I am tired and cold, in the process of slowly reinjuring my rotator cuff, which was initially fucked up when a girl ran into me instead of sliding when I was blocking the plate. But I have warm beef fried rice in my belly and a night off work, so I think I'll be okay. At least for the moment.

The BBC reported on some interesting findings about subliminal messaging, namely that the brain picks up on subliminal messaging very well when it's not too occupied and poorly when it's being used.

Which, yeah, is kind of neat. But what really caught my attention was this paragraph:

Dr Bahador Bahrami, UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said: "What's interesting here is that your brain does log things that you aren't even aware of and can't ever become aware of.

It makes me wonder how much I'll never know I know, how many of my decisions are made for me without my knowledge. It's unbalanced, disorienting. How much of my time is spent listening to a voice I'll never hear, watching a picture I'll never see? Is, say, a visual artist more able to tap into subliminal stimulation? What about the Romantics, who were obsessed with the sublime long before "subliminal" was ever introduced into the English language? Were they picking up on things the rest of us couldn't see? When Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote about emotion, nature, intuition, imagination, were they just picking up on Nature's subliminal messaging? The fact that they use the word "sublime" over and over, that it becomes almost an obsession for them, seems to indicate that this is the case, that they are aware they don't know everything they know. Like in Tintern Abbey, when Wordsworth writes

                    These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ’mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration:—feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love. (22-35)

He's writing about an "unremembered pleasure," about "little, nameless, unremembered, acts." About things that don't register in the moment, but pass on to a "purer mind," to something sub[super?]conscious. Things that he can't write about, not really, because he's not sure they exist. Except in order for his world to function properly, they must exist, both within his own mind and in the minds of those around him. The abbey, the hedge-rows, the cliffs, imprinted themselves on him as a child, not only consciously (he remembers seeing them) but unconsciously (he feels an emotional response that is fundamentally the same as when he saw them as a boy.)

I'm puzzling through this as I'm writing it, doing one of my usual hail-Mary close readings. Which is not very much of a close reading at all, as a real close reading of this bit of poetry would probably take several thousand words. As a result, I'm not quite sure what my original point was, though I think it was something along the lines of: we've been thinking about the effects of subliminal stimulation through the lens of poetry much longer than we have through the lens of science. So maybe, in order to understand it, we should be looking back instead of forward, at notebooks instead of computers, at long walks in open fields, at snow-capped mountains, at inch-worms.

I'm sure someone has written more articulately about this, has taken the time to make it into words that work with rather than against one another. I think a large part of my interest in it is rooted in my agnosticism--basically, my belief that the presence or non-presence of a deity or deities is unknown and unknowable. It doesn't mean I don't believe in God, or gods. It doesn't mean I believe, though, either. It means that my prayers aren't to anyone, and that the only reason that I call them "prayers" is that I'm not sure what else they could be.

And now that I have thoroughly scared you off with both the quoting of Wordsworth and the navel-gazing , I recommend fic! All That Mattered, by [livejournal.com profile] phase_of_gray. Interesting and convincing John-in-hell, a snippet that lets him keep his dignity and even get some snark in. I think I'm mostly interested in the portrayal of hell itself, as this place in which you constantly want for things that you can't get. It's a little straightforward for my tastes, but my tastes have been known to tend to the messy and obscure. Anyway, it's part of my project to expand my comfort zone, fic-wise, and read authors and styles I've never encountered before. Sometimes it makes my eyelids twitch, but sometimes I stumble on a gem. And I like shiny things.

ETA: My weather report currently informs me that there is DENSE FOG (omg!) outside. It's a beautiful night. There is no sign of fog anywhere I can see. I love my weather report.
When I started Italian public school in sixth grade, I had to fill out a registration form. Most of the boxes were labeled with cognates: nome, madre, padre. Religione.

I had no idea what to put. Catholic? I'm only nominally Catholic, though. I go to church for Christmas mass because I think it's a beautiful ceremony, but I also attend the celebration of the winter solstice a few days before. I don't keep up with what's going on in the Vatican.

