So, apparently a lot of people don’t have an inner life. I’ve always thought I have a good imagination but this is one thing I simply can’t imagine. It’s like trying to grasp that space is infinite. I know that it is, but the imagination just can’t quite deal with it. Thus my imagination can’t quite cope with the notion that some people do not have an inner life.
Take a particular conversation I had with someone recently. And this is a highly intelligent person, by the way. He was talking about how the National Trust have started to mention on displays if a property was owned by a slave owning family, and he was saying that it’s a good thing and I was like “yeah, it is, but they’ve been putting this stuff on labels for years, like if a family made its money from the tobacco industry or the cloth trade, or they were part of the East India Company, so you already know when you’re walking around their posh house, don’t you?, and you’re admiring stuff but at the same time thinking about how the money was made, and it’s all part of the same story” And he was like, “well, I agree, but I don’t think they put that stuff in the info, and they don’t make the link between the trade and what that meant for people”. And that’s when I realised, no they probably don’t, but my brain had always filled in those gaps and made those links without me even realising that I hadn’t just read it on an info board.
I like a good NT property, a nice Stately Home with gardens and landscaped park, and I’ve been visiting them for many years. When I go round the house my brain is usually saying something like this:
“So it was built in 1871, oh that’s interesting because at the same time the Paris Commune was happening in France, which seems incongruous somehow, all that noise and revolution there, and the quiet here…. Oh look, that’s a pretty tapestry, look at their beautiful hands holding up that fruit there, what elegant fingers, I wonder if this was a stylistic thing at that time because presumably not everyone had such lovely hands, I mean people are the same aren’t they, it’s just the depictions that change over time…the information board says that they made their money from coal mining, just think that all this beautiful stuff was built off the backs of children working down mines… the air feels quite fresh in here, but I can’t see an open window, I wonder where it’s coming from… I can imagine these rooms empty of people and me running round them barefoot [cue visuals of me in a music video or film running round the empty house with bare feet]… Hm, OK, I don’t like the ceiling very much, very oppressive, very Victorian, how did they manage to imbue their interior decor with that aura? … onto the next room.” All of this will probably take about 2 minutes, maybe as many as 5 if something really grabs me.
This isn’t just how my brain behaves in stately homes, this is how my brain behaves ALL THE TIME. Until recently I thought this was normal. Now whenever I tell this to someone they look at me like I’m mad. So I asked my highly intelligent friend what he would be thinking of in the same situation. He paused and then said “I would probably notice a painting, and be a bit interested and then read the label, then I would take in the general view for a few moments and move on”.
Wow. Just wow. I don’t even know how to do that. But, my god, life would be far less exhausting and confusing if I did.