Sunday, March 18, 2007

perceivability


Elm Street: Salt & Pepper
Originally uploaded by ReyGuy.
ReyGuy's[1] Salt & Pepper shot reminded me in a rush of memory of an early morning long ago when I ran into my favorite high school teacher at the McDonald's down the block from the school where he was eating pancakes.

I was up at dawn because my family had moved across town, and in order to get to school in time (it was my Senior year and I didn't want to change school districts again -- I attended twelve different schools while I was growing up, across eight different school districts -- loooooooooooooong story) I had to get up while it was still dark to catch the only city bus that would get me to class in time. Sometimes I killed time at McDonald's where I worked an after school job.

So Mr. B was there (he was my British Lit teacher, and the cut of his beard and sweep of his hair made him look a little like Shakespeare) and, as he he had the habit of doing, he asked me what I had been thinking about lately.

How many adults ask that question of kids? Not "what have you been up to?" but "what have you been thinking about?" And then stick around to listen to the answer and engage you in a conversation about it. God bless him, he did it all. the. time.

So he asked me, and I told him that I was trying to get my mind around the idea that maybe, perceptually, folks saw things differently -- something as simple as the color red might look different in my brain than yours -- it might look like what I call blue, for instance -- and we could never really know, because we shared a language for these things that we learned relative to how we perceived them... So: Is my red your red? If your blue was projected inside my brain would I understand it to be blue? Or would I call it something else?

He took the plastic salt and pepper shakers in his hands and said something like: "That is fascinating. Is my salt your salt, or is it your pepper? What does it taste like to you? But it's even more interesting, isn't it, if you take it to the next level. When you ask yourself do any two people share the same idea about love? Or friendship? Do we perceive these things collectively, or are they unique to each of us -- and we just use the same word to describe very different things?"

I don't know. And I don't know that I'll ever know.

That conversation returns to mind often -- usually in the midst of a misunderstanding when I thought things were going a certain way only to discover that I had it all wrong. That the other person saw things very, very differently.

I suspect this is the thing that will always absorb the bulk of my energy: trying to understand how others -- the Others who matter, the Others I love -- see, feel, and experience this world. As well as I ever can.

Which I suspect will never be very well at all.


[1] ReyGuy is an old school newspaper guy who works in Dallas and shoots with straightforward wide open eyes. I can't get enough with his stuff. Start with his Klucker and the cop shot, and then work your way out from there.

6 comments:

anniemcq said...

Perfect post. Along with my morning coffee, this woke me up. What a great thing that a teacher you had so many years ago (okay, not SO many years ago ;) ) made such an impact. And I love the question he asked of you too. I'm going to steal it.
D. You are a wicked good writer. Thank you.

litwit said...

Ah. You're some kind of thinker, baby.

suttonhoo said...

thanks, guys. :)

Rahul said...

you've seen Waking Life right?? please tell me you've seen Waking Life. I think even your darling companion would like it :)

suttonhoo said...

I'm such a loser. no. not yet.

I'm behind.

there -- I just pumped it up in the netflix queue.

;)

Rahul said...

gotta love this world of instant gratification! Let me know if you like the movie.

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