Since last night, the wind here in northern New Jersey has been fierce. FIERCE. Loud and long and constantly hissing or screaming or howling. It didn’t keep me awake last night, but other things did. Not worries or concerns or anything. Just random stuff.
I was up until almost 4 in the morning and had to get up at 7, whether I wanted to or not. It was a rough day. I’m going to try to make it through until a more appropriate bedtime so that I can sleep through the night.
The stream of consciousness that was flowing during this particular bout of insomnia was kind of entertaining. I started by burrowing my head into the mound of four pillows that I have (for myself alone – I only use one, but I like having four for reading and propping purposes) and could hear my heartbeat in my ears. Then I noticed that the pulse in my neck was just barely making the sheets move and causing them to whisper a little. And that that whispering almost seemed to be rhythmic – but the rhythm of a waltz. Which is impossible because that would indicate a rather disturbing arrhythmia, no? Still, I was thinking about the waltz and things in 3/4 time, and then 4/4 and then 5/4. And I was thinking about how little I know about music and that the only song I can name in 5/4 time is Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Take Five.”
(P.S. I now know that I know more… thanks to this very helpful article on musical works in unusual time signatures on Wikipedia. I could have figured out that Radiohead didn’t stick to 4/4 for everything, but 7/4 [“2+2=5”] Or 10/4 [“Go To Sleep”] Hey, guys – nice! Thanks for learnin’ me somethin’. And Nick Drake’s “River Man”, also in 5/4. I love that song.)
Then I moved onto thinking about words and meanings and semiotics and how, beyond never actually being able to understand each other when we’re all sane, lucid individuals, it’s frightening to think about how little it takes to separate us from the rest of the world in terms of comprehension and expression of meaning. A friend told me about a play she saw about a woman and her schizophrenic brother, and we were talking about the breakdown in language and meaning and comprehension in schizophrenics or people with dementia and other loss of brain function. This carried over into another conversation with friends last night about the same thing… and so when I couldn’t sleep last night, I was just marveling at how incredible it really is that we can communicate with each other and that we have the capacity to learn other languages and comprehend units of meaning in a way that allows us to cross those communication bridges — and how tragic it really is to lose that particular ability. It closes you off from the world entirely when you can’t make those connections between an object, the word for that object and that object’s meaning to you or someone else. And I was thinking about aphasia, agnosia and apraxia (Wikipedia does a good job of explaining those too, as well…)
Aphasia: is a loss of the ability to produce and/or comprehend language, due to injury to brain areas specialized for these functions
Apraxia: is a neurological disorder characterized by loss of the ability to execute or carry out learned purposeful movements, despite having the desire and the physical ability to perform the movements
Agnosia: is a loss of ability to recognize objects, persons, sounds, shapes, or smells while the specific sense is not defective nor is there any significant memory loss
Besides being really awesome words (sorry – word nerd), they’re pretty terrifying as far as what they mean for an individual affected by them. An inability to produce or comprehend language – where you’re speaking nonsense but have no idea that no one else can understand you, or finding that everything other people are saying is gibberish to you. A loss of ability to recognize things, despite the fact that you see, feel, hear and taste it all… you just can’t put it together and grasp it.
So I was sort of sitting there in bed at 3 in the morning, scaring myself thinking about that and how tenuous our whole world of communication is – and how terrifying it would be if that broke down. It sounds like something Jose Saramago could turn into a novel, like he did with Blindness or Seeing. Except there would have to be some terrific allegorical and political meaning. Otherwise, I’d write the fucking thing.
I was always fascinated by how Annie Sullivan was able to teach Helen Keller (you remember The Miracle Worker, right?) to name and recognize objects without the benefit of sight or hearing. While that was enough of an obstacle, imagine trying to do that when the person you were teaching was (or if you yourself were) incapable of making the connection between the taste in your mouth and the word/symbol for it. There are therapists who work on this with stroke victims or victims of head trauma, and that’s just incredible to me. Seems almost Sisyphean.
Anyways. I’m way exhausted and don’t feel like this thought process is working itself out in the most elegant fashion, but maybe if I ever feel like I have it in me to write a novel, I could work that angle. I’d be surprised, though, if someone hadn’t already done that.