I’m just happy. That’s it. I’m exactly where I want to be.
– (paraphrased, Joel from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
An orchestral arrangement of my life and all of the events, emotions, and tiny insights within could be punctuated by a recurring melody of moments distinguished by profound, deeply connected romantic love. All the same, its crashing chorus, its dark parts and down-tempos so characteristic of Beethoven’s symphonies, would contain a profound and recurrent loneliness, like an echo in the back of your psyche that you wish would just settle down so you could pay attention more acutely, and yet it is at its core too precious to dismiss entirely.
As a child, I was always in my own head, or at least…that’s how I felt. I wondered about the world, and I wondered about the nature of my own mind, and I wondered about my life and the passage of time…and I watched, trying to piece it all together. This relates generally to the “specious present”, in the sense that immersive presence in one moment of lived experience can feel so rich and unified, and at the same time marked by a fleeing transience. When I was young, I had an uncanny capacity to fill my own presence that lasted until it reached its peak in my teenage years. The summer of my fourteenth year in this life was accented by a profound creative introspection, wherein I began to write, and share my writing with others, and realize that I had something within me, perhaps a keen way of seeing things, that could maybe be valuable. In the quiet of the night, I would meet the ideal conditions primed to let my mind go wild with its wonderment. I have always loved feeling alone in this way. This surge of creative energy would riddle its way through my whole being until I could no longer contain it and it simply had to be externalized in some form.
It is uncanny to me now that as an adult, I crave this same ability to fill my own presence. It has become more difficult now, as I tend to spend more time finding this creative expression in conversation with others. And yet, a part of me holds on to my loneliness and sometimes even craves it. Unfortunately romantic connections are often victim to a fatal mortality, an iconic and remarkable transience, a rise and fall, which often leaves me alone sitting under a tree and wondering how at one point there could be such rich connection and closeness with someone, and the next moment I find myself anxiously pantomiming their palpable absence. I know this is not unusual, but I feel that as a person I have in many ways failed or at least that I have been slow to develop in forming the types of friendships that can really last. I worry that I am too intense for most people to stand being around for more than a little while. It makes me sad, and yet I still eagerly await my own retreat into my quiet solitude, contrasted by those moments where I can exude my introspective concentrations with someone who can really listen and engage with reciprocal self-expression. I just wish this process did not have to be so romantic. I suppose that I am preoccupied with the mind such that it is difficult to interface with others without making reference to its unfolding phenomena, and often that tends to either overwhelm or estrange, or alternatively awkwardly dazzle and allure, which is still ultimately defeating.
I was challenged by a friend recently. Knowing that I study the sciences, he believes that there are certain confines to science that can be ultimately defeating, lest the clever scientist is an artist-in-disguise and can get away with having knowledge about the “situation” in a scientific sense but still dance with it through creative expressions. I think that is a real gift, but when I think about it, so many of my heroes had that uncanny ability. We love reading writers who can have fun with their ideas, rather than making them just seem weighty and like impositions on the audience’s mind, bracing their threshold of understanding in a way which is crude and invasive rather than gentle and inviting. “Dance with me,” I say, “Let our minds dance together. There’s a lot here in this…rather uncharted territory of the mind. I’ve seen the labs, I’ve read the texts, I’ve been taught the trade and the taxonomy, I’ve meditated, introspected, listened, and collaborated…and this realm of the mind has a kind of elusive magic. It’s no further from you than your own hands (actually, its spatial coordinates are both innermost and outermost and nowhere and everywhere, so let’s not worry too much about that), and it’s as close-to-home as the seat of your whole Being, truly. So it’s not just ‘intelligent behavior’, or any of that nonsense.” Well, or something like that. Let’s just say that I am still working on developing my “scientist-artist-phenomenologist-technologist” tongue, and I’ve got at least five years before I become a professor 🙂
My point is that I met this intelligent academic friend who sees something in me that I had perhaps forgotten, or de-prioritized, but when triggered was like an enthusiastic houseguest eager to play host and answer the door. This friend thinks that I have an artistic streak, that combined with my intelligence, trained and honed, could give me a rare ability to communicate complex waves of concepts and data in a manner that is…inviting and exciting. I am now eager to write my academic papers, and then translate them into a muse of some sort on the subject matter(s) which can render more deeply my own reactions and understandings beyond the confines. Perhaps, too, if I become clever enough (honing my skills), I can even write creatively and prosaically in something that could still be accepted and appreciated within the classical academic and scientific community. I like the challenge.
All of my life I have been sort of addicted to this self-other symbiosis. How much can I understand myself, and how much can I understand you? And how much/how far can I let you into understanding me? (I am using “you” and “me” in the generic sense.) The struggle to express and communicate the phenomenal nature of my lived experience has been a huge driving force for me as a writer and a communicator, as well as the attempt to understand others. That’s pure ecstasy to me. And now we have this technological “virtual alterity” experience that allows this new form of access to the phenomenology of another person. It satisfies both the child in me, who always dreamt of this type of experience in a more open-ended artistic sense, as well as the adult scientist in me who wants to try to use this technology as a method to better understand situated cognition, embodiment, and intersubjectivity.