In Which I Don’t Understand America

Me (writing in baby book): Hey, where did you go to kindergarten?

Ed: Sabin Elementary School.

Me: …

Ed: What?

Me: You went to kindergarten at elementary school?

Ed: Yeah…why?

Me: Why didn’t you go to kindergarten at…oh, I dunno…a kindergarten?

Ed: …That’s where you go to kindergarten. At school.

Me: The kindergarten is attached to the elementary school?

Ed: It’s part of the school. Haven’t you ever heard the term “K through 12,” or “K through 6”? Kindergarten through 12th grade, 6th grade?

Me: Yeah, but I didn’t know that meant the kindergarten is part of the school.

Ed: …

Me: Don’t look at me like I’m crazy. What about pre-k?

Ed: That’s before kindergarten.

Me: …

Ed: That’s why it’s “pre-.”

Me: Oh for tuna.

Ed: Well, you asked.

Me: Okay, so what about pre-school?

Ed: That’s before kindergarten, too.

Me: But it doesn’t make any sense! Shouldn’t the sequence be: pre-k, kindergarten, pre-school, 1st grade? Since 1st grade is the first time they’re actually in school?

Ed: Look, I can’t help it. There’s 1st grade, but kindergarten is considered the first grade.

Me: I don’t understand this country at all.

I Was a Weird Kid, and Here’s Proof

Or: My Parallel of Trout Fishing in America.

 

Or: Snail Hunting in Germany

Once upon a time, my parents and I moved to Darmstadt, Germany, two weeks before my 3rd birthday, and that’s where I grew up.

From ages 3-6, I attended Kindergarten. (In my early 1980s Germany, “kindergarden” was basically the American equivalent of daycare. We played, we did crafts, we had field trips, and at least one of us acquired a foreign language from her fellows and from her teacher, Frau Apfelrock [Mrs. Appleskirt {I swear I am not making this up.}].)

At age 6, I started Grundschule, German elementary school.

Grandpa: She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time.

The Grandson: What?

Grandpa: The eel doesn’t get her. I’m explaining to you because you look nervous.

While in elementary school, I attended an afterschool “daycare” called Kinderhort. Kinderhort was within walking distance from school, and it was designed for kids whose parents worked fulltime. This way, we didn’t have to go home to empty apartments and get ourselves into trouble. ; ) At Kinderhort, they fed us lunch, we had extensive playtime indoors and out, and we had to sit down every afternoon and do our homework. After late afternoon snacktime, parents arrived to pick us up.

The Plot Thickens

One day, probably in 3rd grade, it was time for our first overnight Kinderhort trip. If I recall correctly, it wasn’t just overnight, it was several overnights. I remember feeling vaguely apprehensive over being away from my parents for most of a week, but I don’t remember saying anything about this out loud.

My parents, however, perceptive people that they are, must have known which jig was up, because they sent this note along in my suitcase:

Yes.

You read it correctly.

To bribe me into participating fully in a fun-filled field trip, my parents promised that we would go snail hunting once I got home.

Because that was what I liked to do.

Snail Hunter Extraordinaire

Even as a kid, I hated spiders. Bugs held no fascination for me. I did enjoy the roly-polies (amusingly known as Kellerasseln in German) we occasionally found beneath rocks and rotten branches, but it’s not like I wanted to take them home with me.

Snails were a different matter.

Forget the “sugar and spice and everything nice.” I had the spice, all right, but other than that, I was “snips, snails, and puppy dogs’ tails all the way.”

I HEARTED SNAILS ALMOST BEYOND COMPREHENSION.

I found them, and I brought them home. Pink shells, yellow shells, striped shells, big, little, medium. I made homes for them in terrariums (terraria?): potting soil in the bottom, sticks and stones to crawl over, shallow containers for water, and all the lettuce and cucumbers they wanted. Once a day, I misted them with water from a spray bottle. The top of each terrarium I covered with mesh held in place by rubber bands.

Do please click to embiggen cuteness.

I read books about snails. Like, the educational kind of books. I learned about how they eat, how they sleep, how they mate, how they repair damage to their shells. When some of my snails inevitably got frisky with each other, I watched the whole process and felt amazed. When the snails laid eggs, I researched carefully how best to care for them. When the eggs hatched, I suddenly had tiny escapees all over my bedroom and had to find a tighter mesh with which to cover the terrariums/a.

