"Conducive to Thought"
[Monday, April 13, 2015]
It had been a week since Shiv
had gotten his brain repaired,
and several days since Heron
had declared him adjusted
to his new normal.
"How are you doing?"
Graham asked as Shiv
let him into the apartment.
"Eh, okay," Shiv said.
"Fuck of a lot better than
I felt last week, that's for sure!"
"I'm glad to hear that," Graham said.
"Come in, sit down," Shiv said,
waving at the familiar futon.
He was starting to learn that
polite people wouldn't just
barge in and make use of
his things without permission.
As Graham sat down on the futon,
Shiv settled beside him, no more
than a few inches away instead of
at the far end as he used to do.
Shiv was changing, whether he
realized it or not, and last week
had brought some big jumps.
No wonder the poor guy felt
so unsettled in his own skin.
"You do look like you're
doing better," Graham said.
"Hey, last week you were
climbing all over me."
Shiv's cheeks pinked
and he looked away.
"Yeah, well, my brain
was driving me bats,"
he said. "Heron helped
a lot. Look, I can do this now."
He picked up a handful of change,
quickly stacking and unstacking
the coins by denomination.
None of them spilled.
Graham said seriously.
"You must have worked
really hard on that."
"I did," Shiv said.
"Heron showed me
how to do that one and
some other exercises,
so my brain could talk
to my body better."
"Do you want to tell me
what else you did, or
show me?" Graham said.
"Heron didn't -- no, he
wouldn't have told you,
would he?" Shiv said.
"Not without your consent,"
Graham said. "Privacy maintains."
"You guys can talk about it,"
Shiv said. "Can you tell him?
Or should I send a message?"
"You tell him," Graham said.
"That way, Heron will know it's
really you, not hearsay."
"Okay," Shiv said, taking out
his smartphone. "Done."
"Thank you," Graham said.
"I look forward to discussing
your accomplishments with
Heron. I'd still like to hear
about them from you, though,
if you feel like sharing them."
Shiv ducked his chin. "It's just,
you know ... games and stuff,"
he said. "Silly things, really."
"I don't think they're silly,"
Graham said. "I think that
you and Heron worked out
a plan to get your body and
your brain back in touch.
That's hard work, Shiv."
"Sometimes it was,"
Shiv said. "Other times,
it was actually kinda fun."
"That's good," Graham said.
"Therapy shouldn't be miserable."
Shiv twitched. "That's ... hard
to hold onto," he said. "But I
remember thinking, Heron's
like you, when he tried to get
me to do things for him."
"And how did that work out
for the two of you?" Graham said.
"Pretty good," Shiv said. "It was
touchy stuff, sometimes, but we
got through it okay." He smirked.
"We played a bank heist game."
"Oh, Burgle Bros.," said Graham.
"That's a fun game, very challenging,
and great for dexterity practice."
"Yeah, and there was a card game too,
We Didn't Playtest This At All -- Heron
says the name lies," Shiv went on.
"I think so too," Graham said.
"That's a fun game with a few bits
of brain work thrown into it."
"Totally caught me by surprise,"
Shiv admitted. "But I liked it."
"I'm happy to hear that,"
Graham said. "It sounds like
you're reaching your new normal."
"Heron thought so too," Shiv said.
"It's just ... I don't know why it happened,
what freaked me out so bad. I mean,
I know how I felt, but not why."
"You changed a bunch of things
in your brain all at once," Graham said.
"Of course that was overwhelming."
"Yeah, but I knew about that,"
Shiv said. "I thought I could just,
I dunno, push it aside somehow.
It wasn't anything horrible, it fixed
things -- it was just so new."
"Ah," Graham said softly.
"Your brain has layers, Shiv.
Some of those deal with survival.
When so much changed all at once,
your brain couldn't keep up with itself.
Then the survival part realized that it
couldn't keep you safe, and panicked."
"But why couldn't I just turn it off?"
Shiv said, spreading his hands.
"Because thinking takes time,
sometimes far too much of it,"
Graham explained. "In a crisis,
your hindbrain has to work fast, like
dropping a hot pot before it burns you."
