Digging In Boxes
There are ‘noun friendly’ languages like English and then there are ‘verb friendly’ languages like Korean, Hindi, and Japanese. In the latter languages, nouns are frequently dropped and names for activities are emphasized in the earliest years of life when parents are teaching children to speak. On the other hand, parents who are speaking English to their infants depend on surrounding nouns to describe the verb. In contrast, ‘verb focused’ cultures like Korea teach their infants Korean through ‘verb heavy’ learning and those infants struggle with learning language if many nouns are present. English-learning babies need the noun to describe the verb and so the opposite is true. Infants are so shaped by the structure of their early language learning. Scientists know that what infants passively learn affects what they actively learn. What does this have to do with boxes? I’m getting there.
About active and passive learning. An example of passive learning is sitting in a classroom and listening to the teacher lecture about something. Notes are taken. The subject matter is accepted at face value. The listener is a sponge who absorbs the knowledge and spits it out later. It’s like the teacher has built something for you to visualize (let’s call it an intricately mortared wall) and to learn from. Active learning is learning by asking questions, group involvement like discussing the subject matter, interaction with peers, and debating. The learner uses the acquired information as a framework to be applied to other knowledge and new situations later. The ‘rocks’ are given and the learner uses the materials to build their own thing.
I met a guy in 2007 who was so filled up with traumatic life events that he described his brain as being filled up with so many boxes that he absolutely had to open them eventually and sort through them so as to un-clutter his head. What’s more, he wanted help doing so and (being thoughtful and also enamored of this guy) I offered to help him “dig through” the boxes. He laughed and told me, in effect, that he hoped that I was prepared because if I really wanted to help I was gonna’ need a backhoe! You see, I passively agreed and then just like that- WHAM! I was actively involved in “going through” the boxes in his head.
We all have them.
My mother was a serious hoarder. I’m not talking metaphorical boxes here, I’m talking real ones. Oh, we always had clean clothes and dishes and food on the table but when she passed away my father and I couldn’t wait to dig in to the stuff. We carted off 30 or more boxes to Goodwill. We stuffed countless garbage bags for the trash heap. Some of her accumulated knick-knacks, curtains, cookbooks and what-nots went to family. She had all the symptoms of “hoarding disorder” of course but no one knew back then that compulsive hoarding is a “psychological disorder.” Growing up, we’d had landlords tell us our house was a fire hazard. There were paths leading to beds surrounded by mountains of things. We got infested at times. We rarely had people over. We ate with food on our laps because the table was almost always overflowing. Every plane was a gathering place for stuff. She couldn’t throw things away because there was no away. She stored her psychological clutter in her house whereas my aforementioned friend stored it in his head.
I often wonder what I passively learned by growing up this way. Avoidance? Inability to make decisions? Shame? Maybe. But I also learned (eventually) how to confront and tackle big avalanche style messes. I learned the importance of follow-through. I knew not to judge others based on appearance. I’ve become a darn good sorter. I’m still helping the guy with the boxes in his head (and it ain’t always easy!) who happens to have some fairly serious chronic complex PTSD. I challenge everything, I like debate, I ask lots of questions and so, in helping this friend, I actively try to learn about what exactly is in those boxes.
Digging… Whether it’s done in a psychological way or in the concrete sense is a useful way to learn. My son (in his teen-age years and even now when he gets down time from work) would sit for hours in the woods and just- dig. He brought home our town’s history in his beaten up backpack. A bottle from a mineral springs company that went out of business a hundred years ago. A child’s toy clown, circa 1800s. An old crudely fashioned button that’s not quite round. An arrowhead. Bottles worth hundreds of dollars to antique dealers. Blue glass shards… Milky glass with whorls and swirls…
When I think of digging, I can’t help but think of how much “we” collectively learn and have learned through digging in the earth. The Marianas Trench (in the western part of the Pacific Ocean) is the deepest place on earth. We certainly can’t dig there because we cannot physically, safely go there. On the other side of the world, interestingly enough, located precisely adjacent to the Marianas Trench, is the second deepest place on earth. Lined up with the Marianas Trench all the way over on the opposite side of the world; located on the boundary between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, is the Puerto Rico Trench. The deepest places of the world we know- line up like that…
The Earth is deep. It’s tall too. It’s mysterious. Think of all the relics, the buried cities, the skeletons as yet undiscovered that in their quiet silences speak volumes. So too are people deep and mysterious. Some things will always stay hidden. But we are compelled to dig; in an attempt to understand, to make sense of it all, to give purpose, to sort it all out.
Have you ever heard of Rockwall, Texas? In the mid-1850s a rock wall was uncovered there (and hence, the town got its name) which surrounds the town in a roughly rectangular shape. The completely buried wall is approximately 3.5 miles wide by 5.6 miles long encompassing almost 20 square miles and is more than seven stories deep. Every time someone excavates a portion, for some reason they backfill it back in. The town must prefer it to stay buried. The massive wall looks very much like something an ancient civilization might have built… but when? Why? The mystery was solved when tests confirmed that this bizarre wall is a natural formation that occurred millions of years ago (before humans) when an earthquake created fissures which then filled in, became rock, and settled; breaking apart into what looks like rocks stacked by humans with mortar in between…
Much like that remarkable wall in Texas, I’ve got healthy doses of all the people I love and have loved inside of me. It’s not “put there” in my head so much as it is a natural formation even though it may seem otherwise. I gleaned useful things from my beloved mother’s life. I carry around my fascination, wonder, and curiosity about things that are hidden away- the way my son does. And I continue to help a troubled friend go through his mental boxes. Deciding what to keep, what to cast out forever- this is hard work. I can’t help but make a mention of Pink Floyd’s epic THE WALL story in music. But I digress. I’m not suggesting we tear down any walls, just that we respect that they exist, as do the boxes of-
I do understand the process of excavation. I’ve got boxes in my head too. I unpacked so many of them to write my book “Under The Banana Moon” (http://www.amazon.com/Under-Banana-Moon-Living-Aspergers/dp/1469985144/ref=tmm_pap_title_0 ). I’m hoping you’ll read it and tell me what you think of it. I’m writing another book now. It’s about digging in boxes.
It’s what I know.