Tuesday, April 15, 2014

confabulations on the deviant verbalizations

In another life, long ago and before wrinkles, I used to perform psychological evaluations with children.  One type of assessment I was trained to give was projective tests, which essentially are tests in which ambiguous pictures, pictures that are blurry or vague or incomplete, are shown to the child, and the child is asked to describe what they see.

The idea behind these tests is that we all tend to try to make meaning of our world, try to apply order to what is laid out before us.  When we encounter something nebulous or vague or unclear, we try to make sense of it, figure it out, make it fit into what we know, project meaning onto it.  By having the child describe what they see, the examiner is given a window into how the child views their world and how they make meaning.

As a parent, I find this idea fascinating as I listen to our children play, pretend, and tell stories. And also in terms of some of the things I find myself doing and saying as I parent. Administering all those projective tests, I learned to listen to what other people say, to realize there are so many ways to understand the same thing.  I better appreciate that how people interpret or make meaning of the world -- when you listen to them very carefully -- can tell you so much about the internal workings of their mind.  It's fascinating stuff.

There was one such projective test, a rather famous test -- but a test that shall remain nameless here for fear that the psychological community may swoop down on me digitally for mentioning it in a rather, as you shall see, unscientific manner -- that was based on a series of images.  One of these images in particular always looked to me a bit like a small winged creature.  A small winged creature with ears.  Yup.  I said it.  Ears.  Or maybe horns.  And I think, maybe, hands.

Having admitted that I saw ears, or maybe horns, or maybe hands, I want to make it clear that -- if I were to apply the standard interpretations of projective testing responses -- my response might indicate that I had difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy, that I was prone to disorganized thinking, hallucinations, and other forms of deviant thinking.  Because things with wings don't, in general, have hands and horns.

But, now that I have children, and am therefore thankfully familiar with the The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black and have so enjoyed the illustrations, I see that it is okay that I may have a mind that tends toward incongruous combinations and contaminations of logic.



To Tony DiTerlizzi, I say confabulations, defined in the psychology world as the confusion of imagination with actual memories.  In the Urban Dictionary, it is defined as congratulating someone on their fabulousness.  The more I use it, the more I think I may be developing a strong allegiance to the Urban Dictionary's definitions.

The minds of these two imaginers, these writers and illustrators for children.  Are they really delusional? It's poppycock, I tell you.

* * *

Returning to said aforementioned, unnamed test, there is a statistically-based coding system for the responses that children can give, and as the examiner, one scores and codes the child's response to each of the images.  The examiner selects codes from categories that are good, categories that are interesting, and categories that are, well, bad.  Like as in signs of mental illness.  Which is bad, right?

So let's just say, if we take this carefully categorized thinking about a child's deviant verbalizations (another projective code), incongruous combinations, and confabulated images and ways of making meaning and then overlay that on top of the events of raising children, there would be some interesting codes given to my days.

Take for example the phrase: hoobie doobie.  Classic deviant verbalization.  I tend to use it when I am in a hurry to bibwhack my husband and get a thought out before he falls asleep or a child enters the room and announces he/she is hungry.  Or that he/she has spilled something red and stainey on the couch.  Sometimes there is no time to think of the actual word(s): shoe or Elliott or I forgot to buy milk at the grocery store.  So I use hoobie doobie and I feel, at this point in our marriage, if Jonathan is listening carefully enough, he should be able to figure it out.

That being said, I was happy to discover that Mo Willems, king of quirky humor and phrases that are just right for young readers (aggle flaggle klabble, case in point), is with me on this.  An important character in Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct, is named Reginald Von Hoobie Doobie.  And he is a naysayer, a non-believer in the fantastical, and a realist.  But a name that could represent all that doubt would be too wordy for Mo to use.  So he settled on Von Hoobie Doobie, which seems just right.

And also, Mo knows the importance of bringing others over to the dark side of non-reality based thinking, of verbal deviants.  How do I know?  Because, in the end, Reginald jumps into the dinosaur's avoidance of reality and embraces her total impossibility 100% and without further questions.  He even enjoys her cookies.

But it isn't just Mo.  Let's not forget the famous deviant verbalizations of Roald Dahl: snozzcumbers, snozzling, boggled, and swalloping are all very useful words that should be incorporated into daily usage.

Likewise, William Joyce stands accused of confuzzling reality and fantasy as well.


But really, Joyce's explanations for where all of our missing Smartwool socks have gone makes so much more sense, as well as a much better story, than any we could imagine ourselves.  So does the idea that the Easter Bunny is sort of macho and from the Outback.  Right?


This idea of taking a small piece of information, or an image that is unclear, or looking at life with all of its vagaries, and being able to run with it?  Make it a better story, make it a more fantastical story, make it play out using the weird associations and connections in your brain?  That's pretty cool.  And, if that makes you a bit off?  Well then sign me up.

Case in point.  The other night, with all of us a bit overtired and ready for the coming vacation, we found ourselves mixing up the words to Let it Go, from Frozen, the movie.  We had been talking about the health classes the kids were having as school, with their focus on...puberty.  Soon, we were all singing about puberty, to the tune of Let it Go.  I don't know how or even why it started.  But it was kind of hilarious and silly and took some of the discomfort away from what we had been talking about.  These verbalizations were definitely deviant...but we were all in on it.  They saved us.  They helped us.  They gave us perspective.  Or perhaps this is just a confabulated memory.

So thank goodness for children's books.  And the Urban Dictionary.  Because really, it is all about who you surround yourself with.  Whether you have a playground full of children engaged in pretend play, or are among some of the most imaginative and genius writers of children's books, or are just sitting around our dining table.  You can always make yourself look completely sane as long as someone else is in on it with you.

And to me, it's pretty redunculous that somehow we think we are supposed to move away from these confabulations as we grow up.  Confabulations allow us to make meaning where none exists.  As far as I'm concerned, calling it anything but creativity is all just a load of hoobie doobie.

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