"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Living with a Bifurcated Brain

I was working on something the other day, combining two separate but related poems into one piece. It needed a title that described a whole as having two separate and identifiable parts, when that big ol’ word “bifurcated” popped up and introduced itself.

I had no idea that word was even in my cranial Rolodex, which is how I picture the memory banks in my head. Were you privy to those inner workings, you’d understand if you considered how a Rolodex works with its spinning, and little cards flapping around. Anyway, up jumped “bifurcated.” Big word, that “bifurcated.” Ten letters, four syllables. Five dollar word if I’ve ever heard one, not that I have any understanding of why words are assigned monetary values.

I checked Webster’s for the meaning of “bifurcate,” and it was perfect: “to divide into two branches or parts.” Add a “d” to indicate the deed was done, and I had the right word. I was describing the brain of a writer, or this writer, anyway.

I’m sure you’ve heard of that right brain, left brain thing, which is that the right brain is the creative side and the left brain is the logical, analytical side of the mind. When artists of all ilks create, they are said to be using the right side of the brain. Left brainers are CPAs, attorneys, mathematicians, and so on.

So I went online and found a couple tests to determine the predominant side of my brain. The first quiz was primarily for painters, which I am not, unless it meant painting my house, but the results said I was slightly right brained. Another determined I was predominantly left brained. I could see that coming because it had a bunch of questions about organizing and I am type of person that arranges spice jars alphabetically. I like things in my house to be neat and orderly.

My desk, however, where I write, belies that craving for order. It is a mess. I call it Katrina’s home page. Ditto with the computer. It’s a good thing I discovered the “search” function in Word because some of my stuff would be forever MIA. Lately I’ve had occasion to use it frequently.

I’ve been thinking about that word “bifurcated” ever since it reintroduced itself. Why is it that a word so obscure (to me), one I’m sure I’ve never used before, was there when I needed it, and other words that I use all the time have a wicked habit of hiding in the dusty catacombs of my cranial cortex? I mean, “bifurcated” was right there holding a sign that read “pick me, pick me.” No other word even attempted to vie for the honored slot in the title.

I’ve never said, “Let’s bifurcate this list of chores,” or “I’m going to bifurcate this story into two acts.” Never. Nor anything along the lines of, “Let’s order one dessert and bifurcate it.”

So here I am, wondering about the mysterious workings of the mind in an aspiring writer. I don’t usually refer to myself as using my right brain. I think of it as the place where my muse lives, when she’s not AWOL as she frequently is. At those times, I have no idea where she goes, and believe me, I’ve searched and used every trick I know of to lure her from her secret lair. Sometimes I think she hides in my bedside alarm clock and has the alarm set for two a.m., because that’s when she most often kicks me out of bed to take dictation.

Not too long ago. Beth, a friend of mine who blogs at Switched at Birth, wrote about tossing and turning all night as her muse was giving birth to a story about her elderly neighbor who had bagged an elderly deer. I understood exactly what she was going through, those streamers of words criss-crossing through the brain, the pressure of pent-up thoughts seeking release, the fear that thoughts would be forever lost in the morning. Those are the moments we yearn for, a muse with a full head of steam, well-oiled pistons pounding, and throttle wide open.

"Throttle." Another perfect word, though not with the same monetary value. It describes the function of left brain in writers. It ain’t a pretty picture, either. Some people refer to it as the inner critic. I call it an offspring of a female dog, and other canine-related words of description.

Its function, that “throttle,” is to stymie the creative process, to run the whole train off the tracks, metaphorically speaking. The left brain is what sends the muse cowering, presses the “delete” button on the keyboard, relegates brilliant writing to some far off corner where the search function is required to locate it in better times. And worse. Worse is what it does to the writer. No more confidence, no more thoughts of query letters to editors, no joy in Mudville, mighty Writer has struck out.

What would happen if we could bifurcate the left brain? Would its powers be lessened by being divided, or would they be strengthened as in two-against-one?

Well, I took that afore-mentioned combined piece of those two poems, one about a right brain day and the other about a left brain day, and submitted it as an online writing class assignment. The instructor wrote back that I soared with the right brain part, but wanted me to delete the left brained part. She wanted me to bifurcate the whole, leaving only the right brained poem. I thought the left brained poem contained some pretty good writing. It accurately described how a writer feels when the left brain is ascendant.

I suppose that’s why she didn’t like it. I could tell she’d been there.

March 1, 2009

1 comment:

  1. I'm having a ball reading your work. You can write about anything and make it entertaining. I appreciate all that comes out of your bifurcated brain.

    I'd love to read the poem you refer to.