Me with my pets, ca. 1985. Click to embiggen.

When my friends came over, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t just want to sit there and watch the snails.

Hmm.

Most of my snails hailed from the large courtyard between our apartment building and the surrounding buildings. They were fairly common garden snails, common enough that the parents frequently had to make me set some of them free. And, of course, there was the occasional death in the snail family, which generated space for the occasional new addition. (Yes, I mourned the death of each gastropod.)

The one snail that lived with us consistently for several years, though, was The Big One.

In German, she’s called a Weinbergschnecke: literally, a wine mountain snail. Extrapolating from the “Berg” (mountain) part of her nomenclature, I named her “Bergie.” Why did I decide that this snail was female? No clue. Except that she looked like a girl. And like a Bergie. (Snails are actually hermaphrodites.)

Bergie was a helix pomatia, also known as “escargot snail.” That’s right, she was one of the edible ones, and I kept her as a pet. I always felt right courageous for having rescued her from a terrible culinary fate. Besides, she had a damaged spot on the top of her shell when I found her. Though she’d already repaired it, I knew she needed a little extra TLC.

At some point — I don’t remember why — it came time for me to set all of my snails loose, and I knew I wouldn’t be acquiring more. When I placed them carefully into the damp underbrush in the big courtyard, they slimed happily away without a clue that they now found themselves in a bigger, more dangerous, and yet more variegated world. I said goodbye to them all: pink, yellow, striped, big, little, medium.

But the only one I truly regretted was Bergie. She poked her head out, unrolled her eye stalks, and looked around as though she knew exactly what was going on. I was sad, but I thought she might be excited about this new adventure. I watched her for a few minutes as she got acclimated. Once she was well on her slow, meticulous way into the grand expanse of Untamed Flowerbeds Plot Next To Stone Wall, I went home.

Some time later — it might’ve been a few months, it might’ve been a year — we moved away. A few days before we left for good, I went hunting in the courtyard one last time. Sure enough: There, under the well-drenched leaves of a stinging nettle, sat a Weinbergschnecke with a telltale scar on the top of its shell. Bergie! Weird kid that I was, I grinned like an idiot.

But I didn’t bother her. If she had forgotten me, I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by making her remember.

Bergie

(Click for what’s pretty much life size!)

TEDTalks and Learning Through Doodling

“In the 17th century, a doodle was a simpleton or a fool.”

~ Sunni Brown
of The Doodle Revolution

Sunni Brown and The Doodle Revolution

I have no idea where I ran across this video; I only know it was a long time ago, because it’s been sitting in an unfinished draft on my WordPress dashboard for ages. So it’s about time I did something with it and shared it with y’all.

In a TEDTalk, speaker, author, and creative director Sunni Brown had the following cramazingness to say about doodling:

The main definition I’ve always heard of “doodle” is even less flattering than the one Ms. Brown considers most offensive.

The definition I’ve heard is: “doodle” = “piece of poop.”

Especially after you’ve watched / listened to Ms. Brown’s Talk, don’t you think this is majorly unfortunate?!?

Permission to Poop ENGAGE EVERY BRAINY LEARNING MODE

Dearest inklings, if you’ve been paying attention (and I know you have been, because that’s just the sort of studious darlings you are), you know that I grew up in Germany and attended German schools until I was 19 years old. At some point this month, I shall be blogging about said schooling in more depth; here are posts where I’ve at least mentioned it before.

For now, suffice it to say that I can best describe my 7th – 13th grade (yes, 13th grade) education as rigorous, strict, exhausting, intensive, demanding, terrifying, thorough, and comprehensive. It was seven years of high stress…and though it resulted in my breezing right through university and graduating summa cum laude, it didn’t exactly foster an artistic mindset.

(OH HOW I LOVED MY ART CLASSES.)

(That said, it’s worth noting that I am grateful for my German education, rigorous and heart-wrenching as it was, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything easier.)

I didn’t get to doodle. There wasn’t time. My attention had to be riveted on the day’s lessons to the exclusion of all else. Teachers expected us students to take copious notes; and indeed, if you didn’t write down every word, you missed something that was bound to be on the test later. Take a few seconds to doodle in the margins or on an extra sheet of paper? Risk that, and you risk a “letter grade.” (The German school system uses numbers: from 1st – 10th grade, 1 = highest score and 6 = lowest score; from 11th – 13th grade, 15 = highest score, 0 = lowest score.)

