Welcome to the Attic!

Ten Percent

In high school, I was a part of a writer’s group. We called ourselves WD and met weekly in a local Starbucks to read and critique on another’s pieces. We had a stuffed catfish named Sheldon, hand sewn by one of our members, who presided over our meeting (and by cat fish, I mean some unholy creation that was half cat and half fish. More of a mer-feline, if you like.) There was a weekly theme that had to be adhered to, and a pretty strict limit on the length of stories (I think it was 1-2 pages and no more). With two poets and two short story-ists, the feedback was generally pretty good and covered the main bases. I, however, often found myself fighting against that page limit. I would shrink margins and sneakily decrease the font by a half point. I did everything to make it look shorter than it was. And, generally, they found me out and I promised not to do it again. Sadly, I also regularly lied to my friends about that very thing. As I reflect, though, that limit was probably very good for me. It forced me to write, get the words out, and identify the core components of the story. But part of me has always loved having the freedom to just fully flesh out all the pieces of a story.

Honesty time? The Stories We Tell—what I’m working on now—has worn me out. While I like the idea, and am still quite enamored with it, it was a larger undertaking than I imagined. It requires so much consistency and logic that it is exhausting. While it is a great character piece for me, it’s also been very challenging. And I love that about it. But, I need a break. While I could soldier through it and force myself to write it, it won’t do the concept or the previous portions justice to do so. I think one week off to focus on a short and simple piece will do me good, and revitalize me to finish that story. It’s probably only got about 25% left to go in that last part, but I just need some fresh eyes on it. So, I plan on having the final part up in about a week. But for now my mostly nonexistent readers, here is a shorter piece in memory of the great times with WD.

Theme: “Some people say humans only use 10% of their brains. Those people are idiots.”

“Some people say humans only use 10% of their brains. Those people are idiots. I mean, perhaps it is true that those proposing such a foolish thought do, in fact, only use 10% of their own mental capacities. That would certainly explain a few things. I myself take great care to use all of the brain I can. It feels so perversely wasteful to do otherwise, especially when so many in the world do not have the privilege of such ample brains as I.

“Take a look at this specimen here. It’s quite a lovely one, I think. Taken from a recently deceased family man who just walked in to the wrong place at the wrong time. Tragic. He was a blue-collar, nine-to-five kind of guy. Carried pictures of his kids in his wallet. According to reports, nothing more than a high school education, but it was more than enough for a happy and successful life. And, despite what some might say, every single piece of his brain is wonderfully valuable. Take this here.”

Hands turn the brain upside down, showing the jagged edge of the brain stem lying vacant. A scalpel deftly slices through the meninges. The probe digs down and lifts up a small strand of cross shaped fibers.

“The optical tract. It runs all the way through the brain, carrying all kinds of signals from rods, cones, and nerve endings.  Can you imagine the millions upon billions of sights this nerve has seen?! All of those moments flowing through this tiny little piece.”

“And, here.” The scalpel dives again, separating a small hunk of striated matter in the back. “The cerebellum. This lump of flesh lets us move and balance. It bestows grace, balance, and coordination. Without this, we’d be falling all over ourselves. It constantly adjusts our body position, our movements, fine tuning like a skilled craftsman honing a masterpiece.”

Now a long-bladed knife delicately cuts the lonely brain down the middle, dividing it into two equal halves. It gracefully slices again, shaving off a thick segment like a butcher slicing steaks.

“And what would we be without the corpus callosum, eh? We’d be half a person, unable to connect our rights and our lefts. We’d see the world as half as brilliant, completely unable to integrate complex cognitive information. You know they’ve severed this in folks? Suddenly the world exists as two defined halves, and never the twain shall speak again! How marvelous to see it all as one. Not to mention,” the scalpel hovers  over a small, pale, round structure, “the thalamus! The seat of all our sensory information. It takes our whole world in and divvies it to the correct location. The master multitasker of our brain, constantly assessing and routing information. A healthy dose of thalamus with some good corpus callosum, and the whole world is a web of interconnection. Nothing is beyond our ken!”

The long blade carves off another section, laying it lovingly on the table. It continues, slicing the shrinking brain like a tender pot roast. “That’s not even to mention the hypothalamus, hippocampus—see the seahorse there?—the amygdala! And so many other areas that we can only intimate the location of, so unique are our very brains.” The probe flew swiftly across the sections, pointing out large regions of mottled brain. “Wernicke and Broca, side by side and so crucial to relating to one another. A good bit of that duo and perhaps I’ll have one of those fabled silver tongues! Fronto-orbital regions, sensory strips, motor cortex. I think I’ve shown you more than enough to suggest far more than 10% of our marvelous brains are useful. I think I’ve made my case.”

The chef’s knife plunges into the mushy grey matter, dicing the brain into fine chunks. Wernicke and Broca mingle, while the right side visual regions muddy up their linguistic solidarity. The olfactory bulb bumps pieces of the vaunted optic tract as the cerebellum balances everything out once and for all.

“As I said, I always strive to use all of my brains. Tonight, I think I’ll try that Bolognese recipe I’ve been slobbering over. I’ve a lovely Chianti I’ve been saving just for this. Won’t you stay for dinner?”

Creative Commons License
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

2 responses

  1. Hmmm . . . and here I believed that people only used 3% of their brains. Well, with the exception of politicians who seem capable of only wallowing in grey matter(s).

    Greetings, Katherine C.! This was a fun piece to read (and probably fun for you to write, as well); a de-Lectorisque & hemispherical approach to your haute cuisine’s dissection. (Ouch. Sorry. My Wernicke is permanently attached to my posterior. Wait. What?) Out of curiosity – did you have to study the brain’s parts/functions for your schooling/occupation? What an interesting job you have!

    Until next time . . . or at least ‘Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great judgement seat’. . .

    October 13, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    • Katherine C

      Thanks again, Madinverse! I do have a neuropsychology concentration, so I had to learn a lot about brain structures and functions. Plus, I worked at a medical setting, so I got to attend brain dissections/cuttings. those were, obviously, one of the major inspirations for the story, along with the 10% myth. Gad you enjoyed it!

      October 14, 2014 at 1:32 pm

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