Diving Into the Archives
Sometimes, a thing will happen to me in my everyday life that triggers a memory of something I wrote a long time ago and prompts me to comb through my previous unpublished works for confirmation.
Lately, I've noticed an increase in the number of times I misread a headline, or see an image as something completely different, or catch something out of the corner of my eye. No, I'm not hallucinating. I think it's caused by a combination of factors including an increased awareness of my own thoughts in real time (thanks to a solid meditation routine), and an overdose of information from many different sources. (Perhaps I need to cut back on the amount of information I consume in a day).
These occurrences reminded me of a short piece I scratched out almost exactly ten years ago. I had been prompted to put pen to paper by a similar experience to the ones aforementioned. Here, I present the short piece in total, after which I will touch on a little bit of the research I did on the subject of Misperception.
January 17, 2008
There are times when I can enter the world of fantasy during my everyday life. My sense of awareness has tilted on its side, spilling some oddities into the earth in front of me. If I cock my head at just the right angle, unfocus my gaze and notice the view from the outermost corners of my eyes, I see some strange, surreal things.
A few days ago, as I sat in my car, exhausted from only a few hours of window shopping, I allowed my mind to blank out. I looked out the windshield at the grey, dismal scene of piles of melting, dirty snow and puddles slushing under moving tires.
There came a moment when all time seemed to stand still. Well, I should say, time slowed down first before stuttering to an awkward stop. With a vacant mind, I swept my unfocused and lazy eyes across the parking lot until they landed on a light pole. Standing about thirty feet tall, it was partially concealed by its ghostly gray color which blended with the air of the day. The top of the pole housed the lights in four square boxes.
My gaze rested on the mundane vignette for mere seconds. Suddenly, the top of the pole exploded into a dozen pieces that scattered into the sky. My heart stopped as if someone had slammed a large book onto a desk in a library. At first, I imagined it must have been a bomb, but I heard no sound. I felt like I was in a Twilight Zone episode, the scene was so eerily cinematic. Panic took over my body for several moments until my rational mind caught up with my senses.
What I had perceived as an explosion had been a small group of seagulls bursting from their previously hidden encampment atop the pole. I’ll remember the episode forever, although I wish I had the movie in physical form. What strikes me as equally odd was the way time returned to normal speed once the birds had dissipated and my brain made sense of it all. I admit that I was sad to see the moment pass. I wanted desperately for the weird feeling to remain. Those are the moments when I feel most alive.
Driving home from Boston one afternoon, my mind was preoccupied with bodily concerns. I was cleared for another year, free from any signs that the aggressive-strain oral tumor I suffered a few years ago had returned. Not only was I thinking of my mouth, but my stomach and bladder as well. Hunger and urinary distress are my two worst enemies whenever faced with an errand that lasts more than an hour, and this was no exception. I was a distracted driver.
The remnants of a recent snowstorm crowded the sides of the highway. The early afternoon sun had begun to make quick meals of the snow patches. My wipers were on, removing copious amounts of kicked up slush from the vehicles traveling ahead of me. Sunlight glared off the dirt on my windshield, forcing me to squint and strain if I wanted a clear view through the glass. I was driving through a hazy, cottony world, hungry and tired. Situations like these tend to cause me to fall into a semi-hypnotic state, where my eyes are on the road, yet not focused.
As I passed yet another light pole jutting out from the median to my left, a large, white mass fell toward my driver’s side window. Had the window been open, the white thing would have hit my shoulder. My chest filled with the hot thumping fear and panic. Honestly, I admit to thinking in that instant that it was an alien spaceship. It seems crazy now, but in that split second, that was my instinct. It didn’t register in my mind that it was a chunk of melted snow that had fallen off the top of the light. No—at that moment, I felt I was being assaulted, even ambushed by some sinister, otherworldly, alien thing. I felt targeted as if I was in a science fiction movie.
It only lasted a moment, but the slow-motion reel keeps playing it back in my head even today.
It seems silly now; that I thought the snow was attacking me. But for that instant, it was real. What made me process all of that information and come up with such a strange possible scenario?
As a child, I would sit on the edge of the porcelain bathtub in my grandmother’s bathroom and stare at the floor. There were hundreds of small, square tiles, each no larger than a saltine cracker, lined up in a perfect grid. There was no uniformity of color, just a grab bag of blue, gray, white, and beige, each tile mottled with varying degrees of the four colors. I would try to pick out designs in the mix of shapes the colors formed, but rarely could I even imagine the slightest coherent image.
One day, as I gazed at the tile grid, listening to the group of muffled voices in the kitchen, my eyes glazed over for a moment and then refocused on the tiles. All at once, the floor was right in front of my face, as if I could lean forward a bit and feel the cool surface touch my nose. It was an unexpected, yet enjoyable experience. As a young child, I would delight in anything unusual, disturbing, or out of sync with the rest of my world. I tried to make the optical illusion last for as long as possible by staying very still, without even a breath.
Inevitably, my curiosity and desire to jump into this magical illusion would lead me to reach out for the false image with my fingers. A soon as my hand entered my field of vision, the spell would be broken. Even if I tried to refocus my eyes again, the results would pale compared to the initial joyous surprise.
I think that most of the happiness I felt in those moments came from the surprise of it all. Once I could make myself do it on purpose, it wasn’t the same. In the first unexpected experience, I sensed an opportunity, or at least a possibility, that I teetered on the edge of an unknown other-world. If I could just dive in and accept the illusion as reality, I could be a part of this new, magical, strange world.
Sometimes I still think it’s out there, this other world. But it eludes me like a shadow that dances just outside my field of vision. I only need to find the hidden window and climb through.
Misperception and Visual Substitution
After rediscovering the above writing, I was curious to find a name for such experiences. I don't have them every day, but they do occur often enough that I was curious to know more.
The initial search landed me with all sorts of results regarding optical illusions, which was similar, but nothing really explained my experiences. The next search resulted in many articles about dementia and hallucinations. Again, close but no cigar, thank goodness. Finally, I started down the path of misconception, which led me to a group discussion board where someone mentioned misperception. The word seemed to fit, so I went down that path. (Someone else called it misrendering, which seems cooler to me, but I could find no other search results based on that term).
I found a website, which some people I know may regard as a little kooky, but it lays out a solid explanation for this phenomenon. From The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena:
As optical illusions illustrate, our brains can easily be fooled. Misperceptions are caused by ambiguous, insufficient or conflicting sensory information reaching our brains.
Regardless if you believe in ghosts or not, the brain science makes sense and seems to explain a bit of what I experienced. Especially when considering the concept of visual substitutions explained here.
Noticing and noting these misperceptions can serve as interesting source material for future story ideas. And people wonder where writers come up with such crazy ideas? So, just like writing down my interesting dreams, I have a renewed dedication to looking out for these occurrences and documenting them. Who knows, maybe someday one will turn into a novel?
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I write novels and poetry and this blog.