Mental Flotsam, Mental Jetsam

Because the only thing that beats going crazy is going crazy with somebody else

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Canvas On Your Brain, Or Why Nuns Walk With Rulers

Some time ago, I came across Standing Room Only. I summarily forgot all about it. The owner and author, a well-spoken gent named Hugh, who speaks with wit and wisdom. I like his stuff.

In reading it today, something occurred to me that I hadn’t really put into such a perspective before: Pain Educates.

[I’d like to state for the record that I am neither depressed or in pain of any kind (except for a pinch in my hands, but that’s not the point); this just happened to be the topic of thought this afternoon. Glad we got that out of the way.]

It does. It has a remarkable power to inform, pain. Granted, 96 out of 100 times the lesson learned is “Don’t do that again”, but still. They’re the lessons, ultimately, that last as long and longer than any other. (If my high school calculator had come with spiky buttons, or thumbtacks of some kind, you can bet I’d remember more of my algebra.)

It’s why Nuns smack the hands of their students; so they don’t do it again. Pain educates. And the lessons that come with it; physical, emotional, or otherwise… well. They’re just hard to ignore.

The thought evolved to the point that I saw the human mind as a great, vast, endless canvas. A dull, untouched white. We all do something different with our canvas, don’t we? Some of us write on them. Some of us paint. Some of us hang photos and degrees. It’s the manner of the marks, after all.

And granted, some stuff we learn goes on that board like chalk: It’s there, but give it a good rinse (or enough time), and it’ll be gone. Or likewise, just fade into the background with everything else that’s been written over it. It’s only powder.

The stuff we care about, the favorite stories or the lessons that involve something we give a crap about; that’s when we use the good stuff: Paint. Bright, vibrant, it matters and we can spot it from a mile away, if we have to. It is a big canvas, after all.

And that’s right and well and good and all. But you get to a lesson of any kind having to do with pain, and look out. The paint is sticky and wet, the kind that doesn’t dry out. Not to mention that paint glows in the dark, and doesn’t fade without a fight.

You can guess what the glowing paint spells out, if it’s been used to write warnings against further harm. They're pretty universal: FIRE BAD. MEN ARE JERKS. GIRLS CAN LIE. FREAKING LAVA.

In addition to warnings, you can sometimes paint a quick picture of someone who done ya wrong, or just the face of a nemesis in general. Not too many of those on the ol’ canvas, but they’re there. Finding yourself looking at those paintings and those warnings in a different light… can change everything.

On the other hand, the most painful lessons can be the most enriching. When you’re at your lowest, that snapshot in day-glow paint also includes the person who’s got an arm around you, trying to be there for you. They might have a box of Kleenex, a bottle of something good and strong, or just a pair of ears for the listening. You find out who’s got your back, and that’s a good lesson too.

It’s that pain that makes you remember the lessons. Keeps them fresher than Tupperware, they can take you back to the day of the lesson in a flash, reminding you of the mistakes you made the first time. And it doesn’t hurt nearly so much today to remember what hurt you then.

Finding yourself looking at those paintings and those warnings in a different light… can change everything.

Hell, I don’t know. It’s just a thought. It’s possible I’m full of shit, with too much time on my hands to think.

Nevertheless, feel free to discuss. I’ll be around.


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