Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Diagrams, Subways, and extro-introspection.

M. Snowe was riding the subway home last night, and got on a delayed train that waited five to ten minutes at every stop, "due to an earlier incident" of which there was no further information other than the cagey subway announcements. To make things hairier, while in transit, the trains slowly crept through the tunnels, as if the driver was being overly cautious. The conductor intermittently blew the loud, jarring horn as the train jostled down the dark tunnels of topographic, gray-black concrete etching past the windows.

After some attempts at focusing on a book, it became clear that observing the other passengers was the far superior alternative. Feeling slightly forlorn about how the world likes to play hooky with your hopes and dreams, and maybe attend to them another far-off day, M.Snowe was open to a distraction. The train wasn't overly crowded, so it was hard to focus on someone in a direct line of sight, for fear of being spotted as a voyeur. Resolutely glancing to both sides, one woman was absorbed at the ads above the windows, and the other, in the seat directly to the right, was reading from a rather heavy-looking textbook, with stark white edges. The book was open to somewhere in the middle of the roughly 800 pages, and though the actual text was a bit too far away to make out, the headings and the pictures and diagrams were clear.

The woman so engrossed in this book was studying psychology. The author and name of the book was indistinguishable, as the cover was firmly resting against her lap, but the headings on the open page referenced clinical signs of mood disorders, and the attributes and signals of their appearance in young adults and adolescents. Nothing too out of the ordinary, to be sure. But a diagram/picture on the page opposite M.Snowe was at once hilarious, saddening, and some form of divine kismet. It had to be kismet, because out of the 800-plus pages this woman could have turned to, here it was, staring M.Snowe in the face. There was the outline of a woman (decidedly a female form, due to the hair length, and slight outline of a bust). It was just a lavender shape--no actual face or features--kind of like a stick figure, or the sign on a bathroom door. This was the image slightly obscured, featured behind the actual diagram. The diagram consisted of three different-colored pastel circles. One was hovering by the woman-shaped left shoulder, the other on the right shoulder, and one below at the woman-shape's feet. Each circle was connected to the other with an arrow, pointing to the next circle, in a clockwise direction, forming a slightly drunken-looking triangle. Inside the first circle to the left shoulder of the woman, the word "shyness" appeared. Then, the arrow crossed over the woman's clavicle to the next circle, which simply said "loneliness." The arrow from that circle pointed to the bottom circle, at the shape's feet. One word was here: "depression."

Well, this diagram has a lot to say in three words, and M.Snowe thought it was making quite a few presumptions. Some people plot out the problems contained in this simplistic chart with more philosophical, metaphysical, or intellectual intricacy than a Joyce novel or Aristotelian text. M.Snowe's revelations upon glimpsing this chart induced more laughter than most would view as appropriate, and the woman looked over, momentarily quizzical, then turned her attention back to the book.
M.Snowe thought to herself: "What a diagram! So, that's how it all works!...If only there was a chart that allowed us, the undefined, lavender, shadowy shapes riding on trains, to move counterclockwise, and achieve an opposite result." But perhaps M.Snowe just needs to be riding next to this woman on a different day, while reading a different page. And perhaps the editors of this book formulated this diagram for just this purpose (or momentary subway revelation): to make sure that we're not taking ourselves so seriously, and perhaps the grim ideas we entertain introspectively just need to be snappily simplified, preferably in pastel circles and drowsily looping arrows.

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