I don’t remember what I used to think about. In fact, I don’t remember thinking. Does anyone?
Maybe you can’t remember thinking because it’s a verb that leaves no evidence. What does it even mean, to think? You can’t unscrew a screwdriver with itself, and you can’t crack the nut of thought with thought.
It was reported that Einstein thought in shapes. That’s one of those things that sounds neat but, really, what can you do with it? Did Julia Child think in recipes? Did Ty Cobb think in line drives? My name is Homer Simpson. I think in donuts.
Merrit Moseley, A literature professor at UNCA (now the chair of the department), once remarked that he himself couldn’t write a novel–this art form he loved, the study of which he’d dedicated his career to–because he wanted for invention. All my stories, he said, end up being about a middle-aged white man, sitting in a room, thinking.
Contemplation, rumination. I was thinking about you the other day. Mull it over. Chew on that. Then it occurred to me.
I remember a conversation I had with an old roommate. He’s the only person I’ve ever heard say that he thought in complete sentences. You mean, I asked him, when your alarm clock goes off in the morning, you lie in bed and think to yourself, ‘I’m going to hit the snooze button now,’? Yeah, he said. ‘I’m going to answer the phone now’? Yep.
I still don’t believe him, but what the bleep do I know? For me, thought is inarticulate bodylong sensation, the original cloud drive, aura, mood, my mind’s weather.
Of course, used to be I listened to a lot more music. And listened hard. Listened to drive faster, to be transported. I remember vividly the trance Blackalicious’s Release put me in when I first heard it, sitting in my parked blue Honda Civic in Austin, outside the coffee shop where I worked while the rain pounded down. I went to a Roundrock Express baseball game that night or the next, solo, sat there in my dad’s seat behind home plate, vibrating in this out-of-mind state from the song, and fell raptly, harmlessly in love with one of the player’s wives sitting in the player’s wives section. It had almost nothing to do with her.
A song will move your psychic stuff around. It will recalibrate you in such a way that people, events, objects and actions hum and glow with ineluctable meaning. You know what I’m talking about.
For me this is also true of certain passages in literature, certain plays, certain scenes from film. (I’m sure it’s true of paintings, too, though I haven’t encountered that painting yet.) But there’s something to the sonic, versus the watched or read, that etches grooves right into the meat of things.
It makes guttural sense that thought is more like sound than stuff. At night, lying in bed, who hasn’t stunned–even confused–themselves with the quality of an imagined voice?
When we are thinking, we are distracted…thought is distraction. It gets in the way. I used to be more distracted by puerile fantasy and illusions of grandeur than I am now. I used to be more distracted, too, by really good creative ideas. But I don’t actually remember thinking. On long car trips I’d babble incessantly in accented echolalia along with AM radio. When I dialed in to an Astros game, I paid attention. Listening to favorite songs, I’d unthread the instruments from each other. Probably I spent a great deal of time reconstructing whatever had just happened. Revising. Re-enacting. Re-recording.
It seems reasonable to suggest that thought is the mind’s exhaust, and that the mind is an engine that, absent oodles of sensory input, runs hot. Maybe it’s reasonable, too, that the most complex sensory input available to us is human company. People, after all, are things into which we have peculiar insight. They smell. You can study their expressions. Their limbs are always moving. They open their mouths and out spills language. Incredible! Being in company solves thought, it keeps the mind occupied. Being alone is revving the motor, temperature gauge rising, which makes being in company all the more treacherous.
Who was it…? Someone’s obituary. Can’t remember. What was the sentence…? Nope, not that either. But the idea was: when I developed an inner life, that’s when everything changed…
“define inner life” gets you a lot of Eckhart Tolle, lot of Goddyness. But my inner life is not after peace or serenity, except insofar as it stills me in myself like with poured cement: I am certain that there is a part of me that is unchangeable, that is “Devin” in the same way a submarine floating through the sea is not the sea. My inner life is given to brooding. It is a broth of anxieties and their opposing sureties. A brew. A brine. It is preoccupied with cruelty, suffering and injustice. It’s achingly sentimental–every touch leaves a print. It is the kindling flame of a politics anchored on different words. It sings my rightness and indicts me a proud fool. It watches the world sadly and wonders what will happen.
At 34, the animal’s temperament deepens. Quieter, more solitary, it better hears its own music. A wide block of real estate in its mind is zoned Regret. The knowledge of time as a perishing resource is no longer purely intellectual. It drifts into the busy world and listens.