i don’t know if you regularly read espn’s bill simmons, but you’ve probably heard me talking loudly about how great he is from the other side of the room. now, i’m a fine arts grad student, which means i seize any opportunity to nuance and qualify even the meagerest idea into a corner, where i then furrow my brow in a professorial way and stare it down till it gives. no analogy can escape my thorough, tender-lipped scrutiny. as such.
1) i’ve heard a few different james joyce enthusiasts mention how he wrote tricks into his work—pointless little rabbit trails that the critics would eagerly wander down. and how awesome is that, that he could foresee the critical eye with so many layers of clarity that he could deliberately bury pointless leads under a complex, continuous narrative. it’s retarded trying even to imagine that; it’d be like sitting down at your desk, sketching out a few things, and concluding that as your velocity approaches the speed of light, time slows down.
2) or it’d be like being larry bird. in an article comparing the clutchness of big papi vs. larry bird, simmons says, “there was one stretch during the '86 season when he was actually bored by how good he was, so he started using his left hand more (during one game, he took only left-handed shots in the first half), then bird and walton started trying to see how many times they could run the back door play in one game, then he went through a stage when he was backing guys down on the low post just to see how many different ways he could create a basket. ... i mean, larry bird freaking experimented during games.”
3) or in one of my favorite episodes, ‘cos i actually remember it, simmons recounts “a wide-eyed xavier mcdaniel (i loved the x-man so much; he was my fave) telling the story about bird telling the x-man during the end of a celts-sonics game, 'i'm making the game-winner, and i'm shooting it from that spot right there,' then doing exactly that.” the natural conclusion from this information, then, is
4) larry legend was the james joyce of basketball.
i’m writing this thing on metaphor right now; almost inescapably my mind’s been running around trying to tie a string between every two things it sees. (“bird as metaphor” is actually a subheader in my outline.) and did you know that neuroscientists have found the neurons that are responsible for metaphor—they’re called mirror neurons, and they’re so interesting. you and i are having lunch; you take a sip of martini, and a pattern of mirror neurons fires with a given strength. then a minute later, i reach over and take a sip of your martini—and as you watch me do that, the same neurons fire in the same pattern, with the same strength. at that electro-level of the brain, doing a thing, observing a thing and imagining doing a thing are all the same thing. i love this so much.
mirror neurons operate in different parts of the brain, and in the cortex—where the really complex stuff like thinking about ideas happens—they don’t come online until the 4th or 5th year of life, which is when theory of mind starts to happen—when a child begins to understand that the contents of your mind can be different from his. the complexity of undertaking to know what someone else is thinking is what created the evolutionary pressure for these layers of mirror neurons and a cortex big enough to hold them. and isn’t that sort of staggering to think about, that metaphor (in a truly meta- sense, ie, metaphor as the function that allows us to find a second level of meaning of anything, or, as nicholas humphrey said, to reveal the solid forms in the world of shadows in which we live) is socially driven. that the task of me knowing you is so complex that it pressured the brain into developing a neural framework big enough to make art, and to engage in any higher thinking. like writing critical tricks into your novel. or like experimenting to see how many ways you can make a shot with your left hand while a million people watch.
it’s interesting too, how the impulse to experiment is such a pure one, and requires such a total confidence in yourself, and that it’s present so early in life. kids experiment constantly, and when the higher-cortex mirror neurons come online and theory of mind begins to happen, they begin another level of experimentation—known in the scientific community as “fucking with people.” your mirror neurons can not only imagine doing something but also imagine the effects it’ll draw out of another person, your teacher, your kid sister, or the dude guarding you. and our exquisite desire to fuck with people leads to a whole other corollary about the orders of mastery: you’re a master when you can successfully tweak and adjust your pitches during a game or change your song list when you see what the crowd is responding to during your set, and those tweaks and changes are forms of experimentation. but, you’re the master’s master—the guy behind the guy be-hind the guy—when your experimentations have cycled clear back around and regained a playground, fuck-with-him quality: i’m going to write in this faux-theme so the critics will spend a decade scratching their nuts in confusion; i’m going to tell him where i’ll take the shot from, and that i’ll make it, and then i’ll do just that. because i can.