The teacher moved from table to table releasing ink into still glasses of water with an eyedropper. She’d taught the word “diffusion”—a big word—but it said little about the bloom of color stretching into blue smoke and disappearing as we watched. We were to guess what could cause such a thing, and some classmates did. I only wanted more ink.
Diffusion reveals greater implications as its literal meaning stretches into the figurative. Ideas are diffused into society, and prose can be diffuse when a lot of it says little. When light comes from everywhere and nowhere, it’s diffuse. Just about anything you would like to isolate and identify but can’t has diffused, is now invisible in its homogeneity.
My life is often diffuse too, spread through different roles over varied terrain, and, sometimes, daily color loses any locus. Routine isn’t vivid enough to be memorable, and time passes in a fog of activity:
I answer email and prepare for class, make my bag lunch, stuff my backpack with ungraded papers and fold up my computer, pull the graded papers from my bag and pass them out, unfold my computer and plug it in to make it visible on the smart board, pull my pen and glasses from my pocket to read and mark text in tomorrow’s assignment, laugh with colleagues over gossip so similar to last week’s, last month’s and some years’ gossip, eat my lunch at my desk, the parts disappearing before I remember to enjoy it, walk to class, wait for stillness, remind students of homework and arrange to meet one or two to go over questions or comments on their essays.
The essays follow as deep a pattern as leopards in the shadows of a rainforest. Only some are dramatic enough to be seen. The world leans toward entropy. It means not to be noticed. It means to escape recognition.
I can’t recall whether diffusion is active or passive. My teacher taught me something about the agitation of molecules, and I pictured them rubbing ink out, so maybe seven-handed multi-tasking explains it. Every second, cyber-demands reach with the promise of accomplishing more with just a bit more time and effort… until all activity, buffeted by vibrating time, blurs to static.
Alternately, maybe it’s perspective—a lazy mind losing the habit of differentiating. Pale hours are seconds and minutes that make less of an impression. Days are a colorful caravan of hours passing unbidden in twilight. Back in school my teacher came around with a sheet of paper, and, against a white field, the ink stretched like faint nebulae. They may still, if I’d see them.
The word “diffusion” itself fades with use—say any word enough and it will—but I feel it just the same, know what I can’t explain, sense its meaning as it happens again right now.