Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hardly Conscious

As I was riding the bus home Monday evening, I was not paying any attention at all to where I was going. My least favorite bus driver was on shift, the driver that plays uncomfortable pop music as loudly as possible then sings at the top of his lungs, so I had my headphones in tightly, with my Regina Spektor turned way up. I was also on the last leg of a book I had been engrossed in, so I was sprinting towards the finish line. I was not paying attention... or so I thought.

Around the 15-minute mark, I knew the video shop was on our right, then that bicycle that's been tethered to that stop sign for years, then that eyelash extension place on the left... and I looked up and saw exactly what I expected. How did I know where we were? I had been looking down the entire time, sound blocked out, in my own little world, yet I knew exactly what was around me.

As I prepared to write this, I thought of driving home when I was a kid. I grew up in a small Texas town, about an hour and a half from the nearest big city, a sprawling metropolitan area where most of my relatives lived. Over the course of my childhood, we took a lot of weekend day-trips to the city to see family and would return late in the evening. My sister and I would usually fall asleep, but I would always start to wake up a few blocks from our house. Before I opened my eyes, I knew exactly where we were. This stop sign, that bump in the road, turn right, another bump, a stoplight... these kinetic cues told me where we were on the familiar route and I could sleep right up until we pulled into the driveway, when the slow, long turn into the driveway told me we were home.

Isn't it fascinating how our brains pay attention when we think we're not paying attention? Some mix of stops and gos, bumps and curves, and peripheral vision is being constantly monitored and interpreted. Once the route is familiar enough, you know where you are without thinking about it.

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