This is a story about how knowledge exists in our brain as interconnected patterns of neural connection(s) formed via associative learning. More importantly, how emotion alters the neuro-chemical environment in which relations among features of one’s experience are encoded, rendering the mental representations of those associations stronger than they would have been otherwise (see per esempio Burbank 2007; D’Andrade and Strauss 1992; Strauss and Quinn 1994; Strauss and Quinn 1997).
Back in 2006 I was working as an applied anthropologist for the Northern Land Council in the Northern Territory. This one particular day I was driving the ~ 10 hour drive from Darwin to Borroloola where I was to visit a couple of small Homeland communities.
Brrroom driving south along the Stuart Hwy and the radio in the troop-carrier started to drop-out. I checked the glove-box for cassette-tapes, nothing, not even Slim Dusty. Daly Waters was the last resource-and-commodity-rich stop for the next six or so hours so I pulled up, filled the petrol tank, checked the reserve and bought the only cassette-tape left in the store – Norah Jones ‘Come away with Me’.
The rest of the story is taken from my notebook at the time:
‘I drove until a sharp ridge rose and drove alongside it toward the sea sitting on 110 kmph listening to Nora Jones. I was thinking about Bing and Poppa (my paternal grandparents) and a letter I’d written them about the farm and how different but beautiful this big-sky country is here in the N.T. I drove on feeling sentimental, travelling through such beautiful country. And then out of nowhere a little grey wallaby jumps out onto the road in front of me. I didn’t even have time to slow down – the little thing jumped straight out in front of me. Straight into and under the roo-bar at 110 km/per hour.
I held my breath and slowly eased my foot onto the break to pull over. I saw the little thing in the rear-view mirror – it was half back up and leapt, kind of jumped back and then to the side, then back, to the side. Its head was half lowered, tilted to the side. I pulled right off to the left of the unsealed single lane road (well out of the way of any road-train that might tumble through and clip me). I wasn’t, of course, carrying a gun. I unhitched the big red kangaroo-jack from the back of the troop-carrier and went after the poor little thing.
I half tried to run but could only brisk walk -the jack heavy and hot from the sun. I chased after the poor little thing and it stumbled and staggering trying to leap along the road. The jack was too heavy. I got close enough to swing it at the poor thing’s head, but it was useless – I clipped its back and it stumbled but then it leapt back and jumped in a kind of half-circle forward and further away from me. The jack was too heavy. The poor thing made off into the scrub leaping in wounded half-circles off balance with it’s head tilted low and to the side. Shiiit! I felt so bad. I felt terrible. The poor little thing was in agony somewhere in the shade of the scrub dying.
I burst into tears, dropped the stupid jack and sat on the side of the road in the red dirt crying. I felt terrible – its head was (I had seen), partially smashed open on one side. I lugged the jack back to car. I should have just used my pocket knife. I had my pocket knife on my belt. I hadn’t even thought to use it and I thought then, as I lugged the car-jack back to the car in the middle of nowhere, that I hadn’t thought to use it because I was scared because I would have had to stab it in the throat.
An hour or so further East and I was driving with the ridge on my right, rising and falling keeping me company. It was a National Park, I recalled, but I couldn’t remember which. I tried not to think of the wallaby. I drove on and at some point I noticed the road surface start to shimmer as if moving. It was thousands of grasshoppers (locusts maybe?) like a black mini-tempest. A moment or two later and my windscreen was covered, splattered with mustard guts and black bits. I had little to no visibility. I had to pull over.
I pulled off and over to the left well out of the way road-trains that might want to clip me and I turned on the windscreen wipers and spray. Swipe, swipe, swipe. Gross. I pulled back onto the road and drove on with streaks of stupid mustard guts all over everywhere. Stupid fuck shitfuck. I turned off Norah Jones.
And that is why I can’t listen to Norah Jones.