"Oh," Shiv said, rubbing his hand.
"When I set my kitchen on fire, that
happened. I meant to put a lid over
the flames, but dropped it too soon."
"How badly did you get burned?"
Graham said, leaning forward.
Shiv hadn't called him for help or
even shown him the original injuries,
so it probably hadn't been too bad,
but Graham still worried.
"Not much," Shiv said. "I had
little blisters dotted on one hand
and a streak on the other. It hurt
like hell at the time, but it wasn't
serious. Cook patched me up."
"Okay, then," Graham said
with a sigh of relief. "That means
your hindbrain took care of you,
pulled your hand back before
you could get seriously hurt."
"I guess so," Shiv said.
Graham tried to come up
with an analogy that would
make more sense to Shiv.
"Think of an onion," Graham said.
"The oldest part of your brain deals
with survival and works the fastest.
It's sometimes called the 'lizard brain,'
though it's much older than that."
"Think I've heard of it," Shiv said.
"It still sounds weird, though."
"The middle part of your brain
is also known as the ape brain
or mammal brain," Graham said.
"It deals in feelings, gratification,
and basic social interactions."
"Is that why ... um," Shiv said.
"Heron thinks my skin hunger has
gone up but my touch aversion hasn't
gone down much, so I keep getting stuck."
"Ouch," Graham said sympathetically.
"That's very hard to deal with."
"Yeah," Shiv said. "Heron
gave me a rubdown, though,
and that helped a lot."
"That's good," Graham said.
"If you want, we can add body trust
to the list of things to work on. You
can learn what kinds of touch feel
good or bad to you, and how to tell
whether a situation is safe."
"Might be a good idea," Shiv said.
"I just don't know if I can do it."
"We'll find ways," Graham said.
"Anyhow, the outer part of your brain
is the rational brain or human brain.
It thinks and speaks and plans ahead.
But, it's also the slowest -- which means
your hindbrain sometimes hijacks
your forebrain to keep you safe."
Shiv made a fist, then wrapped
his other hand over it. "So like ..."
Then he shook his head. "Sorry, doc,
I'm too dumb for this fancy stuff.
I just can't get a grip on it."
"I believe that you can,"
Graham said. "After all,
you have enjoyed some of
the homeschooling activities
with Edison and Jaxon, haven't you?"
"Yeah, but that stuff was easy,"
Shiv said. "I don't know if I can
handle the harder stuff like this."
"You can," Graham assured him.
"You might need some help, is all.
Can you think of a time when you
struggled to understand something?
What helped you grasp it then?"
Shiv rubbed his wrist. "Dr. Bloch ...
back when I fucked up my wrist,
he showed me pictures and stuff,
so I could see what went wrong
and why. He called it ... natty?"
"Anatomy," Graham said lightly.
"It means the parts of the body,
how they fit together, and what
they do. When you know anatomy,
it's easier to understand your body
and how to take good care of it --
or why it's bothering you."
"Yeah, that," Shiv said,
nodding. "It did help me."
That made sense. With Shiv,
you couldn't just teach him in lumps.
You had to break it down and make sure
each section had relevance for him,
or he wouldn't bother with it.
Right now, this was relevant.
"Would you like to learn more
about your brain?" Graham offered.
"Brains are very interesting, and
not as hard as some people
make them out to be."
"Yeah," Shiv said.
"I think I'd like that.
It might help explain
some things. You
gotta go slow, though,
'cause I'm stupid."
He would never, ever
get used to hearing
such a bright young man
call himself stupid.
"I'll go slow, because
this is new, but I don't
agree that you're stupid,"
Graham said. "Your teachers,
on the other hand, seem to have
been a bunch of Grade A idiots."
Shiv snickered. "Most of 'em, yeah."
Graham mulled over the possibilities.
Shiv was such a visual thinker,
maybe illustrations would help.
It didn't take long to find
coloring pages and a packet
of materials about the brain.
"Here," he said, showing them
to Shiv. "You can print these out
and color them. That might make it
easier for you to visualize the brain
and what all of its parts do."
"Like Heron's anatomy book,"
Shiv said, touching the screen.
