Thursday, March 31, 2011

my creative brain ?

Needless to say, when you are recovering from a trauma it messes with your mind. In my honors class, Creative Imagination: Theory and Process, we study some of the research about the brain and how it's used while you're making art, solving a problem or coming up with innovative ideas. Our main text for the past few times I've taught it is Nancy Andreasen's The Creative Brain, which is a readable, manageable little paperback that digests some of the theories of creativity over the centuries, and presents the author's own research in neuroscience. We also look at a number of "case studies" of creative achievers in the arts, sciences, and business--from Michelangelo and Leonardo to Maurice Sendak and Maya Angelou.

I'm so grateful to be teaching this class right now--as usual, I feel that it's benefitting the teacher at least as much as the students. It's been two years since it was offered, and this semester I've been discovering some new publications on the subject. Not only do they give some important information (including new research in the social sciences), but I am finding them helpful to me on a personal level, as I struggle to try to write (always a struggle, but now more than usual).

One of the topics we focus on is what I used to term "Creativity and Mental Illness." Andreasen has a chapter called "Genius and Insanity," and the link between the artistic ability or exceptional intellect and psychiatric disorders has been oft-debated. After reading the introduction to Ruth Richards's Everyday Creativity and New Views of Human Nature, I was very encouraged: Richard and colleagues have found in their research that the exercise of creativity (including writing, art-making, and other activities) can actually alleviate some of the symptoms of disorders like bipolar and depression.

Meanwhile, I was in the middle of Heather Sellers' amazing new memoir, You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know, which is about Heather's recovery of and from a difficult childhood, and the discovery that she has a rare neurological condition called prosopagnosia ("face-blindness"). Heather has been one of my favorite writers for a long time, and her books Page After Page and Chapter After Chapter are lifelines for me when I need to pull myself out of the waters of procrastination and writers' block. In the memoir, Heather describes reading about schizophrenia (which she suspects her mother has been suffering from), and discovers that some of the uses of language that are "symptoms" of the disease sound a lot like things she tries to get her creative writing students to do! It's a fine line....

I was also thrilled to see that interviews with creative people who have been on Studio 360 (one of my favorite radio shows)  have been compiled in Spark: How Creativity Works. When my copy arrived from Amazon I stayed up much later than I should have because I couldn't stop reading it!

By far the most exciting of the new "creativity handbooks," though is Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life. The author, Shelley Carson, has taken all of the research I've seen here and there and framed it in a usable, practicable, even "fun" way. I'm determined to read it cover to cover ASAP and put it into practice in my life!

Friday, March 18, 2011

everyday creativity: a way of healing

I've been doing some research for the honors course I am teaching this semester, Creative Imagination: Theory and Process. Our main text is The Creative Brain by Nancy Andreasen, and we have a number of handouts and a lot of books on reserve.

When I first started looking into this subject while I was working on the course proposal, I discovered that much of the research of creativity has come from the social sciences--mainly, psychology and education. (This was also at a time when "creativity" was a highly charged buzzword in the business world--every CEO apparently wanted to know how to make employees more "creative.")

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

"the process"

This illustration depicts pretty accurately what I've been going through. Frankly, I'm getting tired of it. I want to feel better, or at least not as terrible as I do much of the time.

I'm tired of it interrupting my concentration. I'm tired of having an addled brain, faulty memory, glitches in thought, little irritations blowing up randomly into something that feels bigger, vast, huge, threatening to swallow me and everyone who comes within striking range.

I'm tired of feeling inadequate as a mother, of struggling to figure out how the hell to help my children deal with this. And alone, all alone as a parent.

Truth: No One will ever love these kids the way Bob did.
Truth: I am only one person.

So what? I do what I have to do. I was not prepared to be the parent of a child with a disability. One day I wasn't, and then the next, I was. And just had to deal as best I could. In the same way, I have to learn to deal with this, too. Play the dealt hand. Sigh.

A few weeks ago,I got into a routine, long abandoned, of reading and writing a little before bed. I like to use these Mead composition books with leathery-looking cardboard covers, different deep colors. Currently, my notebook is sort of an oxblood or maroon. Anyway, one night I was writing, writing about a tough situation I was going through, and then all of a sudden it wasn't about that situation anymore. It was about Bob. I went to my gmail and did a search through old emails from Bob.
Two of the messages in particular jumped out at me. The first was from March 09, when I asked for some reassurance in the wake of some emotional turmoil or other:

if you can learn to really love yourself well, that is without harsh judgements, without expectations, without shoulds, and without conditions, then you won't need validation from a 'partner' and therefore you will be in a better place to let go of prospects that aren't quite right or what you want ....  

It was uncanny how directly this spoke to exactly what I was feeling at that moment. It was, in fact, exactly what I needed to hear.

The other one was from a little over a year ago:

I do care about you and love you - that will never change until I die.

Truth: Bob would tell me, "It'll pass." He'd remind me, "your thoughts are not reality."  He certainly wouldn't want me to feel like a failure.

"You're beautiful," he'd say. "Brilliant." "You're a badass." (many of his friends and loved ones heard that.) "A great mom." That was nice, and I could almost believe it when he said it (which he did, regularly, even after we had separated).  

Now, I have to say it--and so many other things--to myself. And, more importantly, to believe them. Which was exactly what Bob wanted all along.