Chapter Thirty Seven I
Most people are other people.
Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions,
their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
“Are we prodigies?”
Janah, “I hadn’t considered it. Let’s go ask dad.”
James is dictating notes into his computer, his last patient had gone. He looks up as Janah and I arrive at the door.
Janah, “Got a moment?”
We stand next to each other on the front half of the divan. James watches, we sit down together, exactly together. We don’t slouch back and splay our legs out, or plop cross legged with our feet on the couch. We perch on the edge of the sofa. When we sit, we fold our hands in our laps at the same moment, right hand nestled in the left, then cross our ankles identically, right over left. It is too perfect to be planned. He didn’t mention it until later, we don’t realize we’re doing it.
Janah smiles her soft Janah smile, blue eyes sparkle, “Daphne has a question.”
James looks to me, he told Kara later, “Her green-black eyes looked directly at me, her face expressionless. It occurred to me that she would be a formidable poker player. I’ve found that Daphne can be open animation one moment and deadly intensity the next. I’ve had no experience with anyone that has her capacity to flow between the two so seamlessly.”
I ask, “Is Janah a prodigy? Am I?”
He doesn’t ask why I want to know, I want to know, why is irrelevant.
“Research has determined that, in many cases, what we like to think of as children with extraordinary skills − prodigies − are simply extraordinarily good at mimicking. They can play the music, but will play it exactly as they heard it. They appear to have adult technical skill at an early age.”
He stops. He thinks there might be a question. Neither of us moves; we appear to breathe together. He wonders if it’s his imagination.
I ask, “What happens as they grow up?”
“When these human flash drives mature they wind up with the same talent as someone else who is good at the same age. An eight year old prodigy plays like a talented twenty year old. When they get to twenty they play like a twenty year old. Often the skill doesn’t grow as they do, which is why so many prodigies seem to flame out. In fact, the kid who has to practice, practice, practice can wind up significantly more skilled than the so called prodigy. Particularly if the prodigy leans on their mimicking skill and doesn’t put in the same work. They can only stay a step ahead if they do less mimicking and develop their own style.
Janah, “That doesn’t sound like Daphne. She is always practicing. She mimics at first, then makes it hers with her own style.”
James, “Neither of you are prodigies. Daphne is a superb martial artist, not a superb martial artist for her age. You are not a memory parrot. You don’t just quote what you read, you can grasp its meaning, add your interpretation. Besides, both of you clearly experience the world differently from the rest of us.”
“I have a another question.”
I turn to Janah. Janah’s head turns to me at precisely the same moment. James blinks. It's like watching a mime in a mirror.
“I want to ask you about enlightenment. I want dad’s take on it.”
Janah, “Then ask.”
I ask Janah, “What is enlightened?”
Janah, “It means that the enlightened one has released the self, their ego, and is aware of the ultimate unity of consciousness. There is no illusion of duality, no me before, no me now, no me in the future. There is no duality in the mind of the enlightened... that they are separate from others. They do not carry any baggage of their past, they do not have expectations for the future. Right now is all there is and it is sufficient.”
James, “You mean the enlightened carries no past or future psychological burden, ceases the conflict of becoming; I am this now, I want to become that later.”
Janah, “Yes, we aren’t referring to learning a trade. Like studying to become a doctor, teacher, nurse or any of the necessary plans or preparations we need to function in life. We need not confuse the necessary progression of learning a craft with the pointless plans, efforts and conflicts involved in seeking to become some better person. The foolishness of the thought that ‘I am jealous now but I will try not to be jealous tomorrow, I am violent now so I will practice nonviolence; I am greedy so I will be philanthropic,’ all this is only another form of becoming. An effort to be something different than we are."
James, “What’s the problem with that?”
Janah doesn’t hesitate, “Time.”
James, “You have to explain. What does time have to do with it?”
Janah, “Becoming implies time. I will be a better person, but in the future, not now.”
“We think we are this, we want to become that. Self improvement defines itself for most people as another form of attainment, an attempt to gain so that we will feel better, more self righteous, gather more self-esteem. Self improvement as practice to learn a skill is a different matter.”
Janah, “In the psychological sense, we have to ask, who is doing the improving?’
