Saturday, April 13, 2013

Soft, sparkly brain love, or why I like to watch boring videos

It all started with Bob Ross.  You know, the host of The Joy of Painting with the Afro and the beatific smile.  As far back as I can remember, my dad would watch him on PBS and I would sit, transfixed, zoning out to his mellow voice and the scraping of the palette knife against canvas, and feel the tingles up and down my scalp and the back of my neck.  Later, in college, I had a lovely boyfriend who, whenever I had a migraine, would run his fingers very gently over my eyes and around my face.  This not only helped ease the headache, but helped me relax to a point close to sleep.  I had a philosophy professor who was about 150 years old, and liked to hook his knees around my desk and rock back and forth while he lectured.  He generally had something in his rather cavernous nostrils, and I had a front seat...but I didn't care, because his lecturing voice gave me that same tingly feeling.  I would occasionally mention these sensations, but nobody seemed to share them, so I just decided to enjoy them on my own.  Then last year I was searching Bob Ross videos on Google and came up with a whole slew of videos under the label "ASMR."

Because, apparently I'm not the only one who appreciates the loveliness that is Bob - or soft, gentle voices, for that matter.   ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and it is a rather new name for the pleasurable tingling sensations in the scalp and head some experience in response to certain stimuli, for example, whispering, soft speaking, scratching, gum chewing, etc.  There is a whole "community" of people who experience ASMR, talk about it, and post or watch the videos.  Some call the sensations brain orgasms or "braingasms," but I feel the name is misleading as the feelings are not at all sexual in nature.  Rather, they are relaxing, sometimes to the point of trance. 

I felt inspired to write about this here a few weeks ago when I heard a woman talking about it on NPR, which obviously makes it a real and important thing.  She talked about how certain voices (including Bob Ross!) would turn her head into a snowglobe.  I was rather excited to hear someone rational, a novelist, no less, talking about how much she enjoys some of my favorite "whisperers" on YouTube, including TheWaterWhispers and GentleWhispering.  It made it more real, I suppose, not something I'm imagining.  I'm also partial to SleepyEnglishGuy and TheOneLilium.  Some people enjoy the sounds of inanimate objects like marbles or paper ripping, some like whispering or gum chewing.  I like the soft-speaking, role-playing videos of people doing simple activities like brushing hair, scalp massage, or taking care of a friend.  I admit, I still also check out Joy of Painting DVD's from the library.  You never forget your first tingle, I suppose. 

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