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offbeat 20 February 2015

I’m a bit finicky about what I put in my brain nowadays. There is always something that I need to think about, so even wondering what to cook for supper can be irksome, especially if I haven’t defrosted anything. Actually that conundrum leaves me close to psychosis, and also reminds me that I need to buy eggs and some cigarettes again. I rate the brain alongside the liver and kidneys. It’s one of the necessary filters for all the noxious and unused stuff that can go into my head. Everything gets sorted into the categories ‘interesting and cool’, ‘usual boring stuff’ and ‘I wish I could unsee that’. Unfortunately, unlike the kidney and liver, the brain is rarely able to excrete the fecal matter and urine, so I spend a fair amount of time with the ‘I wish I could unsee that’ category, sometimes rubbing my eyes for minutes on end.

I have been told that different brains have different ways of remembering things. This brings me to the point that I can easily forget songs, but I easily remember things that I have seen. I know snatches of Abba songs and a couple of hooks from Tracy Chapman and bad country songs, but they come and go without burning trails through my head the way images do. Whenever I enter a new place, indeed any place, the first thing I do is put on my glasses and peer around for visual prompts. It’s not just the people that I need to see. What they wear, their expressions, the décor and a host of other variables all create a picture for me. The picture that I form will set the tone of time I spend in the particular locality. And repetitious events, combined with the association of visual imagery, have actually burned a pathway in my brain. If I see certain things, for instance an interesting piece of art, I will come to rest and relax. Photos of rain and thunderstorms are also quick ways to make me happy. On the other hand, any variant of Albrecht Dürer’s Praying Hands, or a crochet doily, is likely to make me want to flee, or make me grouchy if the door is locked behind me. They bring to mind all those times I have had to squirm through morally uplifting sermons by people who never read the King James version. Praying Hands is particularly painful for me, even if I am not stuck to a chair with the painful nails of good behaviour Repetition of certain images is also a source of irritation. I can look repetitively at my daughter’s drawings and the things she made. I can also look repetitively at artworks I have chosen. However if the image is not invited I will begin to grind my teeth. Not being a fan of dunes, a couple of smart people have pointed out, is probably the reason why I try to reinvent the subject matter of their calendar annually. There was a watershed moment for me in that particular discussion, the reminder that art is not merely decorative. In fact, the people with whom I discussed it gave me a clear indication of how it became a source of escape for them. Sometimes I am slow on the uptake, in this case about thirty years slow. I remember being taught that pictures are a good way to find ideas, and new ways to see things. I was probably daydreaming when that teacher talked about pictures being a momentary diversion from reality. That moment of absent-mindedness might also explain why someone like Hieronymus Bosch, or an interesting sci-fi or fantasy scene, never give me a headache.  I tend to find the ideas while others find their escapes.  The new trick I think I have learned is not to be dismissive of praying hands, not of the people who brighten up their lives with colourful mass-produced paintings sold in faux gilt frames. Perhaps those bright hues indicate the need for sympathy for dreary lives which need brightening. For my part, I have an image of a clown with huge fangs to stare at now, a wonderful dichotomy that will feed my mind for a few minutes. I wonder what that says about me. Maybe the fact that I can swallow that image will get rid of the Praying Hands that threaten to crowd my head.

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