THE SUBTERRANEAN HOMESICK NOOS » Anything can be anything

Anything can be anything

20 04 2007

The brain is such a wonderful pudgy, generic cialis no rx squidgy, viagra purchase gooily amazing thing. Pinkish grey and full of volts and zaps and doodads firing in every direction. Everything about it rips open its shirt and screams from the rooftops, “Potential!”

Not mine.

I don’t know how to say this, but I think the shelf life on my brain may have expired. It’s traveled well past being ‘on the turn.’ It’s already transmogrified into that bag of green soupy liquid that was once a lettuce and now resides at the back of the refrigerator, only to be found by an unsuspecting hand looking for the margarine.

Hey, I’ll give it its due. It still does ok on all the basics. My legs can still get me across the street before a cab hits me. My arms can still push tourists out of the way in Time’s Square, no worries. I blink when my eyes get dry. I don’t put my hand on stove hotplates, even when dared. So, it’s doing ok.

But when it comes to stirring up a hearty stew in the old ideas cauldron…well, let’s just say that Old Mother Hubbard has been to my cupboard and the song remains exactly the damn same. I’m not entirely sure when it happened, but I can pinpoint the exact moment when I finally noticed it.

D-Day, minus 5 days

I met Jett on a Sunday. Eyes swarthy, open and clear. Hair all sticky uppy. He was regarding me. I would like to add ‘with disdain’, but it was just simple regard. Like he was cataloguing me. Taking his nasty little notes. Filing me away in the gooiness of his freshly hatched brain.

Did he file me under N for Noodle or U for unidentifiable? I guess I’ll never know.

“I think he’s giving me the eye,” I say.

Tina assures me that he’s not, but I’m pretty sure he is. It’s that up and down ‘what the hell are you?’ look that I’ve received from many a peep in my lifetime. I give him the eye back, with interest. That’s the trick. Show no fear.

She put Jett down on the floor and he just sat there, looking up at me. Clueless and shirtless. Like a punk. A one-year-old punk. But I know that’s impossible. His pink and supple brain does not know anything about punk, or disdain, or anything. Right?

Let’s pause for a bit.


As you can see, once again life in Australia has cranked on. Without me. How these convicts manage to continue their lives without my presence is beyond me. Anyway, in the past year and a bit, things have taken a turn on the tilt-a-whirl and a few objects have flung off into the dirt. Into existence.

Look, there’s Jett. Last time I was here, he wasn’t. Well, he kinda sorta was. He’d paid the first and last months’ rent and set up an amniotic fluid-filled house inside Tina. Flipping to the reproduction section of my Gray’s Anatomy textbook, I see that this lease period can only go on for 9 months before the landlord evicts the freeloader onto the front lawn.

So, say hello Jett. A year old already. A year old, already cooler than me.

“Well, Noodle,” says Andreas, handing me a beer. There’s a goofy grin sketched on his face. “Things sure are different now.”

I know he means inside of him; that things have tweaked and turned inside his heart in some way. Cogs in the life wheel. He still looks and acts pretty much the same, but inside he’s different. He now has that look. The ‘I have been given the secret knowledge and you haven’t’ look.

It’s not a malicious look, don’t get me wrong. Just that freshly-minted parent look.

In Noodlepedia terms, I believe it’s called The Rewiring. A real, union-sanctioned brain job. I look down at the electrician on the floor between us—barely a foot tall and more than willing to show you more than his bum crack.

I imagine Jett’s brain, fresh and bobbing away on its underused haunches. A year’s worth of information already gunked up in it, some of it useful. And every day, every damn day, new signals arrive to scare the snot out of it.

I wonder for a moment what this mega-neurone engine swimming in Jett’s skull bowl thinks of me. I suppose I should be grateful that he doesn’t have the ‘how to make a first glance judgment’ weapon in his arsenal yet. I on the other hand, I can judge better than Judy. I pronounce Jett, brain and all, worthy of my cooing and relentless googoo gah-gahing.

And it’s at this point that my brain, which is 35 years full of flotsam, begins to shut down. Like on old man on his porch, yelling ‘stay outta my watermelon patch you pesky kids’, it’s bitching about being kept awake. It’s been flying for about 24 hours now, all the way from New York. It’s no longer as fresh, or as curious as Jett’s. I wonder if that’s reversible?

I want to stay awake, so that I may reconnect with this new family, but my brain will have none of it. It checks the definition of ‘jetlag’ in the dictionary, punches out, and begins to wind down the shutters for the night.

Ok, brain, you ass clown. You win. I will take a quick nap. It appears I am not the person I used to be either. It appears that I need a nap in the afternoon, just like Jett. Just like a baby.

So, maybe there’s hope after all.

D-day, minus 3 days

I wander through Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne for the first time in six years. The air is pregnant with that end of summer weight. Warm but not hot, I let my skin reach for its sun drenched high. Onward I forge, toward the city center. I’ve got a few hours to kill before meeting up with Amelia.

Out of the park and down the street, I turn a corner and the weirdness of Federation Square stands up and punches me in the gob. Hard.

At first my brain shrieks a hideous shriek at the ugliness of it all.