James, “You are saying that one part of the mind seems to be controlling another part, as if it was broken up into segments.”
Janah, “Yes. The brain is segmented, but psychological fragmentation, the idea that there is a separate “I” that is in control of the other parts is an illusion, the illusion of duality. This individual fragmentation is manifested in society as a consequence.”
James, “We create artificial separation, my family, my country, my religion. All these are fragments of the entire earth and all of humanity.”
Janah, “All life, not just human life.”
James, “So, in a fragmented mind, one part thinks it can control another part.”
Janah, “Yes. And perhaps it can for a time. But it’s creating conflict in the process, which must result in mental violence. We see it externally, in society. One group wants to control another, or exterminate it. This external violence is the inevitable consequence of our individual conflict, our fragmented mind.”
Silence settles over us. The clock hanging on the far wall ticks. A minute passes.
James reflects on Janah’s comment, then asks, “You mean it’s the same person, the one who is greedy, telling herself she needs to become something else?”
Janah, “Isn’t it? One says they are greedy, or jealous, whatever, then thought says it is wrong to be greedy. Is greedy is going to make itself generous? It’s the same person, there are not two minds, one greedy, one not. This duality is illusion. There is only greed.”
James, “And there is no method to change?”
Janah, “Thought cannot change what is. There is greed. Thought cannot change greed to generosity. The very act of pursuing generosity is another form of greed.”
James, “Then what?”
Janah, “See the futility of I want, seeking more self this, less self that. Just quit the game. Not only verbally, not just conceptually, or bringing in time, as in ‘I’ll quit climbing the ladder of success soon, or only to the second rung.’ Can one not climb the first step? Must we chase so-called success, seek fulfillment, compete?”
“I work hard on my martial arts. I want to learn all I can and get my body to perform at its most efficient, it’s maximum. Is that chasing success?”
Janah, “Intention is everything. Why do you do it? Do you wish to be recognized as a great martial artist, or do you wish to learn a skill and appreciate the wonderful things your body and mind can do when they are in harmony? Do you require compensation, awards, prizes? Do you want to defeat another, or do you practice for the joy of it? Would you practice your art if no one ever saw you do it, if you never used it?”
“Yes, I would. I do.”
“And you don’t enter tournaments, or even advertise your ability in any way other than what’s required of you in class with other martial artists.”
“So if I’m chasing what people call success, I’m doing a crummy job of it.”
James, silent, is intrigued by the depth of the conversations. I probe, Janah reflects. Sometimes she answers, sometimes she says she doesn’t know. James often admitted he didn’t know either. Janah likes it when there isn’t an answer, some easy conclusion. It is her nourishment, to find out.
Chapter Thirty Eight I
I can't explain myself, I'm afraid,
because I'm not myself, you see.
Alice, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
There is quiet for a time, we pick up the thread.
“I have the luxury of seeing things as you see them. Is it too complicated, mystical, for most people?”
Janah, “It doesn’t need to be astoundingly deep or esoteric. For instance, when we say ‘now is all there is,’ it’s not that one doesn’t refrigerate the milk.”
James, “You mean we need to physically do things that account for future consequences.”
Janah, “Yes. We can live in the present psychologically. Physical reality requires recognition of future consequences, like not refrigerating the milk.”
James, “I have a question that’s tangential to the discussion. Daphne asks you questions like she would anyone. In your case though, she really already knows the answer, in the sense her brain is your brain and vice versa.”
Janah, “So why does she ask in the first place?”
James, “Yes. Although I think I know, I want to find out for certain.”
James, “You have to act like you’re two different minds or people won’t be able to understand you. Particularly those that don’t know what you are. For instance, I might be confused, or feel excluded from part of the conversation if you didn’t come across as two individuals.”
Janah, “You would be able to follow the discussion, mostly because you would understand that ‘we’ were having the discussion even if only one of us spoke. The moms would catch on to the flow soon enough because they know what we are. You’re right, we do it to keep in practice when we’re around people who don’t know. We could slip into a mode of conversation that, if someone paid close attention, revealed we knew exactly what the other was thinking all the time. Master Kim already senses something unusual. Fortunately, he’s exceptional. Then there’s the other part.”
