"Reveal the Tactile Density of It"
When Dr. Bloch called him
to the infirmary, Shiv went along
without argument, already wondering
what he'd get out of it today.
His good mood evaporated
when Dr. Bloch said, "Let's pick out
some things and go to the bumper room."
"I don't need it," snapped Shiv.
"I don't lose control for no reason."
"I never said that," Dr. Bloch replied
in a mild tone. "We're going to explore
tactile materials today, which is easier to do
on the floor -- and I'm not a young man,
I'll stiffen up without padding."
"Oh," Shiv said. "Okay, then."
He still had no idea what Dr. Bloch
meant, but at least it wasn't intended as
an open insult like some of the guards did.
"I think you need more things to touch
and play with," Dr. Bloch said. "So I did
some research and restocked my supplies.
Come here and show me what you like."
He opened a large cabinet
that was full of ... stuff.
Shiv's mind reeled, trying to track
all of the items in their bins and boxes.
There were so many he lost count.
"These are tactile disks," Dr. Bloch said,
handing him a large and a small bag.
"The idea is to choose one and then find
its match by feeling in the other bag --
I think you'd be good at this."
No way in hell was Shiv sticking
his hand where he couldn't see it.
"Maybe something else?" he said.
"There are oddballs and texture balls,"
Dr. Bloch said, taking out net bags
with lumpy plastic things inside.
"Yeah, okay," said Shiv.
"I picked up a few metal things
for you to play with, too," said Dr. Bloch
as he added a carton to their stash.
"Pick a bin, those have a mix."
Shiv looked at the big plastic tubs,
each of which held a zillion things.
He made the mistake of reaching into
the first and yanked his hand out.
"Gross!" he said. "It's sticky."
"That's the bin of gummy and
squishy things," Dr. Bloch said,
Shiv wrinkled his nose. "Are we done?"
"We haven't even started," said Dr. Bloch.
"Try the visual or feelie bins instead."
The bin with the eye on it had
a bit of crinkly silver that fascinated
Shiv, but the one with the hand
had more different textures.
"This one," he decided,
pointing to the feelie bin.
"If you like the mylar, you can
try the visual bin another day,"
Dr. Bloch said as he picked up
the feelie bin and then walked
toward the bumper room.
Shiv glared at the soft padded walls
and the mats underfoot. They made it
harder for him to feel anything here.
When Dr. Bloch dumped out the goodies,
though, Shiv forgot about his annoyance
in favor of staring at the pile of stuff.
The balls were so funny-shaped
that they wouldn't even roll straight.
"So now what?" Shiv asked
as they both sat on the floor.
"Well, I have an idea that if
you get more opportunities for
appropriate tactile stimulation,
then you will be less attracted to
inappropriate ones," said Dr. Bloch.
"You might feel happier or calmer.
Mark your mood for me?"
He offered Shiv a simple scale of faces.
Shiv put a mark in the middle like
he usually did, and handed it back.
"I also brought worksheets and
colored pencils if you would like
to earn more points, but mostly this
is about touching," Dr. Bloch said
as he opened a folder for Shiv.
"Explore however you like as long
as you're reasonably safe with it."
Shiv reached for the texture balls first.
They all had bumps or grooves of
different shapes, one cratered
like the moon, some with pegs.
Then the feelie tub had balls of
soft or hard rubber, juggling balls
filled with sand, and some that
were hollow like plastic cages.
Shiv tossed a cage ball and
smiled at how easy it was to catch.
"Mood?" Dr. Bloch asked,
offering him a scale again.
Shiv marked it without paying
much attention to it, and went
back to poking at the balls.
The oddballs had different patterns
on the surface -- flowers and swirls
and something like bullseyes.
Shiv rubbed his fingertips over
those and set them by his knee.
"You like those?" Dr. Bloch asked.
"Yeah, they're neat," Shiv said,
rolling one under his palm.
"I like all the different bumps."
The door opened, and
Shiv bounded to his feet.
"Whoa," said Nurse Espinoza.
"I'm just bringing the snacks.
Where do you want these?"
"Find a block for a table," said Dr. Bloch,
waving at the clutter of foam shapes.
Nurse Espinoza set the tray
down on a white cube and left.
"What is all that?" Shiv asked, sniffing.
"Crackers, chips, and mini sausages,"
said Dr. Bloch. "There are two dips:
black bean, or cottage cheese."
Shiv sampled both dips and all
the things to put in them, to see
what he liked, before homing in on
the sausages. "Yeah, they're good."
"Mood?" Dr. Bloch said.
Shiv made his mark, and
then went back to exploring
all of the weird balls.
He tried out the metal ones
next. Some were magnets and
others had little spikes. One was
made of rings. A couple even jingled.
"There are spiked ones that
are magnetic, too, but I couldn't
find those," said Dr. Bloch.
"These are sharp," Shiv said,
rolling the spiked ones under
his palm. "Is that ... okay?"
"As long as you don't sharpen
them more, yes," said Dr. Bloch.
