Neuroscientists find (some of them somewhere, according to Jeffrey Martin) that there’s a little squeeze of pleasure drugs in the brain when we solve a problem. We’ve been rewarded with learning to walk, saying words, throwing or catching a ball since infancy. Positive brain chemicals like dopamines flow when a problem is solved. These are the drugs we love.
On those days when the sky is blue, there’s food in the belly and a roof over one’s head, there can be kind of a malaise, or an itchy type feelng: Something seems wrong, like a problem needs to be solved, even if you can't identify anything in particular. This brain-body apparatus we each have says Martin, makes problems, manufactures them, so it can be rewarded with those chemicals and feel good again.
I used to smoke. I recall the day I noticed a mental process going on at the time. I found myself conjuring some stressful scenario prior to reaching for a cigarette. Something about the cortisol (stress hormone) and cigarette combo was truly satisfying. It was a real soother to get some nicotine in the mix when I thought about that thing…How tweaked.
Whatever is going on can be seen in problem terms, or in a different light, the very same scenario can be labeled as: Not a problem. Nothing to be solved.
For example, I get to the check-out line and discover that I’ve forgotten my wallet. Is this a problem? Are there lions? A fire? Yes it is not smooth, but truly, this is the nature of the road itself, not a personal failing. It’s how things go on this planet called Earth, and on planet Me. Feeling irritated then, or slightly growly under the breath is also the course of human response, it is the nature of the thing. Also, it's just what's happening in a parade of stuff happening. More road texture. Not a problem, nothing to be solved.
These problems and the attendant stories that give them dimension, you could see as elaborate plots designed to hold the attention, like a great film, and we are captivated - captives in the story. A major illness, a terminal diagnosis is also included. Feelings, big bumps, real physical pain. A broken down car? Trump is president. It turns out that the wallet was stolen. Not fun, no one is claiming that. Or easy. But somehow, it’s the very ticket in.
Can I, can you, enjoy this cliffhanger of a show? You’ve been watching for years, as have I. Our shows are singular, but consistently witnessed and known. Have you ever noticed that?
Let go of the splintering branch, and see how that feels. No one is immune. You, are welcome.
Hannah Burr is a contemporary artist and author. Originally from Boston, she lives in Ann Arbor MI.