March 23, 2015

Art and the Autonomic Nervous System

I treated myself to a textbook on the autonomic nervous system. I have started reading this concomitantly with James Joyce’s Ulysses. I returned to making small ceramic sculptures. I started writing prose poetry again after a hiatus of four years.

Sometimes all of the above converge in different ways. I collect interesting words like others might collect pottery, cars or motorcycles. I found a kindred spirit here in the neologisms of James Joyce but my favorite recent find came from my text on the autonomic nervous system. Signaling molecules that regulate the developmental processes of the autonomic nervous system include a curiously named one - sonic hedgehog. I have now appropriated this word for my art. My animal shaped small whistles and ocarinas will henceforth be known as sonic hedgehogs. Now that I have found a new way to name them, I’m making more of them. This time, not all of them will be aerophones - after all sonic refers to sound so any sound will do. The larger ones will be idiophones that make rattling and clacking noises.

I originally obtained the autonomic nervous system text book in order to understand my own dysautonomia better, and, hopefully to work with my health care providers to find a treatment plan. A better understanding came from reading page one. How was it, I wondered, that I could have peripheral neuropathy problems as well as autonomic ones? The answer was that they are part of the same system. So what seemed like it was plain unfairness actually made sense. The autonomic nervous system, I went on to read, has three major divisions, the sympathetic, para-sympathetic, and enteric. But soon my thinking on the text book became like James Joyce’s Ulysses. In Ulysses, Joyce follows the ruminations of his characters in the course of a day. This thinking runs along odd lines mixing phrases of Latin with a concatenation of verbal puns. After reading about the divisions of the autonomic nervous system I started mentally superimposing James Joyce on the text. The nervous system is divided into three parts, the nerve of this system to split into three. The utter gall. Like Gaul in the time of the Romans. Totus Gallia in tres partes divisa est.

Finally, I decided to take what I had learned from the autonomic nervous system text and write a new prose poem about it. The poem is called Autonomia.


Fight, flight, fright
sonic hedgehogs
whiskers resonating in sympathetic harmonies
Like notes on a chord
note to chord
sensing, quivering, feeling
dancing to the rhythms of Circadia


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