From an evolutionary perspective, monkeys are very nearly people. Our genomes know it. And so do our brains.
For as long as I’ve been crazy (always), I’ve thought of what the Buddhists and Evolutionary Psychologists call the “monkey mind” as my second track.
My second track is that source of unceasing, never ending criticism; second guesses; should, would, and could haves. It doesn’t matter how concentrated I am on something else, something completely unrelated. The second track is always running.
Maybe I’m working on a manuscript about a community-based underage drinking prevention program. Yet my second track is likely stuck on some other common refrain – “you’re fat, so fat, gross and ugly and disgusting, get it under control, fat fat fat.” It’s unstoppable. Distracting. Painful. Damaging.
I first came across the monkey concept when I read Thank God for Evolution by the Revered Michael Dowd, a once-upon-a-time strict evangelical and biblical literalist who fought vehemently against evolutionary principles, but later came to embrace and even promote evolution as part of what he calls the Great Story. Although Dowd’s discussion of the evolution of the human brain is somewhat simplistic and over-emphatic, he puts it into a really interesting perspective by diagramming it out using the different animals that have brains as evolved as the different sections of our own… including that monkey.
Several years later, Dr. C explained it to me in the more zen sense — the Buddhist monkey mind being responsible for the incessant chatter many, most, probably all, of us experience. For over 5 years, Dr. C and I have worked and worked and worked on strategies to calm the monkey… quiet down the second track.
We’ve tried modifying or replacing the message. We’ve tried mindfulness practices, dissociating/separating from the chatter. We’ve tried finding and addressing the root issues (the perfectionism, weight concerns, anxiety, and so on). We’ve tried and tried and tried.
But seriously. The monkey in my mind seems to be a bit more advanced. I honestly think it might have thumbs. And it’s using those thumbs to hang on for dear life — refuses to be ejected, refuses to be quieted, refuses to leave me be.
It exhausts me and after so many years of incessant trying and failing to put the second track, the thumb-y monkey, to rest, I’ve reached a point where maybe I’ll have to accept that this is just how I am.
I said so to my psychiatric nurse practitioner a week or two ago – she tends to disagree. I suspect Dr. C will as well. And I guess that’s the best I can do for now; trust in my team of professionals. That’s got to be better than giving into the monkey, no matter how highly evolved he is.
People leave impressions on me all the time– big ones, small ones, profound ones, good ones, bad ones, green ones. All different kinds of impressions.
But some people do a bit more than just leave an impression. Some people seem to inhabit a corner of my brain in a way that reminds me a lot like a photograph in the magical world of Harry Potter — more than just a picture, you know? Rather, an interactive depiction of the person captured.
I started thinking about this the other day as I watched someone give a PowerPoint presentation and found myself repeatedly distressed about things like hanging widows, inconsistently bulleted lists, and, worst of all: “neiserria gonorrhoeae.” Not italicized. Not capitalized (i.e. Neisseria gonorrhoeae) and I was just horrified. I found myself mentally screaming at the presenter: “You’ve got to have respect for the pathogen!!! Geez!!!” It was only after the fact that I realized where that intense feeling came from– it was Ann’s!
Ann was my advisor in grad school. I suppose when you spend 6 straight years under the tutelage of any one person, they’re going to leave a pretty big impression, yet… it’s so much more than just an impression. She truly inhabits a corner of my brain at this point and the thoughts that come from that corner belong to both Ann and to me. I was just as upset about the non-italicized pathogen name as Ann would have been– the thought was independently mine, yet clearly planted by Ann.
And there are other people occupying other corners and niches… most of them for the better.
My high school biology teacher, Ms. Bertsos (because I am completely incapable of calling her Gen, no matter how old I get and how long we’ve been Facebook friends) has her own space. I channel her when I make jokes about science and when I let my weirdness shine even in professional settings. Turns out, people seem to like me better when I’m genuine– and to be honest, that’s probably why I always liked Ms. Bertsos so much. I also channeled her every time I ever skinned a mouse, but that’s another story for another day…
My boss from the Writing Center, Sylvia, she occupies another area– it’s the area that makes me patient and thoughtful about my words. It’s the area that encourages me to be empathetic and to try as hard as I can not to judge other people. It’s the part the always assumes the best… or assumes not at all.
Unfortunately, I recently recognized another occupant– one that’s not so good. It seems that there is a big chunk of my brain devoted to housing what essentially amounts to an amalgamation of every “mean girl” I’ve ever encountered. The thoughts and attitude of that mean girl are, as with the good occupants, both theirs and mine. And, without a doubt, the mean girl in my mind is a huge source of insecurity.
This morning at church, Seth and I ran into someone we knew up at Michigan Tech. She was an RA at the same time that we were and she was a pretty big fan of Seth (ahem). She was gorgeous then and she’s gorgeous now. Not only is she gorgeous, but she’s also the mother of a couple kids with another clearly on the way. Gorgeous, fertile, everything I am not… begin downward spiral.
The mean girls in my mind were after me with full force.