So. I didn’t get to doodle. I am convinced that this is a major part of why I struggled in many of my classes: I wasn’t allowed to engage every learning mode of my brain.

I doodled at home. I doodled in church. I doodled everywhere and anywhere I could. When I was 14, I convinced my parents to let me draw on my bedroom walls. I COVERED THEM IN DOODLES. Somewhere, there are photographs of this; alas, I have them not in my possession.

In school, I constantly resisted the urge to add my vandalistic artwork to that already besmirching the surfaces of our classroom tables.
(Okay, sometimes I didn’t resist at all.)

When I could doodle, I did. But I didn’t get to do it regularly until college, when academics finally slowed down. The margins of my class notes drowned in doodles. I acquired a ginormous sketchbook that I hauled with me all over the place.

Finally, my pen had permission to do something other than jot down someone else’s words. And suddenly, I was retaining all sorts of information in ways I’d never been able to do in high school.

Huh. Imagine that.

The Adult Doodlebug

What I learned to do in college, I’ve continued on in adulthood. Everything’s a canvas, especially when I’m sitting and listening to something that I know is important. I illustrate whatever notes I’m taking. My pen wanders over to blank notebook pages and before I know it, there’s an entire scene of weird somethings sketched out on the paper, and I have no clue how any of them got there.

But they make things stick in my brain.

When I don’t doodle, the stuff I listen to fades to hazy in my memory.
When I doodle, what I listen to acquires crystalline clarity…and it affects how I see the world.

For me, doodling is essential to positive paradigm-shifting. Doodling changes how I view the universe.

It’s that important.

To wrap things up, here are some of my doodles. Please click to embiggen and enjoy! : )

3 Lessons from Jury Duty

Or: A-fluency Is No Excuse

So, in case you haven’t seen it yet on Facebook or Twitter, I have the dubious honor of immersing myself in a jury pool this week.

Honor, because the judge who talked to us yesterday morning reminded us of a lot of horrid yet truly magnificent things that happened in history to bring us to the point of having a voice in judicial proceedings. Her Honor made excellent arguments.

Dubious, however, because accepting this (required) honor means that today, I get to visit juvenile court for the first time ever and observe a lot of sad, frustrating, depressing stuff that I can’t do a whole lot to change.

: (

But Back to the Positive What-Nots

Also, in case you don’t already know this about me: I grew up in Germany and traversed the German school system from Kindergarten all the way through Gymnasium (which has nothing to do with sports). Thus, I’ve had little to nil exposure to the ins and outs of the American judicial system.

Several things I learned yesterday came as quite a surprise to me. Or, if they weren’t surprising, they were at least contrary to my expectations. Let me show you them!

3 Lessons from Jury Duty

1. The court selects its jury pool from Department of Motor Vehicle records — not from voter registration or homeowner records, as I thought it did.

2. In a room full of 200 strangers, it’s rather inappropriate to voice your opinion that “all Middle-Easterners are inbred, and we should just let them all kill each other.” (The voicer of said opinion was a 60-something white man who, I gathered from his conversation, hasn’t spent a whole lot of time observing any Easterners, Middle or otherwise.)

3. Even if you don’t speak English, they will not send you home. Instead, you get to sit there with the rest of us until someone figures out whether or not you’re really a U.S. citizen.

Jury Duty Is Story Fodder

Might I use the information from #1 in a future story? Maybe. I have no particular plans to write a courtroom novel…but could I use my newfound knowledge to add a hint of detail for the judicial system of a high fantasy epic. Yes, yes I could. (The benevolent ruling class draws its tribunal members from the Department of Wooden Chariots. Or somesuch.)

The…um…”gentleman” of the questionable ethics strong opinions shall one day find himself a character in a story. I don’t believe I can do him the honor of turning him into a villain — but he qualifies quite well as an unlikable side character.

And how would it feel to walk into a government building and face a crowd of 200 people who can all communicate (what seems) perfectly with each other — and all you can say are their words for affirmative and negative? What would it be to climb the stairs to that room, knowing that this impossible situation is waiting for you? Would you take a deep breath and hold it before you step into the room? Would your hands shake as you approach the bench? Would your voice shake as you grope for the words to explain your situation to the clerk? As you turn from the bench, would your face feel hot as you meet 200 pairs of curious eyes?

