Left Brain, Right Brain
As I watched my father descend into an Alzheimer’s oblivion, I worried that my children would be facing the same challenging future with me. When I celebrated my 60th birthday, a year before my father died, I made a decision to stay mentally active. Doing puzzles, reading, memory exercises and taking walks were some of the recommended activities that I already did.
A friend who worked with dementia patients suggested that I use the other side of my brain.
“Which side is that?” I asked.
“The right side of the brain is the creative side. Your profession in the tech industry requires you to use the left side of your brain, the one for logic.”
“Do you mean like arts and crafts kinds of things?”
“Yes,” she said. “Anything creative. Even keeping a journal or writing stories.”
“If my kindergarten teacher had given out grades, I would have failed,” I said. “My first-grade teacher used my drawings as bad examples of what trees, houses, people, cars or any other objects looked like.”
“Then write. It isn’t hard. You don’t even have to show it to anyone else if you don’t want to.”
My friend wasn’t the first one to encourage me to write. Many professionals I knew who were in the mental health care industry had been encouraging me to write a memoir on how I managed to care for two special needs kids, a chronically ill partner and both my parents who lived on the opposite coast, all while I was working full-time. After my mother had died, I decided to take my friend’s advice.
I started the memoir. I wrote and wrote and wrote for hours. Then I read it. It was boring. Lots of facts that put even me to sleep. There was no emotion in my words, even when I wrote about what it was like to talk to the man who called me while I was trick or treating with my kids. I didn’t even describe the noise level that was so loud from the hundreds of partying people, having to ask the doctor several times to repeat himself before his words finally registered that my mother had died and I could only feel my heart pounding in my ears as I searched for my children who were somewhere in the crowd.
I read books on how to write and joined online writing groups that gave me great feedback on how much I needed to improve. I tried and produced decent stories with mediocre writing.
Retirement: The Beginning or End
A week after my 64th birthday, I was laid off (the formal dismissal was that my job was eliminated) and knew it was near impossible for anyone who was a year from retirement would be able to get a job. The typical employee in my field was a 26-year-old male. I had no other choice than to retire when my unemployment ran out.
After more than 45 years of having a regimen and structure in my life, I was lost, vegetating, not knowing what to do every day when I woke up. I felt my brain cells packing up and leaving due to lack of activity. Depression was setting in. I felt useless.
It was then that I remembered my friend’s description of the two hemispheres of the brain and realized that I had favored, almost exclusively, the left side of my brain for my entire life. The right side of my brain had probably atrophied to the size of a peach pit. I alerted my remaining brain cells that they needed to exercise, and put myself on a strict regimen of learning how to write to revive my creative side.
I took online courses, read books, joined more writing groups, had writing partners, wrote stories, shared them and learned from the critiques. I wrote more stories and edited them (sometimes I cheat and use Grammarly) and rewrote them again. During NaNoWriMo, I wrote shitty first drafts of novels.
Currently, I’m revising my memoir with the help of a coach, Brooke Warner, who says I have a fascinating story, but my scenes lack emotion and details of sight, sound, texture, and taste. There is still too much telling and not enough showing. All writers know this, but it doesn’t come easy for me. My plan is to re-read the chapter on scene in her book (along with Linda Joy Meyers) Breaking Ground on Your Memoir. I’ve also given my brain the following instructions:
Left brain: Stand down and desist for now until further notice.
Right Brain: Get off the couch and get to work.
Is my writing great? No, but it has improved. If you’ve read this far, it can’t be all that bad. I have a new routine with a purpose in my life and I’m enjoying my new career.
A Born Writer
The following are the points Sobia makes in her article followed by my comment in italics.
1. You haunt libraries. You have always haunted libraries and walked, rapt, around bookshops (sometimes secretly smelling the pages of a book you’ve freshly opened, when you think no one’s looking).
There’s a library at the corner of my street. I stop and peek into the windows to see all the books, but I rarely use it because my personal library is overflowing. That’s because there are two independent bookstores within four blocks of my house and I can’t pass them by without window shopping (and getting sucked in). The atmosphere is magical.
2. Your favorite people are often fictional characters. Their stories sometimes haunt you — and often you can’t sleep at night due to your feelings about those characters’ dilemmas. They might even be your ownfictional characters.
Who is a better-developed person than a fictional character, especially my own?
3. You have been writing from when you were this high (place hand somewhere by your hip) — of course.
I was never a writer until recently (I just published my first story, A Christmas Caroler: A New Twist to a Classic Story, a few months ago).
4. You would write even if there were no money, no fame, no glory — it’s a compulsion.
I’m writing because I must, even if there is no fame, glory or money (but it would be nice).
5. You had some fairly detailed imaginary worlds as a child. (Like the Bronte’s “Gondal” perhaps).
Shhh. Don’t tell anyone about my imaginary worlds.
6. You love words and are always searching for that perfect word. Sometimes you mentally edit other people’s stuff you are reading.
If I spend hours writing every day, I feel accomplished when I have found that perfect word or phrase. I often edit other people’s writing in my head.
7. Sometimes you sit down to write — and then look at the clock. Its past dinnertime — where did the time go?
If I haven’t finished writing, nothing else matters.
8. Your characters often come alive and start doing their own thing. When you next sit down to write, you are catching up with what they have been up to, rather than making them do things.
My characters find the weirdest times to talk to me, mostly as I’m falling asleep. Naturally, I must take notes and promise to solve their complaints in the morning.
9. You’re seriously into people watching — and figuring out why people say and do those crazy things.
I’ve always been a people watcher. I love to stand at a corner and listen to conversations or watch people in stores (some have asked me if I’m security) before taking out my small notebook and jotting down ideas for stories. Sitting at a restaurant counter is one of the best places to people watch.
10. You often feel you could express it better in writing than you could verbally. When you’re really emotional — you want to write it to the other person.
When things are too hard to say in person, I express my emotions on paper. Sometimes I share it. Other times when it’s too harsh, I include it in my fiction.
11. The most mundane experiences are grist for the mill. Even things that are inconvenient, like getting splattered with water as a car drives past — can get transformed into a writing experience.
Mundane experiences are the best source of writing prompts since they are based on what happens to people and how they react.
12. Oh, and did I say you haunt libraries and bookshops? You love books. As a child, you would read under the duvet after lights out — and not much has changed.
Don’t tell my parents about reading under the covers. They always got upset. I’m just thrilled I have a backlit reading device now.