I wrote no in the box because I hadn't learned how to express none yet.

It was the wrong answer. No one knew how to respond to someone who had "no" religion. Everyone had some religion, whether it was Catholicism or the Islam practiced by the tiny minority of students from northern Africa. Don't you mean Christian? my teacher asked. She thought I didn't understand the box's caption. What religion are your parents?

Shrugging, I opened my English-Italian dictionary and sounded out niente.

We'll put Christian, said my teacher. She must've thought it was some rebellion on my part, some separation, removal from my parents. I shook my head. Niente, I said again. None.

My teacher's eyes, when they met mine, were full of pity. And unlike the north Africans, I was not excused from religion class.

It's been over six years since I wrote no under religion. Now, I live in a place where atheism is the norm. It's all right to say you hate Jesus. It's all right to make jokes about God and to mock people of faith, talking about them like they're children, too stupid to know better.

Sometimes, all I want is to be back in a place where everyone knew that they were watched out for and loved. Someplace where everyone knew that kindness had a greater reward than a smile, or even that a smile was a great reward. Where being on time had no real meaning, because we're all mortal, we all have only one life to live, and there's no reason to shorten it by worrying all the time.

I'd still write no. I don't belong to a religion. I don't call myself Catholic.

But I believe in people, in humanity, in the inevitable tide of time. I believe.
Religion (and especially very religious people) can be so frustrating.

I'm sitting in Union South, listening to a born-again Christian who was raised traditional Methodist describe his vision of Bascom Hill covered in praying students. He sits across from a boy in a red Wisconsin hoodie and they talk about prayer, about the power of prayer. Born-again wants to have a place on campus where people can go and say "My dad just died; I need prayer now" and get it.

And I want to go over and say:

I pray every single moment I am awake. Each of my poems is a prayer, a tiny boat of hope or despair set out drifting across the sea. I make eye contact with a stranger and smile, and that is a prayer. My professor says something in class that makes me think, makes me dissect and wonder. And that is a prayer. Everything we do when we are alive is a prayer; every time we move or blink, it is a prayer.

We don't need the words, the Our Fathers and Hail Marys, we don't need the books and the beads and the songs. We just need to keep breathing. Just one. More. Day.

Born-again has no idea what he's talking about. He thinks faith only comes in one form, thinks it means knowing the rituals. And yeah, the rituals are nice, and I love going to mass every once and a while, but come on. If there is a God, he doesn't care more about the people who kneel and light candles than he cares about the people who don't believe in him. God doesn't like Christians and hate everyone else. If there's a heaven, or an afterlife, or reincarnation, it's not only for the people who pray. That's so amazingly narrow-minded, self-centered, and pretentious. How do you get off telling me that your relationship with God is better than mine? Because you had a vision of students praying on Bascom Hill? Because you like hanging with the local pastors? People have been arguing about this ever since the beginning of organized religion; you, sir, are not a prophet or a messiah or even a saint. You are a small man from Colorado in a plaid flannel shirt, and you make my stomach turn.
I was walking back from my physics lab today, chin tucked against the bite of the drizzle, when I looked up at a flagpole to see the flag flying at half-staff. What's today? I thought.

Oh. Oh.

I can't believe it's been five years.

I made a sharp right turn from the flagpole and into St. Paul's Catholic Church, not quite sure where my feet were taking me but not about to resist because my religious compulsions are few and far between. Five o'clock mass had started a half-hour earlier, so I stood awkwardly outside the radius of those attending and sent up a little prayer, just in case, you know.

Mary's eyes found mine, mourned into them until I took a step backwards, blinked, looked away. Her son bled on the wall across from her. I imagined being in her place, staring at her crucified child for eternity. I thought about smoke and the way metal crumples and what I would say to my mother if I had only ten minutes to live. I thought about people who find the Madonna in grilled cheese and wondered what sort of faith, what sort of desperation, they must know.

I thought about joining Mass.

I turned around and pushed out the front doors, into the falling rain.



May 2010



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