Thu Feb 9 1995

To most people, the use of cliches is automatic. They fly off of the tongue like, well, I don't know. And that is the point. Give me pretty alliteration and I'll choose the wrong words, a cliche and I'll stop half way through in awe of those more velvet tongued than I, a metaphor and I'll mix it, a proverb and you get a blank stare in return.

This leads to a lot of colourful turns of phrasing that I use, and it also forces me to spell out what many people say in a few words. But the ramifications are bigger, and the sources vaster.

In order to do what I thought the sane and ethical thing as a youth, I simply constructed an internal and automatic ability to let conventions slide off of me like water off a duck. And so I grew up without much human contact and without learning about the normal social interplay that goes on amongst others of my species. This isn't unusual.. or so I thought. Upon entering grad school many years ago, it came to my attention that the only time I wrote things that other people could read and understand was when I while I parodied others' writing styles and choices. I received the best marks on papers when I researched that professor's own work and spoofed it. Of course the content shifted in my own work, but essentially the paper's structure and style came from the authority in charge.

I further learned that when I didn't do this, my work was considered in comprehensible. Writing exactly what I think out on paper, unless clearly labeled a poem, would cause undue amounts of contusion.

Turns out that in rejecting convention acquisition, I had rejected human language as well. Now the experts in the field of language acquisition are in much agreement that most of the language one uses is acquired from the environment, and that this stuff is all convention ridden. But for using the same words, grammar and sounds as the next guy, we would each speak incomensurably. In other words, the tower of babel myth is held at bay only when we choose t adopt the same conventions as each other.

I say that this is a choice based on the personal experience of having rejected most of such conventions for most of my life. It was only due to my desire to write a master's thesis that lead me to learn this alternate way of speaking - the one that it seems most everyone else relies on - the one in which everyone does similar things as each other.

I should mention that the simple mechanism that I constructed rests solely on two principles. The first is a hatred of repetition. I won't tell the same story twice -- even to a different audience. I don't remember things I know. Instead I recognize on the fly whether I've heard something before, and if so, immediately get rather bored. If not, I get all excited and focussed. Similarly, I tend not to think things through more than once in order to avoid this self same boredom. Luckily, I think really well the first time through.

The second principle used to construct my convention avoider was a love of the original and unique. Specialness if you will seemed like the way to immortality and as well to popularity and wealth. Heh.

These two principles are pretty well two sides of the same coin. One tugs away from similarity and the other towards difference. I remember my sister telling me that she was weird. She used the word as an honourific, and followed the claim up quickly with, "and all my friends are too." Old joke, true story. It was this use of special or strange or weird that particularly repulsed me, and for many years I tried to create something so unique and special in me that no-one would mistake me for one of her friends. (I realize now that that wasn't likely in any event.)

Many aspects of my mind were constructed in this way, by pursuing the different and repelling from conventions. I can't say that I am fundamentally different from other people. But I can say that in trying to be different from everyone else using the mechanism of avoiding the adoption of conventions, I have certainly walked some odd paths when looked at all in one person's's life.

No package deal personality for me, that's for sure. Of course, it is pretty clear that I might have gone too far in this. Not being capable of much human communication seems a high price, and once I realized that other people were able to communicate to each other effectively, I bothered to learn some of the conventions. Richard helped a lot. He is a master of convention recognition, and has often spelled them out for me. I try them out and sure enough, things get easier for me. And Peter has lessoned me in the art of communication through understanding - that is through theorizing and the use of previous experience (which I would have labeled repetitive previously) to establish what the motives and goals of the other parties must be. I must say that I've had two ofthe best teachers in the world connecting me back in to the human communication web.

I learned that words have conventional meanings (whatever the hell a meaning is, that is) and that meanings have conventional words. Ie. I said "lessoned" above knowing full well there is probably some conventional way of putting that, but that making up a word was so much easier. In linguistic terminology, I have substituted higher productivity for a smaller lexicon.

Two aspects (since Chomsky, language's parts are aspects) of language seemed cut off from me though, and I have spent many a long minute paused in conversation, laughing at myself, trying to use these ones right. The first, as I mentioned above are the phrases longer than a single word that have a particular, non-literal, cultural meaning: cliches and the like, and also references to various cultural knowings such as music, history. My favorite confusion is that between the drop of a hat and the drop of a pin. I always mix them up hopelessly. But there is a second category: the preposition. And it turned out, a second strange problem interacting to cause this difficulty.

The preposition is that part of speech which indicates the location of one of the objects in the sentence with respect to another. (For Peter's sake, here is a list of examples: in, around, under, to, with, against, towards, etc.) I use these all completely interchangeably. And it turns out that my immunity from learning a foreign language stems primarily from this as many use location, coded in preposition / postpostition / verbal affixes / etc. as a prime transmitter of information (to put this non-linguistically). And to the extent that they do, I am lost.

This second queer feature of my language usage turns on a simple visual oddity, one not tested for by eye-doctors, and not harmful in noticeable way. I never learned to use stereoscopic vision. I simply point both of my eyes at a single point and stare. When I want to look at something else, I move the focus. I don't use any peripheral information, and I don't use the depth information. This requires a certain type of focusing with the pupils and this is something I never learned to do. SO I have gone through my whole life like that... and only learned of it by accident.

I don't know what they are called, but they have become very popular as artwork... the dotted pages that become pictures when you refocus your eyes to stare at them. They have been around on the Internet as dot files (heh) for I'd say 4 years. Richard had downloaded a number of them to play with, and I spent hours literally staring at this computer screen trying to "get it." But I got nothing.. and within a week gave up trying.

Two weeks later I had the most remarkable experience, sort of a visual break. I was driving down the highway, and suddenly, for the first time in my life, the world unfolded in three dimensions. There was a cloudy grey sky over head fastening me closely onto the planet. Carson either side sped past as my foot forgot the gas pedal. Darker pavement rose toward my face as I sat in shock staring at everything in the world at once, in three-d relief. And then it stopped.

I think the practice from those drawings helped my eyes learn what any 12 week-old kitten knows, how to perceive depth. This first flash led to more, and although I don't turn on three-d vision to often as it makes me throw up, I am able to do so at will. It is more amazing than video game, more shocking than the best of Steven Speilberg, and best of all, its free.

One day, as I wondered up to the philosophy department at York, I turned this new vision on. Walking through the dark and grim corridors of the first floor of the Ross Building in three-d brought a new enlightenment to me. The ceiling became above and the walls beside. I was in-between the walls, walking towards the elevator where one could go up or down at will. A cascade of prepositions became meaning-filled. I can't begin to explain how excited I got.

I keep this lesson of being on the outside looking in with only confusion close to my heart. I shall probably always be stumbling upon these strange differences in me that could have arisen only in someone who rejected convention as thoroughly and effectively as I had. Please bear with my rather colourful use of the cliches though... I have some catching up to do.


At 18:05 23-11-95 -0500, wrote:

Teasing here a little; but, my name happens to be Cliche. In truth it is not a Cliche(with accent) which in fact is a photo or reproduction in french. Only the English see this as something overused. And I will quote a Wall Street Journal item of a few years ago:

SOME PEOPLE are quick to condemn Cliches, but what is a Cliche? It is a truth that has retained its validity throught time. Mankind would lose half its hard-earned wisdom, built up patiently over the ages, if it ever lost its Cliches.

I rest my case; and, now off to enjoy your diary.


Carolyn's Diary
[index]|[mail me]|[finale]