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!

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