Becoming a Writer (Reading Notes)

This is the second time I’ve seen this title (*On* Becoming a writer) on a blog, and both times I thought (admit I hoped) it was Becoming a Writer, by Dorthea Brand.  That book is over 30 years old now (aka, there are really cheap used copies on Amazon), but as it was first published in 1934, I was astonished that it was the first book I remember reading (in my early days of imbibing writing books) that said things I didn’t remember getting from school.

Dorthea’s was the first place I read about morning pages, and the only place where a confident, experienced writer suggested, ‘Now, look back at what you’ve written in those pages. This is a clue to the type of writer you naturally are.’

It was my first touch of self-knowing, not as indulgence, but as a path to greater joy and effectiveness in your work.

Busy Mind, Busy Life (Reading Notes)

Image courtesy of Timo Balk via stock.xchng

Jay got home Friday after a month away.

I’m starting to feel re-stablized, and ready to pick up whole books again. But this has been an interesting month of idea collecting (along with overwhelm…).

Every now-and-then I think I might start an INFJ blog, but then I do a bit of Googling and see there’s scads out there, and they make me notice more of my ENTP side, so I refrain from publicly claiming a “type” anymore.

For the most part.

But, for all you intuitive types who find yourself stuck between the “real world” of details and the “more equal” world of your thoughts and discoveries I will give you a peek into some of what my month of (blogging) silence has been steeped in.

It always seems like a crazy-huge variety while I’m reading and collecting, but sitting down in the (relative) peace and quiet of a school-isn’t-started-yet morning, I find a few broad headings can umbrella the frequent settings of my thoughts.

Even so, rabbit-trail chasers: you’ve been warned.

Body Thoughts

Writing Thoughts

Thoughts on Story/telling

Thoughts on Being/Belief/Behavior

From Sarah Bessey: We use words like “true” and “real” in reference to womanhood or motherhood or marriage, and I think it’s wrong to do this.

We use these words like they are freeing or universal or helpful, but they are forging new chains for a new law.  There is no such thing as “real” woman or a “real” man. If you are a man, you are a real man. If you are a woman, you are a real woman.

In an Unspoken Voice is based on the idea that trauma is neither a disease nor a disorder, but rather an injury caused by fright, helplessness and loss that can be healed by engaging our innate capacity to self-regulate high states of arousal and intense emotions.

Such an encouraging, hope-offering thought.

Thoughts on Book-Reading

I’ve signed up for Net Galley‘s reading & reviewing program, so I’m excited to make Reading Notes a more consistent feature here at Untangling Tales. My favorite non-fiction titles are about mental and physical health, and how they intersect with every-day life. The fact that these books are being written, and that they’re available to me = lots of warm-fuzzies.

The Brain is an Amazing Thing (Reading Notes)

Leaving aside for the moment that I agree with the people who dismiss the left-brain/right-brain distinction of analysis/logic vs. creativity/innovation, the fact remains that brain scans do allow for observation of activity within the brain.

Image courtesy of Julia Freeman-Woolpert via stock.exchng

One of the things Shadow Syndromes brings up is how brain activity changes as a person moves from sadness or grief into an actual (say, clinical) depression.

In sadness, and in any normal emotion, PET scans reveal an active left-brain (I found this alone fascinating, as some proudly “right-brained” individuals straw-man “left-brainers” as dull intellectual robots).

Dr. Mark George (a psychiatrist and neuroscientist) has done PET scans on grieving and depressed individuals, and has an interesting theory about sadness becoming (morphing into) Depression.

As a person moves into depression the left-brain activity shifts from more-than-usual (in sadness) to less-than-usual.

“The overactive left brain of the sad person, he believes, eventually burns itself out, becoming the underactive left brain of the clinically depressed,” (p. 86)

This makes me think of the commonly designated role of the left-brain (thinking-workhorse) and Chesterton’s observation that it is the logician, not the poet, who goes mad, and King Solomon’s solemn warning that with increased knowledge comes increased sorrow.

