Monday, November 27, 2006

Selective Blindness

I have come to the realization that pretty much everyone suffers from Selective Blindness - that is, we have so much information coming at us that we have to screen some of it out to keep from going nuts noticing every detail. I've read somewhere that this is actually a protective mechanism that our brains have developed to help us focus on what's actually important ... if our ancestors went around noticing the movement of every blade of grass, they would have gotten eaten by some large carnivorous animal pretty quickly. While this information screening is unconscious, and therefore not our fault, it does at times keep us from noticing some wonderful things.

Case in point: I went to college in a small town surrounded on all sides by the Appalachian Mountains. It was possible to look out my dorm room window and see wave after wave of ridges rolling off into the distance. The mountains were misty blue, or dappled in fall colors, or the peculiar yellow-green that meant there was pollen covering every surface in town.

But 90% of the time, I would look out the window and see ... the dorm across the quad (if I even bothered to look out the window at all). I remember maybe half a dozen times when I looked out the window to see if it was raining (the answer was almost always yes ... they didn't call it Bleaksburg for nothing), and my eyes would drift up a little bit and the sight of the mountains would take my breath away. I had been too busy with classes, and research, and my friends, and whatever else was going on to just LOOK at what was around me.

I think that Selective Blindness is also at the root of a phenomenon that I used to experience at the end of every vacation. I would walk in the front door of my house/apartment/dorm room and everything just seemed wrong. It felt like someone had come into my house and moved everything - knicknacks, furniture, walls - about 1/16th of an inch away from where it was when I left. Rooms seemed smaller, or more dirty, or less gracious. Even our cats looked different than I remembered.

But the last few times we've come home from vacation, nothing has seemed out of place. The cats aren't skinnier, the walls haven't moved, and if the house is dirtier, it's from the cat hair that's accumulated in our absence.

I don't think this is due to some sort of improvement in my Blindness ... actually, I think it's gotten worse. I spend so much time chasing after things - chores, writing, Liza - that I don't have time to mark an image in my head to compare against what I see when I get home. I've taken Selective Blindness to the next level, adding a metaphorical blindfold to the metaphorical blinders I was already wearing.

In some ways, this is a good thing - the feeling of displacement I used to experience at the end of vacations was unsettling, and it would take hours before I felt like I was truly home. But I wonder what else I am missing by being in motion all the time.

On our way home from Thanksgiving I purposely left my craft project in the suitcase so that I could take a nap in the car on the way to the airport. The nap never materialized because there was just so much going on outside the car window. First there was a field where the heavy morning dew had covered the spiderwebs draped over clumps of weeds, leaving a carpet of sparkling lace in place of the normal sight of mown crops and roadside litter. Then I noticed that the light coming from behind us was hitting the dew on some of the fields just right, creating a moving band of rainbow in each field. Jason and I had an actual conversation, one where there was a repeated back-and-forth exchange of ideas instead of "So, whose turn is it to change the stinky britches?" During our flight I saw rainbows where the sunlight reflected off the body of our plane, and in the airport I took the time to show Liza how she could see into the cockpit of a plane pulled up to the gate ... the pilot waved to us as they pushed back from the terminal. None of this would have happened if I had been trying to finish another crocheted animal or cross stitched advent calendar marker.

Would I be happier if I slowed down to experience all the beauty and joy that I'm undoubtedly ignoring in order to get more things done faster? Or would I find out that I've been mostly overlooking negative things (like the level of grunge on the floor in my shower) and end up being both grumpy and unproductive?

I have no idea, but I'm going to try to find out. I've got a busy week planned, culminating in a party for my play group buddies on Saturday. By then I have to have the house cleaned and decorated, food made, etc. Add to that my ambitions to get a little writing done, and all the laundry and grocery shopping I have to do since we were on vacation, and this week's going to be a bear.

But after 3 or 4 pm on Saturday, I'm done. No more decorating, precious little shopping or wrapping or cooking unless I really feel like it. I'm going to take my daughter to see a Christmas tree farm, and we're going to see how much colored sugar we can spread around on the floor of the kitchen while decorating sugar cookies. I'm going to put her in her fancy dress and get her photo taken with Santa ... and if she screams her way through it, I won't treat it as a tragedy. I'm going to let Liza have her way unless she wants to do something dangerous or downright stupid, and I'll do it with a smile on my face if it kills me. And I'll have my eyes open, looking for sparkling veils on the weeds, rainbows in the sky, and people to waving to my daughter.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Those are some of the things that I miss most about Blacksburg. Living in Dallas, I miss the mountains. I miss rain. I really, really miss snow. Even though it is 80 degrees today, I miss a real winter.

But you have hit upon some of the things that keep me going. I love quality conversations with my spouse. I love the small signs of nature that exist in the middle of suburbia.

And, nothing feels more like home, than when I slip into the comfortable familiarity of my own bed, with my own sheets, and my own pillow.