” and cage their reactions.
With that openness comes a sort of unraveling undulation, a turning inside-out of the core self so that the experiences at the surface become among the deepest. I think this feeling used to make me incredibly self-conscious – people weren’t just reacting to my shoes or to my gait, but to my very essential self, which they could obviously sense and dislike just by the way I walked (I’ve lived enough to know how absurd this thinking is; most people don’t care at all about anyone they see, and it’s just idle gazing and rote response). I pay a lot more attention to other people than anyone has ever paid to me (thank God), but I do so with empathy and concern. Even when I’m being bitchy and judgmental, I try to think of what a person’s life is like, how a woman used to look when she was younger, or how a grumpy old man felt when his daughter was curt with him and didn’t care that he was lonely.
I used to write stories (I guess I still do, just not so much on paper) about other people’s lives, imagining what their apartments looked like or the faces they made when they were in love. I was like a fiend for other subjectivities and sensibilities, wanting so badly to understand all these different versions of the Human Experience that I encounter on a daily basis. It gets utterly overwhelming, quickly, when you make yourself too open to everyone else, being possessed by all their ghosts and worrying that one or two will linger after the seance. But it’s rewarding, to really think, well past the cursory examination, into what someone’s entire life is like, to try to see the world the way others do, to understand why we were both born with similar bodies and sensory capabilities yet focus our attention in such dramatically different ways.
Something I have always known, which is becoming more prevalent, is that the more specialized one’s knowledge in a given subject, the more difficult it is to have conversations with laypersons on the topic. Parenthetically, I have always gauged a person’s intelligence not by how jargon-filled and technical the description of a subject is, but rather how capably it is simplified and brought to the level of the audience without losing the significant complexities. I know for a fact that physicists and mathematicians can lose me in several seconds flat, but frankly so can teenage girls talking too much about makeup or boy bands, if they use enough unfamiliar terms and don’t bother making sure I’m following.
The problem I am having lately, the more I study chemistry, is that I am finding fewer and fewer people who are willing to talk with me about all the magical little things I learn everyday, without saying “all that stuff is beyond me,” or tapping out before I’ve gotten into anything even remotely complicated. I think people have a slightly higher tolerance for discussions about art or literature, even if I know that I’m speaking on a very different level of theory than they ordinarily encounter, because paintings and books seem tangible, accessible, and even friendly. But our society seems to have such a strong aversion to math and science, and people seem so quick to believe they are stupid or incapable of understanding it, that no one wants to talk about it, and they roll their eyes and wait for me to finish speaking if I do bring it up. I honestly can’t count the times I’ve watched someone drift off in the span of ten or fifteen seconds, then wait until I finish talking and say, “Wow that’s… interesting.” Often they add, “I don’t understand any of that stuff.”
I have to believe it’s also a fault of my own, that I’m not able to articulate the things I find so beautiful and luminous about science, yet. I recently had occasion to attend a lecture by one of my personal heroes, Oliver Sacks, and in introducing him, the moderator emphasized that he is above all a storyteller. I saw through the course of his talk that the most consistent driving forces for his work were curiosity and the impulse to share everything he learned about humanity with others. He is a conduit, I think, giving access to the far-stretching iterations of experience we could not previously imagine, and bringing back profound insight into ordinary existence. I have always been impressed with his ability to break down incredibly complex, interwoven concepts from neurology and psychology, and make them not only accessible, but palpable and engaging to others. Along with a handful of others who are equally brilliant in their writing as their science (Rachel Carson, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, and Carl Sagan among them), Dr Sacks let me find the essential relevance and captivating beauty science can hold in my daily life. He gave me new things to dream about, new terrains to explore in my imagination, and from the time I was eight or nine to present day, his writing literally fills me with wonder.
So I keep struggling to find a way to integrate all the things that I am so passionate about, in art and writing, in science and music and history and philosophy and biology and on and on, in a language that is not just palatable, but exciting to others, without my tendency to just breathlessly gush in a staccato symphony of all my most recent thoughts.
I had thought the key was compartmentalization, which is why I have been trying to frame posts here around some specific theme or loosely-organized topic, but they are all of a part, talking about experience and existence. I think it may be more useful to free associate if necessary, to risk saying the extraordinarily dumb things I know I say all the time, and more than anything, to write more frequently, so I can keep a map of that wandering that keeps me alive. Please do let me know if I’m losing you.