I’m gripey about having jury duty right when I’m trying to pack up my household to move…but really, I can’t complain. I’m getting the chance at a new set of experiences, which is always always beneficial for a writer. And, in spite of my introvert preferences, I do relish the interaction with representatives from so many different segments of society. They’re fun to watch, fascinating to listen to, and, in several cases, fun to talk with.

I memorize their faces, their voices, their mannerisms — and I’ll remember them when I write and write and write.

_________________________
Have you served in a jury pool or on a jury? What’s your favorite tidbit to share?

And what about people-watching in general — where’s your favorite place to do that? What are some of your more memorable observations?

Have any of those real people turned into story people? Do tell!

5 What-To-Dos When Your Novel Is Too Long

1st draft of high fantasy novel. 200,000 words = NO

 We novelists slam headfirst into this particular wall all the time: Finish first draft, sit back with sigh of contentment. Languidly reach for mouse or mousepad, click “wordcount” in the dropdown menu of whatever word processor suits our fancy.

Sit back once more. This time with the horrid sensation of paralyzing shock.

As far as we’re concerned, the story is finished. It is complete as is. Major alterations would destroy the beautiful statue we’ve worked so long to carve out of that rough-edged block of marble called Idea.

But the wordcount generator tells us the awful truth: Our manuscript is 10,000…30,000…50,000 (…100,000? *ahem*) words too long. In today’s economy and with the ever tightening belts in the publishing industry, there no way anybody’s gonna publish this behemoth until we trim the fat.

“But,” we wail, “the story is what it is! How are we supposed to trim anything when there’s nothing to trim?”

Nobody said it would be easy. Writing the story wasn’t easy; trimming it won’t be, either. But here are a few suggestions that will at least get the process started.

5 Ways To Trim Your Novel’s Wordcount

1. Change your thinking
Here are the sad, unavoidable facts of reality, my dears: First drafts are drafts. They are not the be-all, end-all of noveling. Finishing a first draft is a great accomplishment, for certain — but the work doesn’t stop there.

That lovely statue I mentioned before? It’s got rough edges that you’ve overlooked (on purpose). It’s got odd lumps in peculiar places. Its face isn’t nearly as well-defined as it could be. When you type “The End,” the story might feel finished, and it might feel perfect. I hate to break it to you, but it is neither.

When we writers finish a first draft, our story needs us to work on it some more. The sooner we wrap our minds around this fact, the sooner we can start getting that wordcount down to something manageable.

2. Get beta readers.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You gotta get you beta readers. We writers are chronically unable to view our work objectively — especially when it comes to trimming it down! Forest-For-the-Trees Syndrome strikes again.

You can’t see the forest of Necessary Trimming, because you’ve got your writerly nose shoved up against the bark of the nearest tree. And that, sadly, is where the writerly nose generally stays from start to finish. We need somebody outside to look at our story and identify excess branches and superfluous shrubbery.

Writing can be lonely work, but we can’t do it alone. That’s a paradox I’ll save for another post…but maybe you get the picture anyway.

3. Edit for simplicity.
I grew up in Germany and went to German schools. Do you know anything about the German language? Without turning this into a grammar lesson, I’ll tell you this: One of the peculiarities of German is that the verb often comes at the end of the sentence. The result of this can be (and often is) long, convoluted sentences nested within more long, convoluted sentences. By the time you get to the action verb, you’ve forgotten who was doing the action and why — so you have to go back and re-read the whole paragraph.

And that’s the main language I was taught to write it. Did I develop some tenacious sentence-nesting habits? You bet yer patootie I did.

I had to break that habit. I had to simplify. I had to break up long sentences into two or three sentences. I had to replace flowery phrasing with straightforward description. I had to choose simple action verbs over the ones that sounded high-falutin’.

Simplify. I promise, your story will thank you — and your readers will too.

4. Get rid of adverbs.
Okay, brief grammar lesson this time. And yes, I am keeping this very simple, and my explanation here is not complete. But I don’t want to put people to sleep, so the purists are gonna have to deal with the incompleteness of my instruction.