Shiv pressed a little harder,
then quit before it left marks.
People didn't like that. He
returned to the snack tray.
"Decided you don't like those
after all?" Dr. Bloch asked.
"People get mad when I play
with sharp things," Shiv said.
"They don't like marks, even
if those fade real quick."
"Has anyone ever offered you
alternatives?" Dr. Bloch said.
"Quit it or get thrown back in
solitary," Shiv said. "Or therapy."
He shuddered. "I'm smooth with solitary."
He could cut his own toys out of
the inside of the bed frame in his cell.
That was always fun to do.
"Threatening you is not helping
you learn better coping skills,"
Dr. Bloch grumbled. "I hope
that we can improve on that.
Keep exploring, if you like."
Shiv tried circling the jingle balls
in his hands, first with his fingers,
and then with his superpower.
Something inside moved and
hit something else, but it was hard
to make out through the shell. He
wanted to cut it open to find out how
it looked inside, but that would
get him in trouble for sure.
Shiv set them aside to play
with the magnets instead.
There were balls that stuck
together, and blunt pyramids,
and other funny shapes.
Then he started touching
the magnets to other things,
one at a time, to see what stuck.
"That's a very methodical pattern
of testing you have there," said Dr. Bloch.
"I didn't know you were such a scientist."
"I'm not," Shiv said, frowning.
"Um, yes ... that's science,"
Dr. Bloch said. "It's a way of
exploring things very thoroughly."
"Doc, you're bending my identity,"
Shiv complained. "Could you try
not to break it? It's hard to put
back together again."
"All right," Dr. Bloch said.
Shiv distracted himself with
the chips and black bean dip.
The metal was interesting, though,
and he kept drifting back to compare
the hollow balls with the solid magnets.
He wasn't sure why they felt different, only
that they did, and it changed something about
their behavior. He could ask Tolliver later.
There were worksheets for magnets
in the folder, Shiv discovered, including
one about what they would or wouldn't
attract, and others about what he liked.
He filled out a few for easy points.
Shiv wondered if what he learned
would be any use in making weapons.
Probably not, but it was still fun.
When Shiv snuck a glance at Dr. Bloch,
the older man was nibbling on crackers
and playing with a spiral ball.
"Which ones do you like best?"
the doctor asked. "Can you
describe the features?"
"The spiky ones," Shiv said.
"I like how the metal shines,
and the musical balls too.
The plastic ones, it's fun
to run my fingers over them
and feel how the lines go."
"Well, I can't let you keep
the metal ones, but you could
pick out a plastic one to take back
to your room," said Dr. Bloch.
Shiv looked at the pile of
balls spread everywhere
and said, "How?"
"Watch what I do," Dr. Bloch said.
He sorted rapidly through all of
the stuff, pushing some things away
and pulling others closer, before
choosing the orange moon.
"Clear as mud," Shiv muttered,
nudging the balls with his foot.
"Mood," Dr. Bloch said,
and waited for Shiv to mark it
before moving along.
It was a silly exercise, but
Shiv had put up with worse.
"First, get rid of anything that
you don't like," Dr. Bloch said.
"It cuts down clutter and makes
it easier to see what's left.
"Okay," Shiv said, and shoved
all the softer balls aside.
"Put those away," Dr. Bloch said,
and Shiv lobbed them into the bin.
"Metal too, I'm afraid, although you
can play with those under supervision."
Shiv sighed and put the magnets
and other shinies back in their carton.
"Next, look for meaningful differences.
Use those to sort things into groups,"
Dr. Bloch said. "What different kinds
of things can you find here?"
Well, there were solid and hollow balls.
Surface texture and big things sticking out.
Round balls and other lumpy shapes.
It was interesting, Shiv discovered,
to sort the confusing mess of stuff
into groups, like how you had
heavy hitters and good talkers
in a gang for different jobs.
"Now narrow down each category
into one or two favorites," said Dr. Bloch.
That took longer, because Shiv
didn't enjoy giving up things he liked,
and he'd already dumped what he didn't.
"This is hard," he whined.
"Here, help me finish off
the snack tray," Dr. Bloch said,
and that revived Shiv's energy.
The chips weren't plain potato,
Shiv noticed now that he was
paying attention. They were
yellow and orange, along with
a few crispy green beans.
Tasty, though. He ate them.
There wasn't much left of the dips
but he scraped up what he could.
"Now use positive selection,"
said Dr. Bloch. "Think about what
you like best, how often you're likely
to use each of the options, and
which might bore you sooner.
Then pick a favorite."
Shiv's real favorite had been
the spiky balls, but as usual he
couldn't have what he wanted.
Next to that he liked the peg balls
and the ones with patterns that
he could follow with his fingers.
Eventually he settled on
a pale blue ball with swirls
that reminded him of ice.
"This one," he said.
"Well done," said Dr. Bloch.
"That calls for dessert."
He opened a little tub on
the food tray that Shiv had
somehow missed underneath
the heap of snacks it had held.
There were two cookies,
one of which he handed to Shiv.
