Regurgitating Little Conversations

You know this one, too - those loaded thoughts you can't. let. go. even though you've parsed them backward and forward and you know your official statement on the topic. Even when you're not sorry you responded the way you did. Even when you don't even like that whatever anymore.

This is not the same as the way I can remember the tan wood paneling in the house where we lived before I was 2 years old (confirmed it with my mom) or almost every word I've seen in print. I'm no Marilu Henner, but I astound and annoy even myself.

I'm talking about the the thoughts that push their way through the project on the table:  wondering what someone's doing whom you haven't seen in forever, or making you think it's time to put on pants and go because you need biscuits right now.

Minneapolis-based rap artist Dessa talked about the "inventory of feelings" she addressed when she used neurofeedback to finally get over a long-term relationship:

...and the less generous feelings...

When does a repeated thought become an obsession? How? Obsessions are persistent, intrusive images that disrupt the thoughts and processes we want for ourselves. We usually think of them in romantic terms because those are the easiest to identify (and possibly the most disruptive) but what about non-human obsessions: cats, cars, videogames? Biscuits? Today, instead of doing work I should be doing, I obsessed and came up with theories:

Scenario One: My brain is trying to find something that's difficult to acquire - for example, highly-nuanced conversation. It keeps cycling back to locations where the thing can be found:  in memories of people and places maybe no longer in my periphery. It's not looking for the argument, the heartbreak, the frustration, the anguish that are all connoted with the person who had those conversations with me. Memories are a package deal, though - bubbles that float to the surface, pop, and dissipate, for no reason other than my brain was bored. No fix for this but to keep trying. Connections are hard.
...I never could say anything in 20 words or less... - Johnette Napolitano
Scenario Two: a chemical process in my system is causing the same series of responses as were experienced in the memory that keeps resurfacing. There may literally be no external trigger other than something like an allergic reaction or a particular smell. Due to my brain's filing system, though, the pattern extracted chugs out of the station like The Little Engine That Could, destination unknown, until it falls off the track. It literally means nothing, unless I'm coming down with a virus.

Scenario Three is related to the second one: tiny micro-organisms have colonized my body and are trying to convince me to do things that benefit them. Study of the gut-brain connection is gaining traction and I'm really excited about it. Ever since Horton Hears a Who* I've been fascinated with the idea that I could be hosting a community. Gut microbiota produce cool things like short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) and GABA, which can help mitigate intrusive thoughts and feelings of anxiety.

There are villains, too. The parasite Toxoplasma gondii wants to live in the gut of a cat. Therefore, if it finds itself living in a rat, it crosses the blood-brain barrier and convinces the rat's brain that it should seek out cats (thus be eaten.) This is why we were always told pregnant women should stay away from litter boxes - contact with feces can spread Toxo and potentially cause congenital defects in the unborn child.

In this scenario, the best course of action is to determine whether the obsessive thought is aiming at something that serves me or harms me, take probiotics, and act accordingly. When I used to crave biscuits, I also suffered heavily from psoriasis. I'm not claiming causation, but neither item is problematic at this time.

Scenario Four relates to the first one: my brain is trying any means possible to procrastinate. Psychology Today reports that procrastination is actually delay meant to process emotions around the thing you are avoiding.  This makes sense. If I don't email the restaurant to confirm I'll show up and work on my art in public view, I delay having to address the fears I associate with working on my art in public view. This is a really good example, because I already know the answer: I will say yes, and then STFU. Also, I need to go do that.

Here's what we learned from my ruminations: recurring obsessive thoughts quite possibly don't mean what they say they mean; they may have no meaning at all, or they may signal a biological process that might need to be addressed. Stop procrastinating - do the thing first, and then figure out why you didn't want to do it.

Yes, I'm sending the email. I sent it.

Further Reading, Watching, Listening: 

TEDxWanChai - Dessa: Can We Choose to Fall Out Of Love?
"Most of these songs had been written about the same guy...I couldn't figure out how to put the love down." Big kudos for 3-D printing your brain into jewelry for the merch table.

Johns Hopkins Medicine - The Brain-Gut Connection
Start here, but please keep researching. Ask questions of your primary care provider - yes, you need to go see her. Do that.

CDC - Toxoplasmosis
You see? I wasn't making this up. Check out the excellent graphics.

Nobody Has a Photographic Memory -
I wish the article cited sources so we didn't have to hunt them down ourselves. "And when a young Helen Keller cribbed from Margaret Canby’s “The Frost Fairies” in her story “The Frost King,” Canby herself said, “Under the circumstances, I do not see how any one can be so unkind as to call it a plagiarism; it is a wonderful feat of memory.” Keller claimed she was forever after terrified. “I have ever since been tortured by the fear that what I write is not my own." Me, too, Helen. Been quoting myself since 1996:
Suddenly I realize
All my words already had been written
Giving them that much less impact.
This page seems like such a waste." - me

Little Conversations - Concrete Blonde
I so feel this song, and it's inextricably tied to a time, place, and person: Tim Hamlin, the love of my life, sitting in the basement in the late '90s, listening to this album on the handmade, Electro Voice -designed, tuned speakers, over and again. When I got to see Concrete Blonde in person the first time at Club Soda in Kalamazoo, Tim was too sick to come with me. Same for the second time at State Theatre.  I saw them again at 9:30 Club in DC with my second husband, the Pakistani, and I learned: "You don't drop James Mankey's guitar." As if anyone ever would.  Thanks for all the years of great music.

*I've got no patience for anything but the Chuck Jones version: Horton Hears a Who - 1970
This story really junked up my sense of ethics as a child.


  1. WAY too much for me to process today. I'm not procrastinating, although I am very good at it, I'm sick. I'll feel better tomorrow.

  2. How you feeling, Mari? Please continue to procrastinate again today.


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