Saturday, November 24, 2012


Throughout life I would play the game of asking myself questions that demanded a decision.  They were often questions of highly debatable seriousness or consequence.  Often they were just questions that seemed to test my ability to decide anything.  Silly questions.  To make it easy.

“If I were given a choice to have any car in this lot, which one would I choose?”  I would ask myself, walking through a parking lot.


If I could choose any man to be with, who would I choose, I would think as I sat in a restaurant with a first date that would never escalate into a second.


If I could look like anyone, who would I choose, I would fantasize as I watched “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”   No decision was necessary as the answer was right there on the screen.


If I could be wearing any outfit in the room, which would I choose, I would think with envy as I mentally stripped the wearer bare.

As an adult I continue playing that game.  But now I do it to avoid real decisions.  Decisions to be made as part of real life with real risks.

I now find myself asking myself, “Self, if you had to decide on losing one sense, which one would it be?”

We have five.  I had to look that up.  And for those who need to be reminded:  Hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling and sight.  For some reason I thought thinking was a sense.  Foolish me.  But then as I look around, I am reminded that had it been a sense, it was lost long ago by a whole species.

I think about losing the sense of hearing.  Being a sufferer of a non-fatal but enormously irritating and angst producing condition called Tinnitus, the reality of my hearing being compromised is very real and has already taken somewhat of a minimal toll.  Its loss is the never hearing one’s own breath and other sounds, both natural and manmade, that give us a sense that we’re not alone.  I think of never being able to hear them and my breath doesn’t come.

I think about losing the sense of smell.  Well, allergies and accompanying congestion have introduced me to that reality.  Then, oddly, I think of the cat litter box and when last I cleaned it.  And I think of the fragrance of flowers and the Night Blooming Cereus that blooms ever so infrequently on my side porch, sending out a whispering scent that sweetens my world.  I think of the smell of pizza crisping in the oven and the smell of new books opened for the first time.  I think of the smell I so adored of my horse breathing softly into my face, a mix of cut grass and bundled hay.  And I think of hygiene and all the showers I’ve taken and all the products I’ve used to make sure I never fouled my surroundings.  And then I think of all the odors the body emits and I put smell in its own category.

I think about losing the sense of taste.  It brings to mind a wonderful and talented actor friend of mine, Phil Bruns.  We did the debut of an off-Broadway play together called Spitting Image.  Oh, too many years ago - 1960 something.  During rehearsals, we’d break for dinner and fall into a local Mexican restaurant, ordering Margaritas upon hitting the chairs.  He’d order something stronger having drunk with the likes of Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris and who knows who else.  He then ordered a side of red hot chili peppers.  He chose a big, shiny one and delivered it to his mouth, chewed down on it with a grin and swallowed it.  The three of us – Sam Waterston, Barbara Cason and Walter McGinn – stared in disbelief.  “How did you do that,” I asked, open jawed.  His answer: “I smoke too much; I drink too much and I can’t taste a damn thing.”  He smiled and continued to drain his drink and eat his peppers.  It didn’t seem like he missed taste at all.  I ordered my Chicken in Mole and knew I’d miss the taste of that.

I think about losing the sense of feel and realize how tactile I am.  How I drew my hand across the outer wall at the Petit Trianon to get historical vibes Marie Antoinette might have left behind had they existed.  And how addicted I am to the feel of my cat’s soft fur; and how I feel comforted by the feel of a hot shower raining on my face and body on a chilly morning; and how I love the familiarity of flannel on a cold night; and how I love the texture of sand under my feet; and the feel of velvety petals of a rose gently touched; and the feel as the tips of my fingers tap the keyboard and wonder how I would do without it and how impossible it would be.  And how I have felt the slicing of my finger with a sharp knife and the searing heat that produces a blister and realize there is reward and risk to feeling.

Then I realize, in my avoidance, that I have left to last the sense I would never want to lose.  I think about losing my sense of sight, a fear that once translated into a nightmare.  Fortunately, I don’t remember nightmares, or dreams for that matter.  But I did remember this one.  It was the fear of not being able to escape darkness and feeling closed in, a prisoner in my own head.  Terrified, I awoke into another darkness, this one the darkness of night.  I remember wiping the moisture from the back of my neck as I recognized the stream of moonlight coming in through my window.  I find myself even now having trepidation as I write this in the glare of a November afternoon.

Sight!  The window, portal, gateway through which images, real or imagined, enter our brain.  It seeds our cognitive ability to recognize colors, hues and light and darkness.  We see and make judgments about who to and who not to love and what to and what not to include in our often carefully created space.  I think about those who’ve never had sight and want to know their thoughts about how they’ve lived without it.  And then I remember trying to explain the color red to an acquaintance who had been blind from birth.  I couldn’t.  The memory startled me.   To never know red.  Or to go blind and forget red.  I can feel the emotions well up as I type this.  To never again see the candlelit faces of Carravagio or the brilliant thick swirls of Van Gogh blues and yellows.  To only feel the sun and not see how it changes the world around us.  To never see a smile only hear a laugh.  To never know how I look to myself or others.  To fricken not recognize a typo or where I am on the page.   To be lost and have to be found -  kind of like Hide and Seek but now called Blind and be Sought. 

Then I realize that this decision game of Sense Ditching is an activity of such nonsense that there isn’t even an app for it.  And there’s an app for everything.  And I realize that as I’ve lived this long without making decisions, I can make it the rest of the way.  That's just my decision. 


David George said...

Thanksgiving...a perfect time to be grateful for all the senses we do have.

Madly Mad said...

Oh, yeah? Not the turkey who ended up on the platter. But then we can assume that the turkey who's still gobbling is as grateful as can be. Assuming he's free range.

Sher said...

Wow, did this make me think! At least I'm still capable of that, sort of. I enjoyed this, Mad, as I enjoy everything you write.

Madly Mad said...

Sher, thank you so much for your comment. Thank you for letting me know that I'm not just writing for myself. It gives me reason to write more.