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  • Sofia Greaves

Cheese-grater year


Some people know that I see the year as a cheese grater. It’s not clear why this happened, but it has a very specific shape. January sits at the top, and sliding down the diagonal face to October at the bottom, you are pulled round to December face down, then back up to January again. I imagine this portion of the year as a kind of ski lift.


I went to a prep school run by nuns and it is unlikely that the cheese grater was the product of two misplaced flash cards. The ‘ascent’ to January is not one of redemption. It is actually one of the worst parts of the year, which does not even correspond to my actual feelings about December. The metaphor is terrible in many ways.


  • May for example, is the designated high point, not January.

  • It is anachronistic. I strongly picture our family cheese grater, which is not twenty-six years old.

  • A slide might be better, because the best and fastest bit is roughly in the middle

  • A year is not a slide to me.

I read an article about the way our brains organise information, from events, memories, to abstract ideas like ‘love’, or ‘time’. The author explained that the mental world is constructed in the way that we interpret the physical world, therefore it takes spatial metaphors ‘for reasoning and for memory in general’. The brain’s natural scheme for organizing this mental world is a grid plan, upon which knowledge and concepts are arranged – and arranging material on this ‘entorhinal map’ enables an individual to make sense of new information, which is recorded in three-dimensions. You build upon what is already there. Therefore, we construct cities in our minds all the time.

"The brain’s way of encoding positional information may extend to the way it organizes volumes of other information to be navigated, including varieties of sounds and abstract concepts like social hierarchies." [1, 2]


The year sits somewhere in my mind-city and I suppose is a major defining principle, given it represents time. This has really affected how I see months within the year, because assigning a metaphor to something, I have come to learn, establishes a pattern of understanding. Similarly, vomit worthy phrases like ‘Love is a journey’, put together two kinds of information to create a sense of a concept; indeed, research has shown that you might actually feel ‘rough’ when thinking of ‘a rough day’. Metaphors are both useful and problematic therefore. [3]

Sliding down the cheese grater in this case is pretty sadistic and indicative of some deep-seated intersection between Catholic guilt and a back-to-school feeling, the repetition of events, inter-house sports, the trials of the school year, exams, which ended around May.


But an effect of the Coronavirus is that the cheese grater no longer exists; it has disrupted mental infrastructures for thinking about time and therefore broken a pattern of thinking about the year, - which is now more like a tree, perhaps.


Acer, Cinzia Greaves

[1]Cepelewicz, J. “Goals and Rewards Redraw the Brain’s Map of the World,” Quantamagazine, March 28 2019. https://www.quantamagazine.org/goals-and-rewards-redraw-the-brains-map-of-the-world-20190328; Cepelewicz, J. “The Brain Maps out Ideas and Memories like Spaces,” Quantamagazine, January 14, 2019. https://www.quantamagazine.org/the-brain-maps-out-ideas-and-memories-like-spaces-20190114/ [2] Cepelewicz, J. “Goals and Rewards Redraw the Brain’s Map of the World,” Quantamagazine, March 28 2019. https://www.quantamagazine.org/goals-and-rewards-redraw-the-brains-map-of-the-world-20190328. See also Cepelewicz, J. “The Brain Maps out Ideas and Memories like Spaces,” Quantamagazine, January 14, 2019. https://www.quantamagazine.org/the-brain-maps-out-ideas-and-memories-like-spaces-20190114/ [3] Lecture 6.9 Space and Abstract Thought, Duke University. https://www.coursera.org/lecture/human-brain/lecture-6-9-s-space-and-abstract-thought-SwMxL [3]‘Why your brain is not a computer’, The Guardian, 27 February 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/feb/27/why-your-brain-is-not-a-computer-neuroscience-neural-networks-consciousness https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/trees-brain-roots-mind

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