I only took one psychology class in all of my educated life, and while the science and unpronounceable names for the many facets of the brain have long since abandoned me, the general concepts won’t let go.
An emotionally stunted young adult, I’ve taken solace in these oft frustrating abnormalities of mine by knowing that I’ve been gifted a good head on my shoulders. And in that head lies a brain that, while maybe not so well connected to my heart, is flawlessly dependable, rational, and vast. Perhaps even impenetrable, I always felt pretty invulnerable to the blind spots and scar tissue in trauma that seemed to make so many others flirt with the deep end.
But then, psychology. The knowledge of all the ways your brain can lie to you to protect you from a truth too strong for the paper-thin walls that serve as a foundation for the mind. If it weren’t for these walls, and these lies, it would all come crumbling down, and we’d be back at square one: helpless, and crying out for protection. And so, humble enough at least to accept that my brain probably wasn’t inexplicably superior to this core foundation of human self-preservation, I tried to trace the trails of my own few traumas to seek a truth. And the truth was, it sure seemed like my brain was good at lying too.
The details of these low-points were blurry and intangible. Even with recent events, I could sense that the harder I tried to remember, the harder my brain hid the details so I could do nothing but forget, or simply hold onto a vagueness too indistinct to be of any use. It was like chasing a ghost around my head that wasn’t limited by the walls and barriers and folds that I was impotent against, and forced to abide by. I felt like Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, trying desperately to hold onto my memories, even though they were bad ones, but ultimately succumbing to the superiority of a human brain that has been perfecting its methods of self-defense for thousands of years, and making a mockery of my mere two decades.
And so I’ve been faced with the notion that I, too, have been brainwashed by my own brain, and the dependable truth of all that resides in its gray folds isn’t, in fact, as dependable as I once believed. Perhaps, every now and again, I am wrong where I am certain that I am right. Perhaps, given a bigger trauma to shake the foundation of my being, I too will be on the brink of the deep end, where even the strength of all my ration and reason won’t be able to help me swim.
I suppose if and when this time ever comes, I’ll be thankful for the lies. Sometimes, I’m thankful for them already. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, but I can’t help but believe it is fabricated. I seem to live my life in a constant state of being underwhelmed and underachieving. And it usually isn’t a morose truth, just a bland one that I accept and deal with in stride. But for some reason, show me a photo or video clip of the past – any past – and I’ll remember fondly and proudly. It’s always a sense of achievement in actually living, like it’s something I used to do, but don’t anymore. And my rational brain understands this discrepancy and what it means, but the other part – the part I can’t control – lets me revel in this temporary pride and happiness without heeding to a nagging truth.
Yesterday I watched dusty footage of a Missouri dusk that I’d forgotten by the following dawn. It showed a small group of us young adults soaking in the comforts of the impending absence of a brutal sun. My brother and his wife, and a few of their friends, sipping on beer and living simply. My sister and I, old enough to join them, but instead chasing fireflies with a curious two year old, with equal excitement and pleasure as her, my brother’s grown puppy nipping at our heels. As I watched my handheld footage, squirming at the embarrassment that is hearing my own voice as others hear it, I smiled with a pride I don’t often attain. Constantly chasing a life of fulfillment I convince myself can only be achieved through endless activity and grandiose glories, in this moment, I know that I am wrong. This life I seek now seems clearly and blatantly catered to an audience – one who can see my success and assume my contentment. But like my brain, I will have manipulated them into seeing what I want them to see, and it’s only a short matter of time before their approval will give way to a gaping truth of lies, and I will know that my calculated efforts have resulted in nothing.
I watch this video, the one of the night I barely remember on my own, and it embodies to me every happiness I’ve ever sought out. The simplicity is pure and clean, and its bareness cannot serve to mask any lies, so they do not attempt to hide here. This is peace. This is life. In an open backyard on an Army base in a poor Southern state, I have lived, and I am proud of this moment.
But like anything – like everything – this moment has passed, and is so far behind me that if it weren’t for this video, there isn’t much about it that I’d remember. This house, and all of the ones beside it and around it, have since been obliterated by a tornado, and this setting no longer even exists for me to revisit and recreate this scene if ever I’m feeling empty.
So I’ll have to make new scenes, and new memories, and new photographs and footage that I can revisit with more pleasure than I know I probably enjoyed in that original moment. But my brain will lie to me, and make me content with the things I’ve done, even if I can’t. And I will be content, and thankful for the lies that mask an often disappointing truth.
Maybe, if I’m as smart and rational as I think I am, I will consolidate my empty ambitions of glory into a simpler life, where there is no room for lies, but no need for them either.