Adjectives describe nouns. Blue, hot, solid, wet, and shiny are adjectives.

Adverbs describe verbs. In point #2, I used the phrase “view objectively.” Here, “objectively” describes the how of “view.” Other examples of adverbs are: lustily, happily, worriedly, and sideways.

“I got a new bike for my birthday!” she said happily.

Okay, so she said it “happily.” What does that look like on her? Don’t tell me she said it happily; instead, tell me that her eyes are wide, her smile is huge, and her teeth glisten in the sunlight like tiny bottlecaps.

Yes! Make it a hideous description, if that’s what it takes. I’ll read anything, just get rid of that clunky, boring, milquetoast adverb!

“But wait,” you say. “Wouldn’t adding description actually increase my wordcount?”

Well, yeah. Probably. But adverbs weaken your sentences, and overusing them will make your novel unreadable. I’m picking on adverbs because they’re a bad habit and because this is my list and I can.

5. When all else fails, re-write.
This one’s kind of self-explanatory. If you’ve trimmed and trimmed and trimmed, and the novel is still too long, it might be time for a complete re-write.

Yeah, I know. I hate even thinking those words, much less typing them and putting them where people can see. But sometimes, it’s the only choice we have. Maybe the story took off in the wrong direction in Chapter 2. Maybe there’s a side character who needs to be cut. Maybe there’s a side character who’s supposed to be the main character. Maybe the climax should’ve happened five chapters before it did.

Whatever it is, a re-write might fix it — and fix it well enough that your wordcount “magically” decreases (ahhhh, adverbs) by whatever percentage you require.
_____________________

So, there are my five ideas for trimming the fat!

What do you do when your novel’s too long?

Care to challenge me on the adverb thing? Let’s talk!

Confessing My Creative Sins, Pt. 3 Recovery, Pt. 1

Smee: I’ve just had an apostrophe.

Hook: I think you mean an epiphany.

Smee: Lightning has just struck my brain.

Sometimes, my darlingest readers, lightning-esque is exactly how apostrophes happen. They’re pretty cramazing when they happen, but I must admit they do leave one somewhat stupefied with shock.

In Pt. 1 of my Confessions, I told of how I let the world determine the course of my life.

In Pt. 2, I told why I let the world determine the course of my life.

In Pt. 2.5, I delved deep and revealed the fear at the foundation of the whys.

As I thought ahead to today’s post, my mind supplied the working title “Pt. 3,” and I fully expected to write the drama, the tears, and the heartache that would go along with it.

But then, my lovelies, I had an apostrophe epiphany. And that’s what I’m going to tell you about today.

In the Beginning

Birthday in Germany With Kitchen Gift, age 3

In the beginning, I was two weeks shy of my 3rd birthday, and my parents and I moved from McKinney, Texas (where I was born), to Darmstadt, Germany.

At this point in the story, my listeners usually ask, “Was your dad military?”

Well, once-upon-a-time, he was. But that was back in the ’60s. We moved to Germany in 1980 — so, no, we weren’t a military family by this point.

“Oh, then your parents were missionaries?”

No. Not that, either. And here’s where I usually reveal the reason for our trans-Atlantic emigration…but this time, I want to wait a bit before I tell you. Bear with me.

Point of No Postponed Return

Originally, my parents intended to stay in Germany for 5 years. Sometime in Year 3, the three of us spent an afternoon at the “Woog,” a lake down the street from our apartment. As my parents watched me play, Daddy turned to Mama and asked, “If we left now, moved back to the States, what would you miss the most?”

Mama thought for a moment, then said, “The Autobahn.”

Read: German highway system with speed limits only in small, designated areas.

That little exchange took place in 1983. The subject of leaving Germany didn’t come up again until it was time for my parents to retire in 2007.

Growing Up “Multi-Kulti”

No, “multi-kulti” has nothing to do with cults. It’s a short form of the German word for “multi-cultural,” which is how I lived and breathed from age 3 until…well, until now, because multi-cultural is a permanent facet of who I am. But that is another story and shall be told another time.

The point is, I grew up in Germany. My parents enrolled me in German Kindergarten 6 months after we arrived. I learned German from my teacher, Frau Apfelrock (Mrs. Appleskirt [yes, really]), and from the other kids. When it came time to start 1st grade, I went to a German elementary school. My German high school career began with a change to a “Gymnasium” (ask me about that sometime) at the start of 7th grade, and it ended with my “Abitur” (ask later) during the last semester of 13th grade.