"Yes, exactly," Graham said.
"You can use any colors you like."
Then he ran another search, and
came up with a coloring book.
"Doubling back to body trust, you
might like this one too," Graham said.
"It focuses on the senses -- not just
the basic five of touch, taste, and so on
but also things like proprioception that
tells where your body is in its environment."
Shiv leaned over to look at the screen,
and Graham scrolled through sample images
of blank and colored pages for him to see.
"Those look trippy," Shiv remarked.
"They do, don't they?" Graham said.
"Some of them also look like mandalas.
It's an easier way to visualize the senses
than just reading about them in text.
Do you think this might help you?"
"Could work," Shiv said, then cupped
his hands as if holding something.
"I just wish I could, I dunno ..."
"Would it help to have a brain model?"
Graham said. "There are plenty
of different ones. Let's see
what I can find for you."
He found a listing of
the best models and
quickly sorted through it.
"This one is small, but it has
lots of separate parts for you
to manipulate, and the areas
of the brain are color-coded,"
Graham said. "Do you like it?"
"Kinda?" Shiv said. "I like that
it's a puzzle and has labels, but it's
all rigid and a brain is squashy."
Graham chuckled. "Well, we
could make a jello brain, but I
don't think that would be much
use for learning anatomy."
"Ugh, no." Shiv wrinkled
his nose. "Not my thing."
Then Graham remembered
something else that he'd seen.
"Wait a minute, I have an idea,"
he said, quickly typing a new search
into his smartphone. "Yes! Here it is."
He turned the screen to show Shiv
the picture of a colorful, knitted brain.
"Holy shit," said Shiv as he grabbed
Graham's phone. "What is this?
Is it made with knit or crochet?"
"That's knit," Graham said,
carefully scrolling down.
"I think, I want, can I --"
"Yes, of course,"
Graham said. "If you
think this would help you
understand how brains work,
and you believe that you
can knit one, go for it."
"Yeah, yeah," Shiv said.
"I wanna try, at least."
He pulled out the pair
of knitting needles that he
kept in the pen pocket of
his jeans, then leaned over
the far end of the futon.
He came back up with
a straw basket so full of
yarn that balls fell off the top
and rolled around everywhere.
"The trouble with tribbles ..."
Graham said, smiling.
"Yeah, I know," Shiv said,
rummaging in the basket.
Even more yarn escaped.
"Think I need a bigger basket,
but this is all we had next door."
Graham had seen the building
where they stashed things that
they didn't need immediately. It
looked like a thrift store without
prices on anything, and you never
knew what you might find there.
Shiv was making a 'maybe' pile
of yarn in his lap already.
Most of what he had was
textured, variegated, or both.
There was a fair bit of cotton string,
though, and that could be useful.
"Think about your project," Graham said.
"If you try to match biology exactly, it will be
harder to tell the sections apart. You might
want to color code your model brain."
"Yeah, that's a good idea," Shiv said,
looking down. He had already chosen
a lot of pink and cream yarns. Now he
added some blues, yellows, and
ones with stronger variegation.
"Consider yarn weight too,"
Graham said. "A brain is
a complicated project. If you
make it hyperbolic, you will have
a lot of yarn in a little space."
"So lace, sock, or baby yarn,"
Shiv said. "Maybe as thick as DK,
but no more than that. Yeah, I
got plenty of those in here."
He pawed through the basket,
spilling yarn all over the futon.
"You could just dump it,"
Graham pointed out.
"Nah, I found what I'm
looking for," Shiv said,
holding up a ball of string.
"I got a whole bunch of
crochet thread on sale.
That will do to start with."
"I found a pattern," Graham said.
"It uses different stitches throughout,
and a zipper for the corpus callosum,
but a lot of it is hyperbolic and you
have already crocheted that."
"Okay, show me the pattern,"
Shiv said, leaning toward him.
Graham tilted his phone so that
Shiv could see it. "You can begin
with the cerebellum. That's part of
the 'hindbrain' at the base of your skull,
highly relevant to our discussion."
Tentatively Shiv reached out
to touch the phone, enlarging
the knitting pattern along with
the model for the cerebellum.
