Monday, August 4, 2008

The mind takes shortcuts

A shortcut. An atajo. A way to get from point A to point B with the fewest intermediate stops, or through a conduit that goes more like the crow flies and less like the way you're expected to go. I learned the word in Spanish from Sonia, a friend with family in Castro, on the island of Chiloe, in the south of Chile. It's the biggest of the islands where Chile starts to deshacerse, fall apart, or literally, unmake itself.

The mind takes shortcuts. We make generalizations, assumptions. About how people are, about what will happen if we do a, b and c. We imagine the future, try to go for the good and leave the bad on another path. I know I do this with people. For years I had trouble being friends with people named Mary, after a girl whose path crossed mine last in Mrs. Marks' 3rd grade class at PS 197. She must have had problems at home, because the girl caused problems whereever she went.

But I was wrong about people named Mary, and even that Mary in particular. The last I saw of her was in the neighborhood where we both grew up, but where we hadn't seen each other for years. She said hello, and asked me "you going to college" I said yeah, and we parted ways. She was a decent person, but third grade was a bad year for her. So my mind took a shortcut, and I was wrong about her, and probably about most people named Mary. Shortcuts can lead you astray.

Yesterday my mind took two unscheduled shortcuts. A fluffy pile of shiny white clouds in the distance turned into the Andes, and I was wrong. And I felt the house shake at my sister's and it was a faultline, a tremor, an earthquake. And I was wrong there, too.

And then there was the shortcut I tried to take on my bike back from the port town near my sister's house back up to the hill where she lives. Not a shortcut at all. A longcut. Also known as a detour. Which is what my mind seems to do regularly.

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