My daughter and I have been watching a series of talks on the TED network. These talks range all over the spectrum of odd, innovative, extra-box-ial thinking. These people have been pushing far past the barriers of normalcy into the crazy, mind-bending, and amazing.
What these talks have done is impel me into a state of questioning:
*What are my limitations in this life?
*Are they physical, mental, emotional, or societal?
*How often are they self-imposed?
*What kinds of scenarios spark such impositions?
*Are my perceptions always correct about what others say about and to me?
*How often are the boundaries picked out by those around me?
*Are they impenetrable walls of steel or are they made of soap bubble?
For two days we've watched people take bazookas to long-standing ideas and blast them into smithereens. There was a woman who scuba dives in a wheelchair. There was a woman who wants to leave no toxic waste when she dies, so she has developed a mushroom suit which will cleanse her remains of toxicity. There was a man who paints with candles and food. There was a man who has developed a substance called a Superfluid, which, when cold enough, acts as something neither solid, liquid, or gaseous. The ideas simply pour out of them, and are germinating inside me.
I live a proscribed life. I do many of the same things every day/week/month/year. There is a routine which mishaps rarely puncture. At times I feel claustrophobic in my littleness, despite the lure of a book or the Internet or other mind-stretching devices. I find myself wishing I could simply get in my car and turn it on and drive. And keep on driving until the car can't drive any further because of the salt water inside it. It's not a suicidal urge, but a need to break out of the sameness.
What stops me? That's a good question. Sometimes the impulse to stop and think is so much smaller than the urge to fly that I am amazed. Mostly it's inertia and my personal fears about what it means to break the box. I think that is so with most people. What happens to box-breakers and the escaped? How intrepidly to we try to find out?
I find I am often defined by those around me. They construct a series of boxes into which they stuff me. Some of the boxes are fairly spacious. Some are so cramped that there is barely room to take a full breath. I perceive people thinking things like:
"This is my mom. She annoys me every time she opens her mouth. She's always asking me to do chores or how I'm feeling about some boy. I wish she'd go away."
"My daughters are piglets."
"My wife keeps moving my stuff when she cleans. I wish she'd just leave my things alone, but now and then she snaps and then I can't find anything for weeks."
"My mom is wrong about eighty-five percent of the time. It's so embarrassing when she tells a story because she gets so much of it wrong."
"That woman is scatterbrained, over-bearing, and I pity you for having her for a mother."
"Oh. We didn't even know you had a job. What do you do? Write? Have you gotten anything published? Why haven't I ever heard of that book?"
"My mom is an okay cook. But keep her away from pickle water. She put that in the stew once and it was horrible."
"This is my eldest daughter. She's an artist."
What if I've honed my cooking skills and have never again added pickle water to the stew? Still I am bound by the stigma of once having done so. What if I've moved beyond being simply an artist? What if I've worked hard to become a singer? Or a dancer? Or a scientist? Or an architect? Or a rodeo clown? An architect may not be a bad thing, but it may be obsolete. Maybe I've moved on to marine biology or found a love of rescuing cats. What if I've developed a love for having a clean bedroom? What if I've spent 364 other days not "hiding" my husband's stuff? What if I've lost a leg and can no longer be a world-renowned ballroom dancer? What if I've had to slow down due to asthma and can no longer climb to the top of El Capitan?
No matter. The boxes are devilishly difficult to break out of. Some of these receptacles we construct when the poor person is in diapers and we never let them out, sometimes even post mortem. Who hasn't heard someone say, "Oh that was So-and-so. He had Alzheimer's." As if that malady was the be-all, end-all of his life. What about the thousands of other things which made up his experience? Why did the sum of his life accomplishments and challenges equal only Alzheimer's?
We watched a speech today by a woman talking about the ability of photography to influence history, not simply document it. She showed pictures of several men who had been wrongly convicted by accusers who had seen pictures of the perpetrator in line-ups. Sometimes, because of a reintroduction of the picture in another line-up, that person develops a perception that the accused is the villain because the picture was reinforced that way. In effect, the victim sometimes paints the perceived perpetrator how he or she has been trained to see that person. Our minds try to construct boxes which, at times, are ridiculously wrong-sized.
We have all experienced the phenomenon of the "Spin Doctor"--someone who is skilled at taking a fact and altering it in such a way as to cause the general public to sway away from the truth towards a more palatable falsehood. Kings, presidents, and dictators have employed these creatures since time immemorial to clean up after them. How difficult is it to see beyond the false fronts to the real meat of the matter? Do we try?
How often do we reinforce wrong perceptions of a person based on faulty thought processes or flawed information? And how often do we help that poor person batter out of the box?
I am on a life-long search for truth. I cannot afford to construct unbreakable false boxes. For just as I want to avoid being pigeon-holed, so, too, do others.