Know Your Brain

Eckhart

I have been working on some illustrations for Leah’s book – simple brush and ink line drawings. I struggled with the proportions here and there, and ruined a few when they were more than halfway done. There’s no erasing ink. Then something really cool happened. I put on an audio book while I was cleaning up for the day. A mesmerizing story read by an Australian actor, it pulled me right in, whisking me Down Under while I put my room in order. After about five minutes, I looked at the last illustration, absentmindedly picking up the brush and painting while listening to the story. The strokes looked just right, in fact, more pleasing than the other ones I had made earlier. I compared them side by side. This last one was less fussy and achieved the emotive quality I really wanted.

I had to leave or I would have continued painting. Stuck in traffic, I reflected on what had happened in my studio. Before the book on tape, I had been listening to classical music. Even that can get a little distracting, so sometimes I prefer to work in silence. I have had a hard time getting much done in art classes, where whispered conversations distracted me. Some teachers played music, ranging widely from ragtime to Joni Mitchell. My mind tended to focus on these instead of my canvas, like a compulsive eavesdropper. My attention deficit is a challenge I have to compensate for in thoughtful ways.

Now I had learned something new: when the language part of my brain was following a story, it was too busy to bother me with annoying thoughts about the past or future. My creative brain was free to explore its contents without words – a condition under which it seemed to function really well, uninhibited.

I returned the next day to my room in the basement, eager to get back into the audio book and Leah’s illustrations. Not only did it take half the time to finish the drawings, but I ended up redoing several of the earlier ones with better results. The process was not without labor, but the struggle was gone. It was really fun.

How could I apply this new self-knowledge to my other devotion – writing? A quick experiment was disappointing but predictable: I couldn’t listen to an audio book while writing, duh. The language part of my brain could not attend well to two language tasks at once. So some experiments are in order as I seek that kind of mental space for writing that I fell into with the illustrations.  I wonder, is it possible? I plan to find out.

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