By Martha Reed
Okay, I know I occasionally go out on a limb and start to discuss a topic that might be a little bit, well, ‘out there’ but an idea started to germinate in my head over a dinner conversation and I can’t stop thinking about it. The original questions were perennial ones for writers: “Where do you get your ideas? and “How do you make stuff up?” and I think I’m on to something.
Bear with me on this one, it goes deep.
The conversation started with the idea that we should raise the national drinking age to 21 because young adults haven’t yet developed the frontal lobe part of their brains enough to recognize the difference between sensible and damaging behavior which has the tragically unfortunate result of binge drinking and death by alcohol poisoning.
A member of the party mentioned a study where teenagers were given CAT scans and then shown a photograph of a cheeseburger, French fries and a shake. Evidently the back half of the teenage brain lit up at the image and the brain registered: I WANT THAT. When a plugged in adult was shown the same picture only the frontal lobe lit up which was supposed to mean that adults know enough to want the bad things but the frontal lobe is there to remind us: WE SHOULDN’T HAVE THAT IT’S BAD FOR US.
Because the conversation mentioned brains and frontal lobes, I started thinking about the research I’ve been doing about serial killers and psychopaths who had experienced damage to their frontal lobes as children and the idea that the damage might have contributed to their development as remorseless killers. The SHOULDN’T DO THAT part never developed. Then I tried to imagine what it might feel like not to use my frontal lobe and that’s when I realized that when I go into my creative writing state it almost feels like I am using a different part of my brain. Here’s a for example: as I write this sentence I feel like I’m using the frontal lobe part of my brain from temple to temple but if I try to access my creative writing mode using my full imagination I feel like I have to set back a bit and use the part of my brain that’s located more centrally between my ears.
I warned you this was going to sound weird.
When I realized that I thought: well, maybe that’s what I do when I write? Have I trained myself as a writer to somehow switch off my frontal lobe to access all my life experiences stored in the back I WANT THAT part of my brain? If I’ve trained the intuitive part of my brain to work in harness, that would explain how I gather my ideas from my life experiences (and all my reading) and then pull it forward into the recognition pattern in my frontal lobe where it all begins to suddenly ‘make sense’. That would also explain why sometimes my characters surprise me the writer with their actions – I didn’t actually ‘think’ of it but at the same time the action makes ‘sense’ because it comes from the plausible background history already stored in my noggin.
Another argument to support this idea is when I’m deep in my writing and the phone rings and I have to answer it – I actually feel like I have to ‘switch gears’ to respond.
I’ve also had people ask me if I’m channeling when I write and I have to answer ‘no’ – mostly because Shirley Maclaine already cornered that market but I have to admit it does sometimes feel like my story already exists and all I’m doing is writing it down. This would be true if the parts of the story were already stored in my backlog of experience or memory and then my brain pieces the ideas together to the point I pull it forward and recognize it as ‘true’. I’ve heard this creative description before from musical composers and oddly enough, mathematicians. I wonder if we’re all doing the same thing: accessing the same trained brain mechanism from different creative perspectives?
LEFT BRAIN FUNCTIONS
words and language
present and past
math and science
knows object name
RIGHT BRAIN FUNCTIONS
"big picture" oriented
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can "get it" (i.e. meaning)
knows object function
Anyway, that’s enough of a brain drain for this hour of the morning. Now it’s time for a little fun. Have you tried the Dancer Brain Test yet? I swear, with a little practice, you can make her turn from clockwise to counter-clockwise and back again. Here’s the link, sorry, you'll have to paste it into your browser:
If you see her turning clockwise, then you use more of the right side of the brain and vice versa. Most of us would see the dancer turning counter-clockwise though you can try to focus and change the direction; see if you can do it!