At age 19, I moved to Oklahoma to go to university. Then I got married. Graduated. Moved back to Germany to work fulltime with a small church. Had grand adventures. Learned. Had terrible heartaches. Grew. Moved back to Oklahoma at age 31. And so forth.

For now, consider that brief summary of my life as a backdrop. Playing itself out in the foreground, we have what I’ve blogged about over the last few weeks:

  • developing unhealthy beliefs about God and about my self
  • fearing that God and others would reject me for my art (painting and writing)
  • giving up my creativity in order to gain approval, to which I was (am?) addicted
  • consciously acknowledging my fears and determining to overcome them.

All of this against the backdrop of a multi-cultural, bi-lingual, trans-Atlantic, resource-filled life and lifestyle.

*sigh*

APOSTROPHE!!!

Bill Weger in My Fair Lady

And now that I’ve painted for you this picture of my life, I’ll tell you the punchline. The epiphany that knocked me flat as I wrote my Confessions and thought ahead to what was going to be “Part 3.”

Are you ready?

Here goes:

The reason my parents moved our entire life to Germany in 1980 was so that my dad could pursue his dream of becoming a fulltime opera singer.

Did you catch that?

Let me say it again:

My parents sacrificed an entire way of life, everything they had always known, in order to move to the other side of the world and pursue a creative dream.

Chills pass through my body from head to toe as I write that sentence.

*facepalm* *headdesk*

Um.

Am I an idiot?

Really having a hard time not calling myself stupid right now.

Bill Weger in Aida

People, are you hearing what I’m saying?! I grew up with parents who gave up EVERYTHING* for the sake of CREATIVITY!!! They might have been afraid of the unknown. They might have been afraid of the chaos of moving and setting up a new life in an alien culture — or, rather, in a culture in which they were the aliens. Sure, they were scared of that. I’ve heard them talk about it.

But they did it anyway.

And here’s what they were not afraid of. They were not afraid of others’ rejection. They chose the creative dream over the security of others’ approval.

I have lived with their example right in front of me my entire life.

And even though I have seen it and known it and acknowledged it, the magnitude of it did not hit me until last week.

Forest for The Trees

Of all humans, I’ve gotta be one of the blindest.

On the other hand, maybe this is synchronicity at work once more.

I’ve had my apostrophe at age 34. My parents — two incredibly cramazing people!!! — packed up their lives and struck out for creative adventure when they were 37 and 34.

It worked for them.

It’s gonna work for me, too. I just have to recover from my stupefied shock first.

Mama, Daddy — thanks for being who you are. You are truly two of the most incredible human beings I know.

_________________________________
*EVERYTHING except Daddy’s 1972 Porsche 914; that, they shipped to Germany. ; )

Bill Weger in Wiener Blut (Viennese Spirit)

Left Brain, Right Brain, Or Ambidextrous Brain?

When I’m talking about writing or about creativity in general, I can’t go for very long without mentioning Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

Creative Sees Shot, Analytical Lines Up Snails

At some point, yes, I will do a series of posts on my experiences with that book and how it is still changing how I see the world, almost three years after I worked through it. In the meantime, you’ll have to make do with snippets.

Here’s another one:

In her book, Cameron says some fascinating, invigorating things about a concept called “synchronicity”:

We call it anything but what it is — the hand of God, or good, activated by our own hand when we act in behalf of our truest dreams, when we commit to our own soul. …[T]hose dark and romantic notions…call to our deepest selves. When we answer that call, when we commit to it, we set in motion the principle that C. G. Jung dubbed synchronicity, loosely defined as a fortuitous intermeshing of events.

…Don’t be surprised if you try to discount it. It can be a very threatening concept…the possibility of an intelligent and responsive universe, acting and reacting in our interests.

Cameron also writes,

Answered prayers are scary. They imply responsibility. You asked for it. Now that you’ve got it, what are you going to do?

These thoughts, my darlings, could be the basis for an entire year of blog posts! And yet, I’m going to focus in on a few relatively small details. (And yet, monstrous waves do begin as tiniest ripples in the sea…) Maybe the comments section would be a great place — for now! — for discussion on the subject of God-or-no-God, a responsive universe, and answered prayers as the (subconsciously unwanted?) results of “ask, and you’ll get.” In the meantime, I’m going to talk about synchronicity relating to the concept of left-brained and right-brained.

