Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Subconscious ... A Few Thoughts Thereupon

The human subconscious -- that portion of your mind that mostly churns along without you knowing what it is up to -- is a wondrous thing. (In psychology, the preferred term is "unconscious," but that always brings up images of some guy stretched out on the floor of the squared circle with the ref counting to ten, so I like the former term better.)

I have learned how to use my subconscious for certain tasks.

Sometimes in writing a story, I'll get stuck on a plot-point or bit of character. Something isn't right, and I can't quite put a finger on it, so I'll put it aside and wait.

Eventually, something bubbles up through the tar and offers me a solution. Might be a few hours, maybe days, but the grinder keeps chewing at it until something happens.

Most of us have noticed this at one time or another. Mislay a name -- who was it in that movie? Geez, I know the actor's face! I just can't remember his name! Paul Something? Right on the tip of my tongue ... nope ... can't get it.

Then, as I am lying in bed about to drift off, the come to realize moment: Giamatti! That's his name!

I believe that Google is bad for the subconscious. If you can remember anything else about the subject, you can plug that into the search engine and winnow your way to the answer. Satisfactory on one level, but not so much on another level: Give it a chance -- it's in there somewhere ...

Unless of course that last beer Friday with the boys killed that particular neuron and it's not in there any more.

Hard to know.

Two things about this came up in my thoughts today:

1) I believe I have mentioned a time or twelve that I study a martial art based on the blade. I also have made it pretty clear that I am not in the least bit expert at it, especially the knife part. However, I do have some experience in waving sharps around, mostly practice versions, but sometimes for fun, a real one, and after doing this fairly regularly for a while, have come to believe that I am fairly comfortable with the action in general. I fancy that in the unlikely event I have to actually use a knife to defend myself, all this dancing will serve me better than if I had not done it.

Today, while using a kitchen knife to slice an apple, I put it down on the counter when I reached for the big jar of mixed nuts I was using to augment my lunch. As I did, my shirt's tail caught the knife's handle and jerked it off the butcher block. I saw it slide, saw it start to fall, and just like I had good sense and any reflexes left ... I reached out and caught the knife by the handle, no big deal.

At least I have learned which end to grab onto ...

And while feeling pleased with my derring-do and looking at the mixed nut container, I saw on top a couple of Brazil nuts. And my subconscious offered up 2) a tidbit of wonderful racist memory from my childhood ...

A quick flashback so you know: My folks were not particularly racist when it came to black people, even though we lived in the Deep South. My mother worked at a market in a predominantly black section of town where ninety percent of the customers were black, and thought nothing of it. My father grew up amongst Cherokee and Arapahoe, and was mostly of Kipling's White Man's Burden philosophy. We didn't get inculcated with racism at home, not consciously. Ah, but, it is insidious, that attitude.

As I looked at the Brazil nuts, the term used to refer to them from my childhood burbled up:

Nigger toes.

It was not overt racism in the sense of the term being consciously used to denigrate somebody as being inferior because of their skin color, but nonetheless it was one of those small, unthinking barbs that bespeak a larger overview. How could one use such a term without being aware of how it demeans and degrades an entire race simply by its being?

Our everyday language was full of such things, and it takes only the most cursory examination to reveal them for what they are: Racism, pure and simple. Ladled into the conversations without stopping to realize what they offer: Eeny, meeny, miney, moe, catch a nigger by the toe. A nigger in the woodpile. A nigger with a nickel. And more: A jewish moneylender. Hook-nose. Taco-bender. Bean-eater. Wop. Slant. Slope. Gook. All of them just out in the back yard, buried in the subconscious ...

We have come long way, baby, but we still have a long way to go.


James said...

Raised in the south like you. I think I was 14 before I knew they had another name like "Brazil Nuts".

The conscious part of the mind is highly over-rated. I used to keep a tape recorder by the bed when I worked investigations and had an in-basket full of cases. Sometimes my mind would wake me up in the middle of the night with the exact right tack to take in an investigation. I used to use a paper and pen but then couldn't decode my own writing in the morning. Frustrating.

Some guy said...

I was at a fundamentalist Christian nerds party not long ago. Not my brand of religion, but they generally seemed to be good people, unusually high honesty level for our society, and would go off and do charitable work for free, etc. (One's a friend, so I've gotten to know them some.)

And then one of them used the term "ghetto bread" for white bread. No one commented or even seemed to notice anything amiss. Racism seems to abound in our language, and not necessarily just in the groups we'd expect it in.