I got to talking about this with a friend of mine who experiences synesthesia. She 'sees' abstract concepts in colour (Monday is blue, Tuesday yellow etc). Comparing notes, it turned out that we have two, very different, internal images of history. After a lot of sign language and struggling for words, we boiled them down to 'hosepipe' versus 'bucket of frogs'.
That led us on to wondering whether our different perceptions of the passage of time provide an explanation of why I liked history at school while she hated it.
|Trying to put this stuff into words can drive you nuts.|
I'm rather scared of writing about this. I think I'm afraid that if I go into too much detail, I will lose access to the mental image which is one of the tools of my trade. It's much more fragile than a picture. My caution is rather like the feeling many of us have when writing a book. We don't want to discuss our work in progress - not because we think our ideas might be stolen, but because of a hunch that conversation may contaminate them or, worse still, turn them to dust.
I've never been able to understand how some authors willingly share their ideas on on the internet and at writers' groups - even asking fellow members of online forums for advice on what to do next - but many do, and are clearly relaxed about it. We're all different, as we should be.
Despite my fear, I'm going to risk trying to explain what I see in my head when I read, write, or talk about the past. And I'll just have to hope that It won't have crumbled away in the morning.
|What might happen to me if I tell all.|
|Why I'm thinking about 1832. I haven't read it yet.|
In this photo, the past is the hosepipe trailing off to the left, with the most recent dates closest to the reel. the future is the pipe on the right (much less distinct in my mind - even quite foggy at times).
But it's not quite as simple as that. Though I know exactly where to go to find 1832, when I'm examining it closely, I reel it in much nearer, though never right up to me. When I've finished, or if I break off to think about, say, 1955, it springs back to its original place.
If I'm looking at events in minute detail, the span of hours or days takes up the whole of the original space back to 1832's original position. But if I want 1832 again, It snaps back, and all the minute stuff concertinas to make room for it.
That's roughly it for me. Odd, but orderly. For my friend, everything from the past is muddled up. If you ask her to 'find' 1745, she has to plunge her hand into a bucket of dark slime, and root around for it. Each date or event is like a rotting potato or a slithering frog: distinct, and unlinked to the other objects in the bucket, apart from sharing the stinky sludge.
|Inside my dear friend's mind.|
I can sympathise with that because my friend's problem with history parallels mine with geography. I simply can't remember how the countries of the former Yugoslavia fit together, or picture where Brighton is in relation to Folkstone. My husband tells me that part of my brain is missing - a part that is particularly well-developed in the humble pigeon - but that's another story.
|Cleverer than me. Maybe he's writing a book.|
pigeon photo © Copyright Derek Harper and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1704261