Monday, October 1, 2012

Wiring


September 18

Songs can be like pale helium balloons, that float by silently and if want, you can reach out, grab a hold and then float into the past. Float into a memory like walking through a curtain of shimmery air, where my past exists in holograms, images projected onto white surfaces.

If I traded it all, if I gave it all away
For one thing, just for one thing…

I close my eyes, and the less-than-literary Game of Thrones, and lean back on the plaid sofa. The song reminds me of a walk around campus, with headphones plugged in my ears and nostalgia tearing up my eyes even then – the last few weeks of college and something about the wistfulness of that song that made me think of how much I was going to miss it.
I remember feeling the weight of an end, how heavy a book feels when it ends and each chapter meant so much to you, and I remember thinking to myself, I’m going to miss this so much, and I open my eyes to a dim evening three years later. And I do, I miss it so much.

The smell of tea when you get the proportion of water and Everyday just right, the density of butter that needs to be pushed against the teacup so that it can melt enough to spread easily. I think that is why I liked Proust so much, when he takes that bite of the creamy madeleine and is transported back to his childhood. I could relate to the intangible memories that rise up like leaves in a windstorm from a very tangible sound, scent, scene or touch. 

I wonder when one gets so old that there are so many stimuli around already carrying associations from the past that you continuously live in this windstorm of memories, and the whirling motions of Fall-colored leaves make it hard to see the present. Maybe that is why older people talk about the same things over and over again, in a constant state of reminiscence. Like the man with poetic eyes who can always hear a slow, steady patter of rainfall, a constant sound that sometimes calms, sometimes drives him insane and often drowns out the sounds of everyday life.

To change tracks a little bit, we were talking about brain development in adolescents, and also children. As can be expected, the first couple of years our brain develops at a very swift speed, absorbing, and learning. We are born with infinite possibilities within our brains, and depending on the environment we live in, these possibilities are narrowed down till they become a few actualities and personalities are tentatively designed. If during these important months and years, children are exposed to stressful situations that cause their stress hormones to kick in, the neurons and nerves involved in this entire process are sharpened, to the extent that they become oversensitive.

This means that children growing up in abusive households who have to constantly hide under the bed or lock their doors to keep out drunken fathers, or toddlers who wake up in the middle of the night to the sounds of an explosion caused by yet another US government drone attack, they are going to spend their lives in a high stress mode. It is very likely that they are going to have problematic behaviors later on, whether it is bursting into tears because of a sound they hear on TV or jumping up to punch a boy in the next seat because of a word overheard.  

Think of it like making certain patterns in wood with a set of nails, once hammered in really well it is going to take a lot of skill and work to pull them all out. And even when that is done and you are ready to nail in a healthier, prettier pattern, the scars of the work before will still exist…

We talk about poverty and violence and how this impacts children growing up in such a harmful environment, and how these factors play a significant role in the behavior problems kids here show in school, and I think of the little barefooted children back home, with their plank-of-wood bats and their dusty hair, and I wonder if we put them in schools, will they act out like so many students in the American city public schools…

I need more experience but when I think back to the orphaned boys I met in a school in Islamabad, boys from areas affected by the American government’s atrocities in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, I don’t see too many parallels. We have our own set of problems, don’t get me wrong, but I am wildly fascinated by these differences in how brains are wired. 

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