James, “What other part?”
Janah, “We could mentally run a half dozen steps ahead of the conversation. Daphne and I would be on the same page, but no one else would. Not that we’re ‘ahead’ intellectually, that’s not the point. We would simply be ahead of the flow of the conversation because we, what others see as two, would have said things mentally that the others could not know.”
James, “Makes sense. By the way, do you know you both make identical physical moves from time to time? When you sit, cross your legs, fold your hands in your laps, it often happens at the identical moment, in an identical way.”
Janah, “Yes. In the beginning, we did it before it registered. We have to pay attention to avoid it, but sometimes it’s just fun to see how people stare and not quite comprehend.”
James, “Well, some of this ought to be play. I just wanted to make sure you didn’t give yourselves away inadvertently.”
“Janah picked up on it. We’re one mind, but because it’s two physical brains, there are subtleties. For instance, I see things Janah can only see through my eyes. Janah says it has to do with the physical construction of my eye, the lens itself. That’s not part of the brain, so the image in my mind is sharper than if Janah looked with her eyes. I understand things I only grasp by being tuned in to Janah.”
James, “Wait, let’s slow down. How can she tell if she's looking through your eyes, or her eyes?"
"It's also a matter of attention. Our brains are adapting to the new reality. It's part of the reason it took so long for us to come together. It works, apparently, because we operate as one mind with two brains with two sets of eyes, two sets of ears, two noses. All that input flows into two brains, only one mind."
Janah, "Remember, there is twice as much brain power. We can see either what we see individually, or we can see what both of us see, or we can see what the other one sees."
James, "And your brain learns to adjust to all that?"
"It was surprisingly easy, although it took a great deal of concentration at first, the more we do it the more natural it seems. As you know, the brain is amazingly resilient and adaptable. I found out it can hold one million gigabytes of data. Between us we have a lot of processing power."
James, “The literature is full of reports of blindsight, or left brain taking over right brain functions after injury. I think of the things some autistic patients can do. It comes at the price of almost all normal social interaction, but it demonstrates that the brain can contain enormous amounts of data, far more than we understand.”
Janah, “There are things beyond that, dad. These are the things that, over the years, Daphne and I will explore. Clearly mentaling is possible, not merely mind reading, but the joining of two brains, parallel processing with a kicker. We can work on different elements of the same problem, or different problems, or one bigger brain on the same problem all at once. We are learning how to make it work.”
James, “So what you do is far beyond mind reading.”
“Think of mind reading as basic math. Think of what we are blessed with as quantum physics. Even that analogy may not adequately describe the difference.”
James, “Because you don’t yet know the limits of what you can do. Or if there are limits.”
Janah, “The brain is not limited, thought is limited. When we assume thought is the mind, limits are self imposed. We are constantly experimenting, making no assumptions about what can or cannot be done. We go carefully, the body can only take so much, the nervous system has far more capacity, but it has to be developed, not overwhelmed.”
James, “Are there still remnants of two minds?”
Janah, “Yes, we maintain that on purpose, for the reasons we already talked about, people see two beings. I also think there will always be physical differences, her speed, sensory capabilities, my memory. My body isn’t Daphne’s body. She gets sensory input that can flow into by brain, but I don’t have the reflexes to react as quickly as she does. I can do various things with yoga, because of my physical build and training that she can’t. We really are two and one.”
James, “Let’s break for now. This is more than enough to digest. The moms will want to hang with their daughters.”
Chapter Thirty Nine I
The best things in life are edible.
When’s dinner, Queen of the Kitchen? Janah inquires. She is almost finished drying my hair.
I made you a snack an hour ago.
Janah looks at me in the mirror, I’m not connecting my question and your answer.
I laugh, Do you have my scepter, and my royal robe?
Janah, I have your jeans and a t-shirt. Your scepter is in the dishwasher, it’s the thing that resembles a spatula.
Then my highness is prepared to rule over my queendom; which I have conquered and rule with wisdom and beneficence.
Janah, Conquered? What did you conquer? Nobody in this family can butter toast. You conquered an empty empire.
I counter, Well, they do go to the refrigerator. Maybe I should levy a tax.