Left Brain and Right Brain

My whole life, left brain vs. right brain has been a topic of conversation in my family. And it really has been Left Brain vs. Right Brain: My left-brained mother has lamented for years the disorganization and heads-in-the-cloudness of her right-brained husband and right-brained daughter.

A junior high and high school English teacher, Mama had a place for everything, and she wanted everything in its place. Daddy walked in at night from his fulltime job as an opera singer and left a trail of clothing through the livingroom. Mama had compartments in her purse for every doohickey and whatnot a woman might possibly need while out and about. I was chronically without tissues, nail files, chapstick, and pens. The inside of Mama’s secretary was a shining beacon of organizational light. I crammed things into my wardrobe, slammed the doors shut, and wedged furniture (and sometimes my own body) in front of them to prevent explosive decompression.

“Oh, you right-brained people!” was a common, exasperated exclamation in our household. Mama’s cause was likely utterly lost when the right-brained daughter went out into the world and found herself a right-brained husband.

But left- and right-brained issues pursued me even outside the home. In high school (which, in the German school I attended, meant grades 7 – 13), I excelled at languages (English, German, and French), the visual arts, and any lessons in Social Studies or Religion that dealt with human emotion and its expression. Biology and chemistry were fair-weather friends. Math and physics were my nemeses.

Things got a little better in college, where I could specialize and focus on my arts. One semester, however, I took both Creative Writing and Media Writing. Creative Writing was a right-brained heaven. The left-brainedness of Media Writing made me feel like I had dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality disorder). In Technical Writing, I almost floundered.

I did witness a fascinating exchange once, though: A professor asked a fellow student, “Andy, are you right-brained or left-brained?” Not missing a beat, Andy replied, “I’m ambidextrous-brained.” Laughter ensued, and among some of my friends, the concept of ambidextrous-brainedness turned into a running joke that went on for years.

Lately, however, I’ve started thinking that it was no joke. And this is where the synchronicity kicks in.

Left to Right and Back

I excelled in languages and arts but felt tortured in math and physics. However, at the end of my high school career, we all had to take a comprehensive final exam (two years’ worth of class material) in four subjects. Mine were English, Art, Religion…and Chemistry — because by that point in my high school career, my Chem and Biology grades were above average. Why?

Growing up, I fought my mother about keeping my room, my purse, my life organized. However, I’ve always alphabetized my books, and even as a kid and a teenager, I could plan out advance details of an event like nobody’s business. What was this right-brained Creative doing organizing anything?

My right-brained father, who spent 27 years as a fulltime, professional opera singer, doesn’t drop his clothes all over the house anymore. And, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become far more observant of the nuances of my parents’ personalities (funny, how that works), and I’ve realized that there are a great many things that Daddy likes to have just so. Books. (Hmmm…) His knife collection. His haircuts. Certain philosophies. How does this right-brained man end up dealing with some areas of life from such a black-and-white perspective?

My left-brained mother is staying busy in her retirement. She has taken a few events-to-plan under her organizational wings. As I’ve mentioned before, she’s my primary beta reader, and her left-brain skills are invaluable for keeping me on track in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and plot structure… But she is also taking a painting class. Over the last few months, she has completed four paintings and is starting on her fifth. This isn’t abstract stuff, either. This is landscapes, scenery, and organic still-life. And every painting is better and more creative than the last. My left-brained mother — an artist?

Ambidextrous Brain

Synchronicity kicked in again last week during a conversation with my friend Brian. Brian is an architect, a job one might “assign” to an entirely left-brained person. But Brian surprised me by revealing that when he’s in the conceptual phase of a new building, he has to be “in” his right brain. And this state of mind isn’t just confined to his brain, either: When he’s working on the rough draft of a new building, his desk must be in a state of mess and chaos, otherwise he can’t work!

Things change, he said, when he moves on to the next drawing phase, getting the building out of the rough draft stage and solidifying the concept both in his mind and on paper. At this point, he says, he moves into the logical, more critically-thinking realm of accurate measurements, crisp lines, and clean structure. His surroundings change in accordance with his thinking: Now, the desk must be organized, or the distraction of the mess prevents him from thinking straight about his project.