It tasted dense and sweet,
a little nutty, with bits of chocolate
that might have been clinical grade.
Shiv closed his eyes in bliss.
"I'm glad you like those,"
said Dr. Bloch. "In case you're
curious, they're protein cookies."
Shiv almost wished he could cook,
but he knew better than to try.
"What's the point of all this?"
he asked, tossing his ball lightly
from one hand to the other.
"Check your mood one last time,"
Dr. Bloch said, handing him a page.
Boring, but Shiv did it anyway.
"The purpose is to engage your mind
and your body," Dr. Bloch said. "If you
get into a habit of reflection, it's easier
to make choices than react mindlessly.
It reveals the tactile density of the world
and connects yourself to everything that
lies around you. Perception is the bridge
between memory and anticipation."
"Wow," Shiv said. "I never thought
of it like that. I just like to touch things."
"You might not have thought of it, but
you're still doing more than you realize,"
Dr. Bloch said. "Remember the magnets."
"I'm a supervillain, not a scientist,"
Shiv said, rolling his eyes.
Dr. Bloch just chuckled. "Oh,
plenty of people are both!" he said.
"Not all of those are even whackjobs."
"Whatever," Shiv said.
"Here's another bit of science
for you," Dr. Bloch said. He moved
aside the handful of worksheets that
Shiv had filled out, then spread
the set of mood scales.
"What the hey?" Shiv said.
The marks went mostly up.
He hadn't expected that. Usually
when he noticed his mood, that was
because it was going down.
"Your mood isn't something that
you can control directly, or at least
most people can't," said Dr. Bloch. "It is
something you can influence indirectly,
by changing your environment. Tracking
makes it easier to see what helps or
what makes you feel worse."
"Like ... the lines on a target,"
Shiv said. "The cross and rings
make it easier to hit the center
than aiming at a blank square."
"Exactly!" Dr. Bloch said with a smile.
"Just imagine your desired emotion
in the bullseye, and mark your aim."
Too bad there wasn't an applet for that.
Shiv had learned more than he
had expected, though. He'd gotten
an oddball and a platter of tasty snacks.
It hadn't been a bad visit after all.
He might not be a scientist, but aim?
That was something he actually understood.
Maybe it would even help.
* * *
"Cultivate an ongoing stream of self-description, telling yourself what is happening. Get used to the idea that mind can penetrate the immediate surface of being and reveal the tactile density of it as a manifold whose measure cannot be immediately taken by the eyes, that it's deep, it's connected, it's complex. Everything holds within itself the anticipation and the memory of everything else."
-- Terence McKenna
Dr. Bloch gets some sensory toys for Shiv to explore. These are the tactile discs. The oddballs and texture balls have different surfaces.
A Mobius Puzzle is a set of metal rings that forms a sort of ball. Chinese exercise balls are hollow and often have chimes inside made from a coil and ball. See a video of them in motion.
Buckyballs are large magnetic marbles, some of them rainbow-colored. These are half-inch neodymium balls. Magnets also come in other fun shapes. They are easier to find in T-America than here. A gas station we stop at has the balls, which I enjoy collecting. T-America has all kinds of shapes for a few bucks.
These are the gold and silver magnetic balls.
This is the squishy set of toys, marked with this symbol. Other sensory tubs include the tactile and visual ones.
Dr. Bloch was inspired by things like the soft play room and sensory play room. So he created the Bumper Room with colorful padding and soft foam shapes, useful for inmates in physical meltdown mode. It gives people a space to calm down, where they can't easily hurt themselves or anything else, but doesn't leave them staring at blank walls. It's also useful for other purposes, but Shiv hasn't quite grasped that yet. This one is part of the infirmary section.
Here is a simple mood scale.
Sensory worksheets cover the five senses including touch and vision, and how they work together. It helps to have vocabulary for sensory words when exploring with the senses. You can also draw some things to touch.
Magnets are fun to explore. You can test which things are or aren't magnetic.
Favorite toys can be drawn, sorted through comparison-contrast, or laid out in a list. Here's a worksheet for naming mood.
Ideally a snack tray should include real food, not junk. Dr. Bloch is taking every opportunity to teach Shiv better eating habits, alongside the heavy use of food-reward tactics. Healthy dip recipes make a good start, such as the black bean dip and the cottage cheese dip. Mini sausages, assorted crackers, and veggie chips.
Choice paralysis happens when people feel overwhelmed by too many options, although they also hate having no choice. In my observation, choice paralysis is worst when 1) the options are too similar with few if any meaningful differences and/or 2) the decision is crucial but there is no good option available. Take the example of many fruit spreads. It's easy to sort by jelly/jam/marmalade or red/yellow/black -- and most people have a favorite and unfavorite category. Those are meaningful differences. Choosing one from a dozen marmalades would be harder because they're more similar. Understand how to overcome choice paralysis and decision fatigue.
Enjoy some Chocolate Protein Cookies.
Emotional regulation includes a wide range of skills. Here is a workbook for emotional skills.