It makes me think of the college worker’s observation that depression after the semester ends is attributed to mental fatigue.

But as I continued to read, and the book described the (measured) tendencies of the Right-brain, and I’m forming a new theory.

I wonder if the book will discuss this eventually.

The Right-brain, tied in public consciousness to creativity and innovation, is somewhat responsible for the negative part of our understanding.

A stroke that damages the right side of the brain, to the point of paralyzing the entire left side of the body, is taken surprisingly well, according to observation. The jaunty, we’ll get through this, and Its only temporary, override even medical advice. Continue reading »

Default Matters (Reading Notes)

I am in the early chapters of a book called Shadow Syndromes, and currently am fascinated by the concept the authors put forward that they label Noise.

In the same way, they say, as all sick people are going to have a baseline of feeling cruddy (tired, confused, unmotivated, general yuck) all brain issues also have a baseline of some general, indeterminate but distinctly distracting busy-ness that gets in the way of our brains doing exactly what we want them to do.

Just as literal noise (the neighbor’s music, nearby traffic, baby crying can be alternately ignorable and maddening, so can this brain-noise. It’s something extra to process, and so an additional draw on our physical/intellectual resources.

~

There’s this (thank God, happily married) researcher named Gottman who’s been studying relationships and marriage for decades. This book describes Gottman’s observation of the direct correlation between heart rate and the capacity to argue like adults.

Before Gottman puts his study-subjects “under glass,” and tells them to pick a subject of conflict, he hooks up monitors to measure a variety of physical markers– including “general somatic activity” (how active is the nervous system).

The correlation is consistent with what we’ve all experienced: the more active all these markers get, the less functional the communication becomes. Gottman calls it “diffuse physiological arousal,” and it’s a reasonable summary of what Shadow Syndrome‘s authors call noise.

“Gottman actually advises troubled couples to take their pulses in the midst of battle. In his experience, when a man’s pulse reaches eighty beats per minute, on average, and a woman’s pulse ninety, there is little point in going on.”

Why?

“To put it bluntly, once in a noisy state, people are simply not as smart as they are when calm.”

The heart rate is just the at-home check anybody can do: the fact is the entire body of a combative individual is getting worked up.

Intensifying the noise.

It is a collection of extra demands on the brain, diverting energy from the “higher processes” of reasoning, empathy, the reading of body language, and subtext.

What warring partners are left with is the dubiously termed, overlearned behaviors.

These are the patterns we have repeated so many times we have burned their processes into our neural pathways. They were learned and practiced in childhood, and so have had the most time to entrench themselves as the default position.

You don’t have to think about them and that is the point.

When you are too tired (or busy) to think, these are your go-to behaviors.

Which, really, explains a lot for me. In real-life and in writing.

I’m an over-thinker already, so when I’m mapping out a scene, I really have a hard time, in good conscience, making a character do something stupid.

I mean, I know people do stupid things all the time and in a story that’s often how you get interesting things to happen. Character-A does something stupid, and we get to spend a chapter (or half the book) getting him out of it.

Other than writing by the seat of my pants (and not seeing the trouble myself, so I’ll believe the character wouldn’t) the best advice I ever got about getting characters to act stupid was Have them make decisions in a hurry.

Another option, according to this research, is to have them act in anger, or some other intense emotion, or while there’s enough other stuff going on that the decision-maker is not functioning at full capacity.

The point is– well, two points.

a) We really do deteriorate as an argument stresses us. So if progress (or relationship improvement) is our goal, taking breaks really is the best policy.

This might even be why discussing the issue in front of someone you both respect (even if s/he offers no direct input) can have value: it might be easier to maintain self-control with an audience, and you could get farther before hitting critical mass.

Maybe this is even the point of talk-therapy: the counselee is “forced” to move linearly and may be less-likely to perseverate or deteriorate to “overlearned processes” like anxiety.

b) What you were like as a kid still affects who you are now.

The subset of this being: teach your kids processing/communication skills NOW. And take every opportunity to practice with them.