On the Brain

I don’t think I have the smarts for it, but lately I’ve been thinking I should have pursued neuroscience. I started reading Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich. The Kirkus Review describes it as, “Oliver Sacks meets Stephen King,” which I agree with. The brain is so incredible, which seems like a painfully simplistic and obvious thing to say, but it’s true. I’m teaching at a community college in northern Colorado, and I’m talking with my students almost every day about brain activity, how memory works, and how we learn. In Dittrich’s book he explores how relatively new what we know about the brain really is. We’re constantly learning about the thing that controls us.

I’ve recently become mildly obsessed with synesthesia: an overlapping multi-sensory experience; something Oliver Sacks also wrote a lot about. I think, most likely, I’m taken by synesthesia because it’s that experience that poets constantly try to capture, and think through. What a banana sounds like is the whole point of poetry. Thinking about how songs taste, and what colors feel like is hilarious and great to me. I could cross and combine senses all day.

In my creative writing workshop at Watershed in Buena Vista, Colorado, I had students of all ages smell, taste, and listen to several sensory examples. We talked about the memories and reactions that came out of tasting arugula, smelling chocolate, and listening to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. I hope that someone will do something to combine them all. But more so, I hope that we can all think about the incredibly poetic science that’s going on in our brains when we use our senses.

Riding my bike home from rowing on a lake near my apartment, I usually smell what everyone in the neighborhood is cooking for dinner. Meatloaf, lasagna, burgers. That’s one of my favorite parts of the evening. Just being able to smell, and imagine. Just being able to train my brain to remember the ride through my nose.