Thursday, April 10, 2014

More Than Normal: Cultivating Fascination in the Commonplace

If I ever needed confirmation that there is wonder in the ordinary, I found it this week. 
Everyday, we adults are exposed to a multitude of repetitive events and sensations, so many that we barely notice  them any longer. 
Somewhere we have lost the joy in discovery we had as children. That is unfortunate. 
Remember the days when you wondered why the sky is blue? The days when you chased lightning bugs at twilight? The days you tried to flush your sister’s Barbie dolls down the toilet just to see if you could and what would happen if you tried?
Okay. Maybe that was just a warped thing.
The point is we all used to wonder why things happen. 
Everything. Even the objects and processes we say every day.
But then we grew up and learned to ignore what didn't slap us upside the head and say, "NOTICE ME!"
What we as adults now fail to realize is that the commonplace is not as simple as we think it is. Just because we have experienced grass growing or spring snowfall innumerable times does not mean the occurrence of either is simple or dreary. As adults, especially for us writers, it is important to acknowledge and celebrate the complexity of simplicity. 
Take thought itself, for example. 
When was the last time you thought about thinking? It’s something we all do daily––or claim to. In fact, we think so often, we fail to consider the intricacy of the process.
This week, I picked up a book that has been sitting unread on my shelf for some time: Escaping the Matrix by pastor Greg Boyd and psychologist/therapist Al Larson. What I found there about brain function at once fascinated and frightened me––fascinated because of the sheer enormity of the process and frightened because I realized how much I miss of what happens around me.
First, the fascinating numbers. According to Boyd and Larson, "The average adult brain consists of more than 10 billion neurons communicating with one another through more than 10 trillion synaptic connections....[T]he number of possible connections in the brain is more than all of the stars in the known universe (approximately 50 billion galaxies with an average of 10 billion stars each). Although the average dendrite is a fraction of a millimeter in size, if you were to line up all the dendrites in your brain, the line would circle the globe five times!”
Ack! And that’s in just ONE average adult human brain. And right now there are over 7 billion humans on earth! How many dendrites are there? How many have there BEEN? 
My head hurts.
But that’s just what is IN the brain. How can all those components operate at all? 
Evidently, quite well Boyd and Larson continue: "[T]he brain communicates much faster than you can possibly count, and it operates along millions of neurological pathways all at once. Were this not the case, it would take several lifetimes to think a single thought!”
The most overwhelming part of thinking, however, is not what the brain obtains. It is what the brain discards. Boyd and Larson explain: "During this process, you're being impacted by an estimated 100 million bits of information per second. The reticular activating system of your brain deletes 98 percent of this while the rest of your brain filters the remaining 2 million bits of information. From all of this, your brain brings to your conscious awareness only five to nine pieces of information per second it believes is most relevant to you at the moment.”
So the main function of the brain is…forgetting? Huh? I guess my brain works better than I thought it does.
But, more importantly, how much more should I know? 
And how much more is there to know? Now, my head REALLY hurts.
The point of all this for writers is, if all of this is going on when we think––one of the most commonplace occurrences––how much more is happening in other activities like growing, eating, loving, or simply existing?
There has to be a story there. Or two. Or a billion...
Which means everybody, every occurrence, every time is fodder for exploration, explanation, and exposition. Tapping into the childlike fascination we once had is the best start.
I wonder what else is on my bookshelf.

Credit: Boyd, Gregory A. and Al Larson. Escaping the Matrix: Setting Your Mind Free to experience Real Life in Christ. BakerBooks: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2005. 31.