Seeing her, talking about her, the Facebook friend request she immediately sent Seth, sent me into a series of crazy thoughts– Seth could have been with her and, no doubt, he would have preferred it, seeing her makes him see how much he missed out on and how ugly I really am, if Seth had married her, he’d probably have kids by now and he’d have a pretty wife, I can’t be either of those things for him… and so on and so forth… all the way to crazy town…
So in that moment of insecurity, I texted my friend Adriane (who was my RA when I started at Michigan Tech and is still one of my most favorite friends of all time). Her response, and I quote:
“Just be nice to everybody, maybe she’s not so bad. Besides you’re better than her anyway. Don’t let her ruin a minute of your day, it’s not worth it.”
I was letting the mean girl in my brain do all the thinking, rather than appreciating the thoughts of the crazy and awesome lady scientists Ann and Ms. Bertsos or the kind and compassionate and non-judgmental Sylvia.
In reality, it wasn’t ever a contest and it isn’t now. Seth and I are Sleepless in Seattle style MFEO and I’m sure that our Tech friend’s family is happy too. We’re doing our thing, they’re doing theirs, and we just happened to end up in the same small town. We have MTU in common, we were all RAs, and we have all, no doubt, had some time to grow up. The person I am now is still, admittedly, jealous and insecure a lot of the time– but being a nice, albeit crazy, scientist overrides all that. So nice to everybody I shall be.
Thanks, Adriane! You can hang in my brain too 🙂
PS: A “hanging widow” is what we in the biz (of being crazy) call it when one word of a longer title on a PowerPoint slide gets bumped to a second line and it makes everything look crazy unbalanced. Three options to get around it: 1) re-word the title to make it shorter, 2) make the font a bit smaller, or 3) hit enter somewhere else in the title to make it two relatively even rows of text.
Honestly, I was anal before I ever even met Ann– she just helped to shape that crazy into what it is today. I think I’m actually glad for that. She knows how to make a presentations look nice. And I do love presenting things; total adrenaline high. More on those nerdy highs to come!
H was almost for Harry Potter. Almost. I mean, I love Harry Potter. LOVE IT.
But my favorite part of Harry Potter:
The hair! The brain! The condescension!
She’s perfection 🙂
I knew it from the moment she introduced herself and one-upped the boys with her oculus repairo spell.
Also, I love that my brother called her HER-ME-OH-KNEE until we saw the movie. It makes me smile so big. Until I remember that he got pissed off about something after like the fifth book and never finished them. Can you even imagine the insane level of dissatisfaction? Maybe someday he’ll finish the series up. (Please, Stubby?)
I’m sure it’s pretty obvious to you why I like Hermione so much– I totally relate to her. On so many levels.
First: the hair. We’ve talked about that before, mine gets pretty insane. Once, my friend Aimie‘s kids were in my office and we were talking about Harry Potter and I told them my hair was just like Hermione’s. Noah didn’t believe me, so I pulled it out of the ponytail it was in to demonstrate. Both of their jaws dropped– it was too cute! Yep, my hair is a big, frizzy mess. But if it’s good enough for Hermione, it’s good enough for me! (And it’s also why I do better in the north!)
Second: the brain! My brain is definitely my biggest, and strongest, asset. (But seriously, I have a very big head, I imagine that I must have quite a bit of brains in there to fill all the space.) I thrive on knowledge, on learning. I looooove to read. Anything and everything. In fact, I used to take the dictionary into the bathroom with me as a little kid (ask my parents, it’s 100% true) and I’d sit on the toilet and soak in all the new words. I also read my encyclopedia set from cover to cover and bookmarked all of the interesting pages (i.e. I bookmarked pretty much all of the pages). If only I weren’t a muggle… think of all the magic there would be to learn.* (I’m not kidding, you guys, my head is literally real big.)
And third: let’s be honest, it’s totally the academic condescension. I’m the worst. I try really hard to be cool about people not knowing things, and yet… I’m kind of not. I’m a snob. Sue me.
That whole “it’s not wingardium leviOsa it’s wingardium leviosA” thing is totally me. To a T. Or an H, even 🙂
And I know other people have noticed. As recently as grad school, my advisor said to me that she thought I might have a hard time teaching because I’d have to be patient with people who weren’t as smart as me.
Oooo. Burn on me!
But I can recognize that truth about myself. We all have our flaws… even me and Hermione.
*Seriously, though. I am half magical, on my mom’s side. Not 100% muggle. I’m not even kidding. My Grandma Rita’s parents, Alex and Rachel (my namesake) Liberacki were professional magicians.
No, I do not know how they do that. Little bit of whiffle dust, I suppose. I did learn lots of tricks though when I was younger– magic in the talent show was totally my thing. Except for the year when I sang Matchmaker, Matchmaker with two other girls and three mops. Or the year I read Shel Silverstein poems…
Oh man, I am such a Hermione!
… Read on if you’re a die hard HP fan like me …
I wore this sweet necklace to work today and I was suddenly aware of it’s heaviness against my chest in the middle of the day, which is when I realized:
This Petoskey stone is the horcrux in which I keep the Michigan girl part of my soul.
That way, even if I die, that bit of me never will.
Voldermort may have been on to something.
Congress, take note– that is how you act bipartisan!