Stop me if I’ve told you this before, but there’s a tiny monkey that lives inside my head. In the spot where most people have a brain, I have a very small monkey. He wears a tiny little hat (why not?) and has big oversized hands. Not huge—they still have to fit in my brain cavity, right?—but compared to the rest of him, the monkey’s hands are pretty big.
Sometimes, when I hear people talking and saying things I don’t want to hear, or if there’s just too much noise or three conversations happening at once, I can send the little monkey in my head a signal, and he takes his big hands and closes off my ears from the inside, and it gets quiet and I don’t have to listen anymore. It’s the most peaceful thing.
When one is young, the brain absorbs. Children’s brains do this and it’s amazing. They learn just by watching and internalize in a way adults simply can’t. A grownup can mimic, but eventually one’s own habits are going to return. Kids don’t have those habits until they see and form them. It’s a beautiful, sometimes tragic process.
But the older you get, the less absorbent your brain is, and by the time you’re 25 years old, you’ve locked in a good portion of the knowledge you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life. You can go to school after that (I did), and continue to learn new things forever, but the rate at which you do it will never be what it was. The mind is fascinating. I love thinking about it.
There was a time though when I never wanted the monkey to put his hands up, to stop the noise. I wanted to take everything in, like I could be obliterated by information and emerge a pure being of anti-ignorance. This is a young person’s thought. It doesn’t work that way. You only get so far before your feet (as it were) fail you. I fell way short.
I’d never have admitted as a younger person to tuning out, but now I do it almost daily. It’s a survival method. How can you pay attention to everything, process every ill and wrong in the world, and possibly want to keep going? Don’t we cherrypick our concerns every day? It’s why we don’t pay bills and work out deep-seated family issues at the same time; multi-tasking as masochism. Handling one thing is how we stay sane. Believe me, the other stuff will still be there tomorrow.
The world is infinitesimally small, and we’re much smaller than that. It’s so easy to be buried by all the noise. If I close my eyes and take a breath and tell the monkey to put his hands up, maybe I can stop it for just long enough to get my head around what I’m hearing or what I just heard before the next thing hits me and piles on. What’s wrong with that?
Part of me still feels like I should chase down every little idea and claw my way through it. I don’t know if that will stop or not, but I know I can’t do that and I know that even if I did, it wouldn’t get me anywhere. Just more frustration. If there’s an upshot or positive aspect to any of it, it’s that we get to choose the ideas and feelings we do chase down, and it’s those things that form our perspectives and ultimately who we are. We choose that. Every day.
Amazing to think there are still so many miserable bastards around.