A Mind of One's Own

The human mind may have great capacity, and far more than most of us use. I think for that reason few of us notice the extent to which our minds serve as storage space for junk we seldom notice until we trip over it. An old friend once related a nugget of wisdom inherited from her mother, in which she likened lending out brain space to renting out space under the bed: a highly personal space, rather than prime real estate - there may be plenty of available storage space under your bed, but does renting that space to someone else seem like a good idea? Even if you have no particular use for extra brain space, you might prefer not to let someone else use it gratuitously for storage.

A fairly common bumper sticker says, "Keep your laws off my body." Presumably that refers to abortion rights, gay and lesbian rights, perhaps rights to self-medication. Well, I have no quarrel with any of the above. I don't want anyone else's laws on (or in) my body; still less do I want anyone else's laws disturbing the peace in my mind. I love freedom with an honest passion, and for most of my life I've lived with a sense of quiet, inexpressible, inexhaustible outrage that I'm finally beginning to find adequate words for.

No, no, no. My brain is my space, my very own headspace, and I'm tired of tripping over other people's junk in the sanctuary of my own mind. How did it get here? Did I invite all this junk in, unbeknownst to myself? I reach into that under-the-bed headspace, and begin to pull out boxes covered in dust. Boxes marked "Education: other people's ideas." Boxes marked "Laws: other people's morals." Boxes marked "Politics: other people's social and economic agendas." Boxes marked "Prejudices: other people's hang-ups." Boxes marked "Religion: other people's convictions." HEY, I don't want this stuff in my headspace. I don't want it in my under-the-bed space. I do not want it in my house; I do not like it playing mouse. I don't want it large or small. I don't want it here at all!

Ah, that feels better. Infinitely better.

Learning from one's mistakes isn't a right or a privilege; it's the process of individuation itself. All those dusty boxes I just evicted from unused spaces in my mind have been moldering there since long before I was old enough to give informed consent or sign a contract. They took up space, just the same, without my noticing. I obediently put them there as a child, before I was old enough to question the contents, and they've stayed there along with old report cards that I never wanted to show my parents. They stayed hidden with the stuff that hurt too much to dig out, and memories happily forgotten.

Reclaiming that space in my head has been a painful part of growing up, and perhaps that was only possible because I have enough rebellious kid left in middle-aged me to detest authority in any form. Sometimes I tell people that I'm equal parts teenager and little old lady, and it's true. I am both. The kid in me still says, "never trust anyone over thirty," and the old lady says, "I remember when kids minded their elders!" As a result, my over 40/under 50 mental state reflects the sort of benign gridlock that some folks would like to see prevail in Congress. If Congress had been intentionally compatible with progressive aims, it would never have been called Congress. When Congress makes progress we're all in trouble, but I digress.

None of us grow up without stowaway ideas lodged in our heads. All that storage space belongs to us, whether we use it or not, but as long as our mental storage spaces are full of stowaway ideas they'll never be useful to us personally, unless we clean them out, and cleaning them out can be a dirty business. The insulting thing about childhood for me was the realization that adults seemed to view my mind as warehouse space for whatever ideas, beliefs, and gnomes they wanted to house there. I wanted a mind of my very own.

Perhaps it's telling that today's schoolchildren carry knapsacks heavy enough to cause back problems. I never carried that much to and from school, but my mental toolbox was crammed full of tools and widgets whether I ever learned to use them or not. Curiosity and imagination were the best teachers I ever had - they always gave me fun assignments, they rewarded my efforts, they encouraged creativity, never stifled my individuality, and they never grumbled about contracts or assigned me labels like "underachiever."

So many hours, days, years wasted in the miserable pretence that my mind was a blank slate and my character was silly putty for older and supposedly wiser people to mold. No wonder modern society glorifies youth all out of proportion - ritual sacrifices always entailed pompous and elaborate celebrations. I think the best thing that people can do for children is let them be kids, not pedestals for adult neuroses.

You want to pass a law? You want to educate someone? You want someone to vote for you? You're asking for storage space in people's heads, but most people don't seem to realize how precious, even priceless, that storage space is. If they did, laws, education, politics and religion wouldn't seem so important. We'd all be engaged in the eminently peaceful business of minding our own more enjoyable affairs, with our own storehouses stocked full of personal treasures, or at least swept clean of other people's garbage.

Renting out headspace privately might prove the best use of an otherwise empty space, but most of us have inadvertently allowed a lot of headspace to serve as public storage facilities from an early age. I'd like to think that most people choose not to rent out the space between their ears, but it seems that most people don't bother to sweep that space out well enough to make it worth renting. Private property begins between the ears, and anything beyond that - well, it may be a place to hang your hat, and the more brain your hat has to protect the more important a properly private place to hang it will be. I'd rather have a castle between my ears and a public storage unit to hang my hat in, than a public storage unit between my ears and a castle to hang my hat in.

Nothing has value apart from a way of thinking, and the things that we value individually tell stories about the way we think. Stories get passed along from one generation to the next, so tell your stories with love and care, folks. You never know who'll be listening.

A mind of one's own is an unthinkable thing to waste. Own your mind: mind your own.

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