Thursday, May 17, 2012

Little fluffy clouds...

At the tender age of 3, my brother, Sonny, would spend hours with Grammie Roelle, watching the clouds. Like examining inkblots, they would play a type of “I spy” in the sky – picking out familiar shapes in the puffy forms.

I can pinpoint this to when he was 3 because I was 5 and was hospitalized with a broken arm and he told me this is what they did while I was away.

I like to think that this had some influence on his current career as an artist, but that's his story to tell.

As a kid, I often wondered how other people thought. Was the dialogue in their brains like the one in mine? Did they even have such a dialogue? How did they take in, process, and decide what to do with all the sensory information around us? What shapes did they see in the clouds?

In my teenage years, this became a quasi-crisis (as, I suppose, many things do for teens). I was convinced that I was different and, in the search for the root of that difference, perspective was a key culprit. Everyone else just didn't understand the stories my brain was telling me.

My brother, Dan, is red-green color blind. They discovered this when he was in kindergarten or first grade – he did the color by numbers all wrong until he learned to read the names on the crayons. To him, the lawn is orange. Our Uncle actually sees in only shades of gray. I remember trying to play Trivial Pursuit with him and it just didn't work because the color coding meant nothing.

Knowing that Dan sees the grass as orange fascinates me. If he has this colorblindness, how does he know that it's orange that he's seeing in the grass? Wouldn't oranges look a different color to him? How does he create his frame of reference when his perspective is so shifted from “the norm”? Does a color shift change way you experience things? Does a purple strawberry taste the same?

Oliver Sacks did a study on an island of folk in the South Pacific, where almost everyone saw in shades of gray. In the book, he describes the artwork of some (Scandinavian, I think) people with the same condition. Paintings done in black, white, and various grays that have patterns and details those of us who see the whole spectrum of colors cannot distinguish. Only visible to those who perceive the world just as the artist does. Cool!

Shapes in the clouds and orange grass, with a bit of teen angst thrown in. This is the root of my fascination with perspective, which in turn is key to the importance of connections. It's only by connecting to others and hearing their stories that we can understand what the world is like for them – and by so doing understand a bit more of what is unique about our own point of view.

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