Janah giggles, A refrigerator tax? You can try. Just hope that the moms don’t levy a clothes, accessories and allowance tax.
I use a long finger to apply lip gloss, Good point. We would get into a tax cold war, escalating atrocities on both sides.
Janah, Only until they discovered take out and the kitchen became a wasteland. Put some of that gloss on me.
I slide my finger across her lips, Now you’re all slick and shiny.
Janah rubs her lips together, Food.
Okay, okay, I’m on it. Let’s go.
As soon as we hit the living room, Chris asks, “When’s dinner?”
Janah giggles again, I pretend exasperation, “Cripes, you two. Dinner’s almost ready, if C-mom will get the lasagna out of the oven, it needs to cool down so it doesn’t slop all over the plate. I need to warm the Ciabatta and get the Parmesan grated.”
Janah and I exchange a glance.
“I’ll open some,” Janah heads to the wine rack.
Twenty minutes and a glass of wine later we are passing around vegetable lasagna. I’d grilled Italian sausage for the meat eaters, the warm bread finished melting the softened butter. Lucky me is toasted by an appreciative family. Janah and I share a glass of Chianti, and the family yums their way through a delightfully chewy al dente pasta layered with vegetables and four creamy cheeses, Caesar salad, warm bread and the lively Chianti.
James sighs, “Daphne, you are a food genius. I’m almost resentful you have classes some nights, I would happily eat like this every day.”
“I made enough for two nights. Tomorrow when you heat it up, I’ve got some prosciutto to lay on the top for flavor, there’ll be French bread and a spring salad with raspberry vinaigrette.”
Susan, “Can I skip class and stay home and eat?”
Chris and I simulcast, “No.”
Janah, “May I have a little more lasagna please. Is there more salad, and bread? What’s for dessert?”
Chris, “Me too.”
I make an obvious observation, “You guys are not human. There’s no way to be that curvy and eat like you do. You defy all physical laws.”
Chris, “Pass the lasagna please. You didn’t answer Janah.”
“Brownies and vanilla bean ice cream…do you want hot fudge?”
Chris, “Janah, is that what they call a rhetorical question?”
“Well, if it’s an erotema, meaning she already knows the answer, then it’s one kind of rhetorical question. It could be an anacoenosis, which means she wants our opinion. Since I’m certain she knows the answer, it’s an erotema, we always have hot fudge.”
Susan, “Will this be on the final?”
“Yes, but don’t worry about it, you automatically get an “A” for giving Daphne the legs.”
“I like a professor with a broad world view.”
Chris, “Who would know that, anaco...whatever? Is that really a word? Did you just make it up, what is that? Who would know that?”
“C-mom, there’s stuff in there nobody’s ever heard of, at least not regular people. That’s why she can’t play Scrabble with us.”
Kara, “That’s what I want to do after dinner, can I get a game?”
Janah, “I’ll play.”
“I want to play, Janah can keep score and sit with me, she probably want to brush my hair or something.”
Susan, “I’m in. It’s nice how you provide Janah with things to do while we play, brush your hair or give you a manicure.”
“Some of us are just naturally thoughtful.”
Chris, “I’ll clean up while you guys get the stuff out. Tonight, I plan on winning. I’m going to find a way to spell erotema, as soon as Janah tells me how it’s spelled.”
“I’ll help clean up, C-mom…it’s just like it sounds, e-r-o-t-e-m-a.”
“I still don’t understand how you know that, like off the top of your head, in casual conversation. If I didn’t know you, I’d swear Daphne set you up.”
“You were the one who asked if it was a rhetorical question.”
“Oh, yeah. I did, didn’t I? Girl, I admire you, but you’re scary.”
Janah smiles, “Daphne’s not afraid of me.”
Chris, “Daphne’s not afraid of anything.”
We start the game, Janah in a chair behind me with the brush, slowly stroking my hair.
Susan, “You are spoiling her beyond belief.”
Janah, “Can’t help myself. I’m the spoiled one, did you see what I ate tonight? Besides, I like the way her hair feels.”
“Chris, are you taking notes?”
“You think I should brush Daphne’s hair?”
“I can take it.”