“Hate it,” it pronounces. “Move on.”

Ignoring this quickly dashed off judgment, I reach into my camera bag and coax the building into posing for a few photos.

“Show me anger,” I say to one crouching building. “Now show me your deep underbelly of barely contained audacity!”

It complies.

I take a bog load of photos and I realize that I have maybe, just a little, warmed up to its ‘love me, hate me’ air.

It seems to say, “Gaze at me, for I am Federation Square. I am bold, like Helvetica Neue Bold Condensed. I jut off into the blue sky with purpose and poise. My sharp edges cut like insults. My color is ripe for an anti-discrimination bill. The sun loves me more than redheads. I am wild. Love me. Hate me. I just don’t care.”

I am now filled with admiration. For what it represents. This, this thing, this rash of buildings, once lived in someone’s brain. That person teased it out and sketched it, proposed it, and followed it through. Just as I now stand on Flinders Street looking at it, Federation Square stands on Flinders Street looking back at me.

As I walk off to meet Amelia, I turn back for one last look from a distance. I can’t help but feel the urge to reach out and twist those buildings in the crisp blue air, Rubik-style, to see what they’ll become.

Architecture aside, I confess that I’m actually a little nervous about being in Melbourne. Tonight, I will be seeing people. That’s not so unusual, but I haven’t seen these particular people in a very long time. And people change. Their brain chemistry changes. Tolerance for my lack of having done anything with my life disappears.

What if they don’t like me now? What if they never did? What if they’re coming to dinner out of pity? What if it’s the same pull that compels people to attend school reunions—the overwhelming need to see who’s failed and fallen or fumbled through?

Fortunately, it doesn’t go that way. We gastro pub it in Carlton. A bunch of us. Pete D informs me that he’d spoken to my sister that day. That’s pretty much all it takes to catch my brain off guard. It checks through the photo albums. Nope, no sister.

A few confused moments later, I determine that his random dialing of people with my surname unearthed my sister-in-law, in Parkes. Kind of blows my brain a bit, actually. But the confusion soon leeches away into the Coopers Pale Ale, and pretty soon everyone has convinced me that they do in fact like me. That I can be tolerated on some small level. Once every six years, at least.

I inhale twice cooked roast pork and marvel at the dulcet tones of a very Australian waitress. She announces crim breuwlay and panarhcotta as the desserts of choice. These quirks of the Australian accent swim effortlessly into the soft bits of my hippocampus. The cerebral cortex welcomes them into its open embrace.

I take a moment to glance around the table. There are no babies here, but weirdly, I think I see the same quizzical look in their eyes as I’d seen in Jett’s.

What are you up to, Noodle?

It’s a fair question.


We’re on the north coast of New South Wales. The McCrae Clan. Parents. Brother’s brood. All of us. I’m sharing a room with a three year old. This is a new experience for me. If she snores, I’m complaining to management, don’t think I won’t.

Bella, the three year old in question, is starting to warm to me a bit. The last time I saw her, she didn’t have language. Well, she did, but it’s that weird language that only dolphins understand.

The breakthrough occurs the first night. It’s a breakthrough for us both.

She takes me by the hand and leads me to our room.

“Let’s play a game, Auntie Noodle,” she says. “The doctor game.”

This sounds ominous. In my list of things I fear, doctors come in at number three, just behind phones and dentists. I mean, doctors always ask you such personal questions, but never about what kind of music you like.

Anyway. The doctor game. Bella brings out Mr McGee and another dolly whose name escapes me. Mr McGee is a bright red monkey with a yellow stomach. The other dolly is wearing pink. It is a color that Bella adores.

“Oh no,” she says, laying her children on the bed and feigning a look of absolute concern. Her eyebrows are trying to join hands and her forehead worries itself admirably. “They’re sick! What should we do?”

And there it is. I feel an absolute moment of panic. Holy crap, they’re sick. What the hell DO we do!?

“Um…let me examine them.”

I think I remember how to do this.

I go through the motions. I feel for their pulses and check their temperatures. Then I put them back down on the bed and shrug. That’s me. Done. I have nothing more to give. I don’t know Method acting. I never studied with Lee Strasburg. I don’t watch “Whose line is it anyway?”

I chance to look at her expectant face.

“I don’t know what to do,” I admit. And I don’t mean about the health crisis currently being felt by the doll population in this bedroom. I mean about what to say to keep the game going.

And that’s it. That’s the moment. The moment when I realize my brain is broken. It is old. It is regimented. Set in its ways. Just like 6-month-old gum stuck beneath a school desk, it’s cold, hard, and I just touched it with an unsuspecting finger.

“Oh, my God,” my internal dialogue says, wringing its hands. “I’ve forgotten how to play pretend!”

The realization is a jarring sort of acid lurch to the top of the throat thing. Truly bile-icious.

My niece simply clasps her hands together and sighs, unaware of my crisis.

Carolyn, my sister-in-law and Bella’s mum, enters from stage left. Bella explains the situation quickly and efficiently, and Carolyn goes to work. She pronounces that the very red Mr McGee has a bad case of sunburn. Then she slathers imaginary cream all over him and leaves.

