Writing, Books, Painting, Politics, Neuroplasticity
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The Kick of the New

I read a lot of books about neurological development.  There are a whole new flock of them every month, so I am rolling in riches–memory! synesthesia! tetrachromacy!  My background as a Montessori teacher serves me well here and, in fact, opened me up to our own astonishing, minutely calibrated developmental feats.  

Of course, this sense of wonder extends to all life, but I am narrowing the focus to myself, for a few paragraphs, then widening it at the end. 

I am thinking that what we crave most in life is the kick of the new.  And I’m thinking that when, for some reason, we lose the ability to get this kick in everyday life we use neurological enhancers such as drugs, alcohol, tobacco, even food, to try and get this kick.  We want to go back to a time when everything was new, and find it difficult.  Billions of self-help books recommend ways to recapture the kick of the new with meditation, the right wheat-grass-juice diet, doing Mensa puzzles, purging one’s home of old receipts the week before the IRS comes looking for them, and other methods.  I agree that it sometimes takes a lot of effort, and sometimes heartbreak, as when one has finally given away a beautiful, classy suit that has been too small for years and then goes on the wheat-grass-juice diet and finds that it actually works.  So it goes. 

I remember experiencing several important developmental milestones.  In fact, I hadn’t even realized they are developmental milestones until today, when I went searching for a copyright-free photo of a child’s foot on a step.  Yes, I can scare up a child and take that photo at some point myself.  But we do like images. 

I wanted an image that illustrated the moment when I realized that I could take each stair-step with one big stride, separately, like grown-ups, instead of bringing both feet to a single stair and then proceeding to the next:  clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk.  My mother could fly up the Victorian staircase in our Lockland, Ohio house, and that was my goal. 

I consciously worked on developing this physical skill.  I thought, this foot on the step, then–streeeeetch–the other foot on the step above.   Never two feet on the same step.  That’s what babies did.   I may have been wearing clunky white baby shoes, or slippery-soled black patent-leather shoes, or little saddle shoes.  I think that Keds, which pretty much promised that I actually could fly, run up the sides of trees, and leap tall buildings in a single bound (and showed the mechanism of this magic–lines and arrows of power stamped on the insoles, insuring that they really did work as advertised) might have come later.  I was probably close to two years old.  The stairs–“The wooden hill,” as my father called it in the evening when it was time to go to bed–“Time to climb the wooden hill,” he’d say–were tall.  I practiced.  I succeeded. 

I also recall a moment in the alley that bisected our blook.  We lived in an older neighborhood, and all blocks had alleys, which gave access to driveways, garages, and the back entrance to the house.  No one used the front doors.  The back yards, the kitchens they led to, and the alleys, were where everything happened.  We had spacious yards with big trees.  There was little traffic in the alley, so it was a good place to play or ride a bike.  The alley was where I learned that I had a little ladder in my abdomen–a golf ladder, actually, which was probably a small plastic parakeet ladder with a golf ball lodged between the rungs.  This is what made the ladder so painful that it had to be removed, as my mother’s friend Mrs. Jones revealed, discussing a friend’s surgery.   I also learned that some of the men in the neighborhood worked at plants, which probably led to a vision of buildings with flowers on the top, which eventually led to me writing Queen City Jazz. 

Oh, the kick of the new is powerful stuff. 

I was probably four when I thought about height and perspective, performing an expiriment in the alley. There was honeysuckle on our fence, and my small wheelbarrow, with which I trundled sand from our garage (a very old garage, perhaps built for a carriage) stood waiting next to my father’s big wheelbarrow, which carried most of the sand.  I remember kneeling in the alley–I used to be this tall, and this is what I saw– and then standing — now I am this tall and it is different.

These goals and comparisons were what I did, constantly.  This is the work of growing.  Despite sounding dull in retrospect, these are the moments that  make childhood luminous and exciting.  This is the kick of the new.  This is how the brain, meshing with the body, grows.

Neurologically, or neuroplastically, we ought to be working on drugs that help us re-experience this growth, to experience the kick of the new even when life seems repetitive, even when the brain grows old.  We’ve made feeble stabs at this, but they are blunt, hit-or-miss emergency weapons for severe cases.  We need to work on finding the wheat-grass diet for the older brain.

 And of course, we work on this all the time.  It’s what we do.  It’s the underlying drive that keeps us going.  Some people skydive.  Some people read.  Some people write.  (That might seem like a huge conceptual leap (no pun intended) to some of you, but I can say from experience that writing is just like skydiving.  And if reading isn’t, switch books.)

This is why I think that learning something new, seeing something new, gives us that kick that we seek.  It is neurochemical. 

When we think there is nothing new, we die a little. 

So go out and do something new. 

 

 

 

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