The Mystery of Human Perception

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Photo credit: Brianna Dutcher

This world is defined through human perception.

Walking down Michigan Avenue in Chicago, one could think that the constant bustle is

invigorating, that the people walking like they have somewhere important to be shows purpose, or that the buildings signify structure and progress. Some see the beauty in the grit. Or one could think that the constant bustle is overwhelming, that the people walk right past you as if you are nothing, or that the buildings were built on top of trees and on top of the dead bodies of construction workers that fell while building them.

This “big-city cynicism” surrounds me. In Dangling Man, the story of the strange hanging death of Chicago mystery writer Eugene Izzi by journalist Philip Caputo, Caputo wrote, “As one veteran newsman told me, in a comment that was pure Chicago in its fusion of Midwestern pragmatism and big-city cynicism: “If he was practicing (hanging himself), he should have done it on the first floor.””

I have a natural tendency to lean towards cynicism due to the way I was brought up or maybe it’s due to a lack of serotonin. Either way, being in the city often adds to that inclination. There is a choice to hear the sounds of the city, the distant clanking of machines, and the sirens as a sign that you’re not alone. Or, there is a choice to hear the sounds of distant clanking and to think about the construction worker’s lungs and how they are breathing in concrete dust. There is a choice to hear the sirens and to think they are on their way to save someone who is probably already dead. I am also very pragmatic, which is apparently a Midwestern staple, and this makes sense since I grew up in the West Suburbs of Chicago.

As an aspiring artist, I strongly related to a phrase in Caputo’s piece: “I have awakened at 2:00 a.m.—Napoleon’s test of the bravest soldier’s valor—with my heart shrouded in dread and the taste of ashes in my mouth and my insides filled with the awful suspicion that everything I’ve done in life has been pointless.” Not only do writers experience this dread, but all people who carry doubt in themselves and their abilities do as well. It’s especially difficult for an artist, being told that it is not practical to make a career out of spinning clay or writing short stories, only for them to get rejected by twenty publications. Some people feel safer going through years of school learning about the development of periodontitis, just to spend years scraping plague off of strangers’ teeth. But anyone can feel that fear at 2:00 a.m., wondering if they made the right choice, because how could they have if they are waking up in a cold sweat with doubt lining the inside of their mouthes?

As humans, we are left with perception. Whether or not we choose to see the world in a positive or negative light, or a mix of them both, it makes us who we are. Let’s just hope we don’t go as far as Eugene Izzi did, for the sake of our fans. (Riley McFarlane/CoS Student)

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