One of my favorite scenes in Young Frankenstein is when, after the recently animated monster goes on his first mini rampage, the doctor gets Eyegore to admit that he dropped and destroyed the brain of the brilliant scientist Dr Frankenstein had hoped to revive and had taken another brain from the brain depository.
“Abby Someone… Abby Normal, I think. I’m almost certain that was the name.”
No one wants to be labeled “abnormal,” but most of us also don’t want to be described as “ordinary.” We want to be close enough to normal to be excluded from the freak category, but also to be considered above average at something. So many of us spend at least part of our lives walking a tightrope, trying to find a path through that ill-defined territory that brings both acceptance and maybe a teeny bit of acclaim.
One problem with walking a tighrope is that there isn’t any room for error. And certainly no opportunity to explore new territory.
I fell off the tightrope pretty early in life. At some point before kindergarten, my parents figured out that when I was talking (or rather, babbling incessantly) while playing by myself, that I was responding to voices that I was hearing in my head. I thought everyone heard voices like that. It was the only way I knew how to think, to have conversations with different parts of myself.
I tried explaining that, but being only—what, three years old?—didn’t have the experience, vocabularly, or conceptual framework to get the idea across. All my dad understood was that 1) I heard voices, 2) I did not think of them as imaginary friends, and 3) I couldn’t stop them.
So he told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was never, ever to let anyone hear me talking to the voices. If I did, very bad things would happen to me. The least of which were that no one would be friends with me and that I would be taken away and locked up somewhere.
Dad isn’t exactly a touchy-feely kind of guy, you know?
Now there’s neuroscience to show that talking to oneself makes several mental process work better. There’s additional evidence that imagining different trains of thought as a conversation is simply an outgrowth of a number of perfectly unexceptional mental processes. The extent to which my internal monologue splits into a couple dozen dialogues is more than a single standard deviation away from the median, but it’s not so far out as to be worrisome.
I also see relationships between things differently than most. It’s the reason I used to confuse some of my fellow orchestra and bandmates when I would say that playing the tuba was no different than trumpet, you just needed to move the root note of the scale. Reading Bass or Treble clef (or, once I took up bassoon, Alto and Tenor clef) was simply a matter of sliding the starting spot up and down, as well. Switching between bassoon, saxophone, clarinet and flute was all about transposing or rotating finger positions.
I think the one that weirded them out the most was trombone. “First position is just like all valves open because the air path is shortest.” (Though French horn was actually the hardest—I had to visuallize it as air paths, but my fingers kept wanting to treat it as one of the other valved instruments.)
None of which made me a musical genius—it was just me looking at music as a series of math problems. (Of course, there were the other math majors in college who thought my love of Differential Equations was the equivalent of performing black magic).
Seeing those transpositions and substitutions as being the same whether we’re talking about notes, numbers, labels, or commands is why I can quickly (I mean really quickly) learn new scripting or programming languages, et cetera.
Which all sounds really impressive and cool and such. But that same brain is incredibly proficient at losing my keys, or the pile of papers I just had in my hand, or what do you mean my glasses are right there? I looked five times already and they’re not… Oh, well, what do you know?