Then more confidently he
selected a ball of blue thread
that had subtle variegations
in lavender and gray.
"I'll start with this,"
Shiv declared as he
took his knitting needles
and began casting on.
"Okay," Graham said.
"The cerebellum lies at
the base of the skull and
relates to motion and balance.
It's also implicated in cases
of traumatic stress, because
the brain can get 'stuck'
in survival mode."
The knitting needles
clicked softly as Shiv
began moving the first row
of stitches off the needle.
"So if my brain is fixed,
does that mean my problems
will all go away?" Shiv said.
"Probably not," Graham said.
"The brain is part of your body.
Your mind is still hurting from
those old events. However, with
the physical damage healed, you
may find it easier to cope with
the mental injuries now."
Shiv rubbed his fingers
over the fine string.
"Maybe so," he said.
"I was pretty freaked out
at first, but I'm getting used
to the way I feel now. I think ...
it might be less bad than it was."
"That's good," Graham said.
"We want you to feel better."
"So the trauma stuff ... how do I
work with the brain I have now
to get over what happened
to me before?" Shiv said.
"I think that you'll like this,"
Graham said. "Heron has
guided you through a bunch
of physical exercises, right?"
"Yeah," Shiv said. "Some of
those were annoying, but others
were fun. He told me it would help
my brain and body work together."
"That's true," Graham said.
"There are also exercises that
help parts of your brain do better.
Remember, the cerebellum deals in
balance, so anything that challenges
you to use your balance more will
encourage that part of your brain
to straighten up its performance."
"Like what?" Shiv wondered.
"Well, do you still have
your wobble board?"
"Yeah, it's fun,"
Shiv said. "I don't
fall off it as much
as I used to."
Graham said. "Try
standing on that, either
while you think about
your headwork, or after
you complete a session."
"I can do that," Shiv said.
"What about the knitting?"
He had a few rows, now,
and they were just beginning
to wrinkle into what would
become dense folds.
"Knitting is very conducive
to thought," Graham said.
"It is nice to knit a while,
put down the needles,
work a while, and then
take up your project again."
"Yeah," Shiv said. "That's how
I feel. I can go back and forth
instead of sticking to one thing."
"That's how you avoid getting stuck,
or if you are stuck, get unstuck,"
Graham said. "I bet that people
have called it 'flighty' or something
equally silly, and told you not to do it."
"All the time," Shiv grumbled.
"If it happens again, just tell them
that it's part of a mental exercise,"
Graham said. "That's true, and might
get them off your back. One advantage of
homeschooling, or other freestyle learning,
is that you can switch among activities
so that you don't get stuck as much."
Shiv smirked. "Thanks," he said.
"I'll have to remember that."
"All right, let's test our theory
on how a yarn brain can help you
remember anatomy," Graham said.
"Can you tell me something that
your cerebellum does?"
"It's part of the lizard,"
Shiv said slowly, running
his fingers over the short frill
he had knitted. "It goes with
movement and, and balance.
Trauma fucks it up, or maybe
fucking it up makes trauma?"
"It may go both ways," Graham said.
"We don't actually know everything
about the brain yet. We just know
the cerebellum relates to PTSD."
"So um ... how'd I do?" Shiv said,
fidgeting with the trailing string.
"Very well," Graham said. "I know
you don't like school, so I think changing
the context will help you to relax more.
When you can see and touch a model,
then you remember more about it."
"Yeah," Shiv said. "I think with
my hands and my eyes, more
than I do with my ears."
"Then I'm glad that we've
found a method which works
for you," Graham said.
"I like knitting," Shiv replied.
"What you said earlier, it's um ...
conducive to thought. Yeah."
Graham smiled. "I'm glad,"
he said. "I really look forward
to seeing how your project
turns out. I'm sure that it
will look beautiful."
"Me too," Shiv said,
starting the next row.
The knitting needles
kept up their quiet chatter
and the conversation went on,
almost like a typewriter making
a record of what had been said
so that Shiv could reread it later.
It was a valuable discovery.
* * *
This poem is long, so the notes appear elsewhere.