The other night, as I was rolling another *cough* cigarette, I had a bit of realisation. Allow me to tell you about it in depth.
You see, there are so many holes in the way we interact with each other. Gestures are used instead of words, parts of sayings are used instead of whole sayings, words are mumbled or mis-pronounced, things are left unsaid because everyone knows what they mean due to the context, allusions films or music or history are made that are meaningless without the unspoken context. Our understanding of the way our society works fills in the gaps, and our habitual way of doing this makes full exposition redundant.
As a writer, it’s something I’m conscious of. When constructing scenes and dialogue, it needs to flow and feel natural and so those gaps need to be in the right places, like beats in bars of music that are left unplayed. Like in music, they are essential to the rhythm and feel of the scene.
This assumes a common cultural experience between the reader and the audience. (For what is, in my opinion, the ultimate exploration of ‘leaving gaps’, read James Joyces Dubliners. Either nothing happens in the stories, or things happen which change the world, depending on whether you can fill in the gaps.) One of the great joys of reading things from a different cultural experience is the different rhythms those unplayed notes bring to the piece, but there’s always the danger of being left in the dark.
Like I assume a lot of other people, when I was a child I had no idea what cultural experience I should be using to plug in the gaps. I had no idea what a particular meaningful look meant, no idea what the expected unsaid reply to a cryptic question was, no idea what those mumbled words were or what they could mean. So I made up my own narratives. I took ownership of everything and constructed my own world of understanding around the dilapidated pieces of the world I had found.
In the same way time passes slower for children because of the amount of new experiences they have compared to an adult, I had a theory that this constant construction of narratives to explain the half-articulated adult world made childhood more creative, more full of wonder. As we grew up and leaned to fill in those gaps, the world seems less magical because it’s more understandable. It’s like seeing a magician when you’re a child, and seeing how the trick is done when you’re an adult.
The theory has an internal logic and explains a common phenomena (childhood being filled with wonder, adulthood being filled with banality) with a pleasing mix of pseudo-science and pop-psycho-babble. I went to bed feeling quite pleased with myself.
At half-seven the next morning, I thought about it again. The crux of the idea was ‘lack of understanding of social norms and expectations ==> an existence more full of wonder’. Children, as we all know, are not the only ones unable to read those unplayed notes of society. My cute little theory had a hole and was taking on water.
According to my theory, the life of–for example–an Asperger’s sufferer would be full of wonder. Asperger’s syndrome would be a magic tunnel, piping the wonder of childhood into adult life in an unending torrent. And there *glug glug glug* goes my theory, sinking deep down to the seabed, never to be seen again.
There is a tiny hope, though. One wild, hair-brained and entirely impractical plan to raise the ship. Speaking from my own experience of social ignorance, it can be a very isolating life. A lot of the time, it’s like living in a country where you don’t speak the language. For me, the frustration and loneliness that came with that were crushing. But people communicate differently with children. They make allowances for their social ignorance and take the time to help them understand (or they use it for their own amusement, if they’re that type of aunt/uncle), so they wouldn’t feel the same isolation an adult does.
Any attempt to explore this idea is pretty much impossible because it supposes two things: Firstly, that an adult who experiences social ignorance can detach all the negative feelings associated with it; and secondly that their experience of childhood is comparable to those who wax lyrical about the innocence of youth. That’s pretty much enough to throw any plans of raising the ship in the bin.
If you’re still clinging onto a tiny ray of hope, another simple extraction will be enough to smother it: According to the theory, people suffering from social ignorance are naturally more creative. It’s like a blind person who develops really good hearing to compensate! Or a mute developing telepathy! There’s a word, a phrase I’m thinking of… hmmm… Oh, yeah: Disability Superpowers! And that sound there is an undersea volcano erupting and burying my little ship forever.
It just goes to show: Theories are great little things until you start thinking about them.