Sunburn, of course! Why didn’t I think of that? All the signs were there. The fire engine redness, the lethargy. But this inability to diagnose an illness in a stuffed animal is symptomatic of a more serious problem. A problem with my brain.

It’s as obvious to me now as it was at that moment.

I’ve forgotten that anything can be anything. Anything, when you’re playing pretend. It’s Imagineering—the cornerstone of creativity—and I’ve lost it. It’s important when you’re playing with a three-year-old, but also in my damn job. When did that happen? Can I get it back? I felt sick.

Somewhere along the line, my synapses did their little imagining jig in my brain and forgot how to Mexican-wave the idea on. Where once screamed potential, now I feel only laziness. How can my brain have forgotten one of the most delicious things to do? To know that anything can be anything? To pretend? Surely, it can’t just be the ravages of age?

Is it too late to get the brain back to some sort of creative equilibrium? I decide to try a little experiment to see if still contains any of the flexibility it had when I was ten.

“Um, look, Bella. I don’t know what to do because I didn’t study medicine,” I explain. “So, I’m going to get someone who might have a better idea.”

I leave the room. Stand in the hallway for a second. I’m a little nervous. Will she buy it? I stride back in and announce that I am Nurse Nancy and I’ve come to fix the sick people

“Oh, Nurse,” cries Bella. “Please fix my babies.”

I do a secret internal jig. She bought it. She completely bought it! I can do this. I can get it back.

For the next four or five days, I exercise the withered pretend muscle in my brain, seducing it back to some semblance of fitness. One day, I draw a door in the hard sand on the beach and ask Bella who she thinks is on the other side.

She knocks on the door. She actually knocks on a door drawn in sand. No one answers. I draw a doorbell and she presses it. We create a world of possibilities behind that sand door, and then I have to erase it quickly so no one can come through. I grin like an idiot. I’ve still got it.

I must mention the one drawback. Three year olds never run out of steam.

“What will we do now?” becomes a sentence that I hear every few hours. I am still 35 years old with a brain full of baggage. And what I want to do now is sit in quiet contemplation of my life and think about what I’m going to do with that baggage. That baggage that’s waiting for me in New York.

I’m supremely jealous of her clear mind. She’s not ever stuck in meetings and three-day turnarounds and pointless discussions that kill ideas on the altar of fear.

And as we toddle off to play one last doctor game, I decide. When I get back to New York, I’m gonna have to do something about this brain.

D-day, plus 29 days

And then comes Enzo.

I’d like to welcome to the world 6.7 pounds of pure potential. I go to visit Tom and Sally. To introduce myself to Enzo.

He’s a few days old and the size of a 1/2 gallon juice carton. I look down at his face as I hold him in the crook of my arm. The phrase ‘empty vessel’ pops into my head. And I don’t mean that the way it sounds. I mean, looking at a baby—it’s the one time you can say ‘you’re an empty vessel’ to someone’s face and not have it be an insult.

Meet Enzo Roger Ajello. The unwritten page. He’s got potential out the wahzoo. His brain is clean and starved for information. An almost completely clean hard drive of a brain. All is new. All.

What a surprise it must have been for him to suddenly feel air on his skin. What a shock, that first time someone stuck a finger in his mouth. I mean, how does Enzo’s brain even begin to categorize things at this age? It’s a brain without language.

This brain doesn’t know that the sensation of the pads of my fingertips on his arm is called touch, or that the blur in front of his face will gradually come into sharp, 1080p HD color focus, care of his daily-darkening eyes and mental acuity.

His brain is like a canvas that can’t become art until someone dabs paint on it.

He stretches and makes a face. Looks angry for a moment, then not. I wonder briefly what he could possibly be dreaming about on this Sunday afternoon in a living room in Connecticut?

“Things are different now,” says Tom. And I smile. I understand what he means, but I don’t really. The secret knowledge has snuck up on him and Sally. Of what it means to be responsible for a human being, one who enters the world so helpless. I’ve heard what this knowledge means, I and I get it. But I guess at the same time, I don’t.

Now, reading all this, you might get the impression that I’m throwing my hook into the reproductive ocean in the vain hopes of landing a baby. Well, wipe that impression from your mind.

I don’t want a baby; I want a baby’s brain in my noggin. Scratch that, that’s not right either. The thought of having to learn that hot burns, that your body is not invincible, that death is final, or that a large swath of people in the world are assholes; that is just too much to go through all over again.

No. What I want is the potential of a baby’s brain. The constant learning power. The ten times more absorbent, sponge-like ability to accept, to learn, to adapt, to embrace. The freedom. The imagination. The non-cloggedup-edness.

It’s time for the blue screen. The ‘beginning physical memory dump. Memory dump complete’ process. To defrag. To reboot, reset and all words that mean this.

So, consider this Noos as a memo to inform you that I’ve readjusted my galaxy. Moved a star. Aligned a few things. Or to put it another way, I quit my job.

It’s just my way of getting my brain to stand on the rooftop, rip open its shirt and scream ‘potential!’ to the world. See you at the pretend Olympics.

Here endeth the missive


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

©Janeen McCrae 2007



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