As if these recent examples weren’t enough to get me thinking, I got another dose of inspiring and synchronous? synchronicitous? food-for-thought when Becca blogged about relating to her left-brained kid and her right-brained kid. (Go read that and come back here! It’s so very worth it!) Finally, after mulling over her article, I sat up and went, “Hmmmm…..”

I think somebody is trying to tell me something.

I Need Chaos! I Need Order! GAH!

It’s funny and frustrating how one can adopt a philosophy whole-heartedly…but then it takes years and oodles of effort and buckets of sweat and tears for that philosophy to permeate the soul and then crystallize in one’s life. I first read Thoreau in college, and that’s when I first realized (on a conscious level) that I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live with intention. Like Thoreau, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” But now, more than a decade later, I feel I’m only beginning to understand what that philosophy really means!

For me, part of this deep, deliberate living has been to get to know myself as a Creative and, more specifically, as a writer. It’s kind of like marriage: the longer you live together, the more you find out about each other, even though you thought you knew each other pretty well when you said, “I do.” The longer I live with my creative self, the more I’m finding out about myself. Some of it’s scary, some of it’s annoying, and some of it makes me ask, “Why did I ever get into this with you?!”

Some of what I’m learning has to do with my writerly habits. I’ve found out that:

…I write best in the early afternoon and late, late at night. (There’s something marvelous and darkly romantic about being the only one awake in my world at night. There’s an intimacy with my characters that I don’t get at any other time.)

…I can write happily and productively in the same spot for weeks, and then I suddenly have to switch writing spots, or I get bored with my story! (This might mean moving my laptop from the couch to the table. It might also mean I can’t write in the apartment at all anymore and must seek out an eclectic coffee shop.)

…for over a year, I couldn’t write at my desk because there were two many tax documents on the shelf above it. (The documents are gone now, but I haven’t recovered enough to go back to the desk yet.)

There’s more, but maybe you get the idea.

Now, to top it all off, I’ve got this synchronicity about left- and right-brained going on, and I’m realizing the following:

1. I’m not as right-brained as I thought I was. Obviously, I have access to my left brain; otherwise, the alphabetizing, the chemistry grades, the event-planning, and the general orderliness of my present-day home would not have happened. I am a right-brained Creative, yes — but that does not have to limit me. I can use my logical, analytical side to make myself a better writer…and a more balanced human.

2. I think I’m ambidextrous-brained, and I think both of my parents are, too. Daddy and I lean to the right; Mama leans to the left. But all three of us can access both sides at need. Maybe this is genetic…but maybe every human has this ability. I tend to think the latter, because I know we’re all capable of logical thought to some degree or another…and I believe quite strongly that we’re all creative in some way. A lot of us just don’t know it or know how to explore it.

3. I need to pay closer attention to the hows of my Writing Life. I need to be more deliberate about it — which will enable me to live deep in my creativity and suck the marrow out of it. Which side of my brain do I access during which parts of the writing process?

Left side for prewriting? Outlines, character description, plot arcs, planning chapters scene-by-scene… That definitely sounds like logical, analytical thinking!

Right side for writing the rough draft? Letting the story flow, listening to characters’ voices, deviating from the outline when the adventure calls for off-the-beaten-path… Writing the first draft requires me to follow my heart and let my characters get into trouble that no logical person would countenance.

Do I go back to the left side for the editing process? Return to the right side for flourishes and poetry in the final draft? And, as I consider Brian and the way he has to change his surroundings, I wonder if I unconsciously change mine, too. When I’m in the mess of a rough draft, do I feel more inspired amidst chaos? Do random ideas pop into my head more frequently when there are books and papers and sparklies scattered across my workspace? But do I go into one of my famous cleaning frenzies as soon as I start editing?

Time and conscious observation will tell.

What about you? Do you consider yourself wholly left- or right-brained?

Or are you ambi-brained-ous? Which way do you lean, and what are your activities when you’re accessing the other side?

Oooh, how about this one, for the bloggers: When you blog, which side are you in? Does blogging require access to a different side of the brain than other forms of writing?

(And don’t forget, you can discuss the God, prayers, responsive universe, synchronicity stuff in the comments, too.) 🙂