Susan, “How did this get turned around? I have long hair too.”
Chris, “I get it. Are you going to learn to cook?”
Chapter Forty I
If one is truly to succeed in leading a person to a specific place,
one must first and foremost take care to find him where he is and begin there.
This is the secret in the entire art of helping.
We are in our bedroom, resting for a while after my long workout. Janah had a yoga session while I practiced, then spent the last quarter hour walking around the condo on her hands.
Chris, “I don’t think I’ll ever grow accustomed to looking over the kitchen counter and seeing Janah’s feet in the air going around the dining table."
She liked to reach out and grab Janah’s ankle, then tickle her foot. Janah would giggle in her soft way and collapse to the floor. For punishment, she makes Chris do pushups. I appear and counted the repetitions until Chris couldn’t squeeze out any more. Then we massage her shoulders and arms until they quit throbbing.
You have muscle from the stuff you do now. You’re going to do weights too?
Maybe, not like C-mom. I like the flexibility of yoga and I like doing handstands and flips. It’s fun. I’m going to start very slowly for a couple of years and see how it goes. I want to retain my flexibility. I like Chris’ curves and strength too. I guess I’m trying to have it all.
You have the appetite for it, that’s for sure.
Janah, It’s really an excuse to eat your cooking, she pauses, then, You have a question, yes?
Yes, I was talking with Mrs. Bernstein and her daughters at the diner yesterday. I’ve known her from the neighborhood since she was pregnant with Bix. You were visiting with Mini and Chuck. She was in a frenzy about how to get Angeline to study harder and how to get Bix to practice the piano more. The girls were eye rolling so much I thought there was an earthquake. Angeline isn’t flunking, she’s just not an A student and doesn’t care to be one. Bix could care less about piano. Her mom plays, so it’s a thing with her. Bix wants to take taekwondo, not piano, how far off can a mom get? I told Mrs. B I’d take Bix to class with me, but she wanted to turn it into a deal, more piano for taekwondo. I let it slide, Bix was so frustrated. What is up with this lady? And why is it about what she wants?
Pushing children in a direction takes no account of where the child is. If a parent or teacher wants to understand the child, it can only be done by listening to and observing the child. Parents have their conclusions, beliefs, about what the child should be. It’s the major conversation I have with girls. Less at Chapmans, the girls there are different. But I have the conversation frequently with other kids we know, boys and girls. Their parents driving them to be on top. Our parents never tried to get us to become something. They let us develop into what we are.
Come on J, we have gifts, we’re not normal.
Dad could have tried to enhance my gift, or study it, or bring me to clinics and all that. And neither Sis nor C-mom ever pressed you to enter tournaments, win prizes, even to go to taekwondo at all.
I saw my first class and was hooked. Sis couldn’t have kept me away. Sis kept asking if I was ok, was I too young, how did I feel about it.
The parent thinks they know what the child should do, but they don’t. Not knowing is not a crime; not knowing is the beginning of understanding. Children aren’t blind, they see their parent’s fear about their job, their spouse, status and all the rest of it. They see parents confused in their own life, but mysteriously have all the answers for their children. How can a kid not be confused?
I see where parents are coming from, Janah, uncertainty makes them afraid.
Janah, It isn’t uncertainty that causes their fear. You can’t be afraid of the unknown. How? You don’t know it. They are afraid of losing the known, their possessions, their positions, their so-called respectability.
So what can people do? They still want to protect their children, it’s natural and right.
Janah, Of course, children must be protected. But from what? And how? To put them a cocoon, with gates and walls? To make them believe the parent has answers, that they know and children don’t is the beginning of authority and follower. When the parent isn’t around, the child seeks a new authority to supply answers. Perhaps another kid who is stronger, or has more social clout, or a teacher, or even sports heroes. The parent’s job, it seems to me, is to allow the child to question authority, even the parent’s authority. Then, perhaps they are less susceptible to other, more malicious, authority. Parents make it worse when they make uncertainty a problem instead of showing children the beauty of discovery. Parents put these walls around themselves and their children as if the wall is the solution. The wall is the problem. They are confined by certainty and never go beyond. Certainty is a self created prison. The search for certainty is delusion.