Your Brain on Words

When you tell yourself you don’t have time to write, your brain believes you. When you tell yourself over and over you don’t have time to write, you never find time to write. Even when you have four hours set aside to write, something always comes up. Because you don’t have time to write!

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

But if you tell yourself you have time to write, time appears. I wanted to write “time magically appears,” but in my experience, that’s not true. 

The brain is an organ that produces thoughts. It also believes thoughts—without question. Thoughts appear. We believe them.

Unless we make the effort to question them. 

“I don’t have time to write.”

Is that true?

“Well, no. I wrote for two hours yesterday morning and I’m writing right now.” 

What’s actually true is: I have time to write. 

Because our brains have evolved to expend minimal energy, our brains prefer not to have to make decisions. That’s why it’s easier to go to work the same way every day, even if you could have avoided that traffic by taking the back roads. Your brain, all our human brains, would rather be on auto-pilot, conserving energy for when we have to run from that saber toothed tiger. 

But there isn’t a saber-toothed tiger anymore. All that physical danger we’ve evolved to save our energy for doesn’t exist, at least not here in North America. We are very fortunate.

But our brains still operate the way they evolved to millions of years ago. So if we think a thought, it’s easier to just believe it and keep going because it takes less energy, which our brains equate to a better chance of survival. 

But some of the thoughts we “just believe” are harmful to us. “I don’t have time to write,” for example, is a poisonous thought to a writer, or to someone who wants to be a writer. 

So what can we do about these thoughts that appear and stop us in our tracks?

Take the time to question that thought every single time you think it and you will soon break yourself of the habit of thinking it. 

Questioning a thought takes energy. So your brain (and mine!) will resist. It will give you evidence (excuses!) showing why you don’t have time to write.

Keep presenting the evidence showing when you had time to write. Give concrete, specific examples:

  • I wrote for an hour right after I dropped the kids off at school yesterday.
  • I wrote every day for at least 30 minutes last summer when I did that journal challenge.
  • I wrote for 2 hours last Sunday morning.

Catch yourself thinking “I don’t have time to write,” and challenge it. If you do, you will soon be thinking “I have time to write,” just as often. You will also, I believe, be writing!

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Diane MacKinnon, MD, is a Master Certified Life Coach who used to work as a Family Physician. She’s passionate about writing and journaling and is (still!) working on her first book, a self-help book for medical peeps. You can find her at her website, www.dianemackinnon.com.

For the Writer Who Hasn’t Been Writing

 

In her smart and inspiring book, Lab Girl, geobiologist and author Hope Jahren writes, “A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed.” One of many gentle insights on the dogged perseverance of both budding scientists and plant life, this passage invites personal musings on dormancy, both literal and figurative.

Dormancy is a regular part of nature. At this time of year, we think of the world as “coming back to life,” but the innumerable seedlings and buds that finally emerge in spring have, in fact, been very much alive during the long, enchanted sleep of winter. They were never dead; they were just biding their time until the moment was right.

Even houseplants, which live in artificial conditions and are sometimes subject to neglect, have the ability to seemingly resurrect themselves. I have a small cyclamen plant that I saved from a holiday arrangement a few years ago. I did a passing fair job of caring for it until this winter when a severe cold trapped me on the couch for a week. By the time I remembered to water the poor thing, there was nothing left of the cyclamen except two dried leaves and one straggling bud that never had the chance to bloom.

Despite the sorry state of the little plant, I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. Not expecting any miracles, I gave it some water and a sunny spot on the windowsill. For months, nothing happened. It looked as if I was caring for a pot of dirt. And then one day there were signs of life.

Like the undulating arms of a tiny terrestrial octopus, several delicate, fuzz-covered shoots arched gracefully out from a tangle of dead stems and partially exposed roots. A few days later, the tips of several shoots had unfurled into beautiful variegated leaves that spread wide and began, imperceptibly, tracking the movements of the sun like an array of miniature radar dishes tuned into the songs of the stars.

There are parts of ourselves—dreams, hopes, beliefs—that are like seeds waiting to germinate or like neglected houseplants that seem half dead, but have really just drawn their life force back into themselves for safe keeping.

Maybe you grew up wishing you could be an explorer or an artist, but life led you down a different path, and now you can hardly recognize yourself as the child who dreamed of sailing the seven seas, writing poetry, or capturing visions in paint. That piece of yourself is not dead and gone; it is just dormant, waiting for the right time to stretch into the light.

You can often coax new growth simply by providing a little sustenance. Just like my cyclamen needed water and sunlight, your sleeping dreams need time and attention. For now, they may be curled up in the quiet dark, but there is no expiration date on their potential.

Our dreams can even benefit from time in stasis. Like a seed that must hold itself in limbo until there is enough space, sunshine, water, and nutrients to sustain it, sometimes our dreams have to wait until we have the right life experience, confidence, or motivation. While our Western sensibilities tend to encourage a state of constant striving, sometimes we would be wiser to practice a more organic way of becoming.

Jahren tells a story in Lab Girl about a lotus seed that scientists dug out of a peat bog in China. After the seed sprouted in the lab, the researchers radiocarbon-dated the discarded shell and found that the seed had been dormant for two thousand years. Truly, you can never say never.

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Jamie Lee Wallace I am a freelance content writer, columnist, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. For more from me, check out the archives for the  Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy posts. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookInstagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared as a column in the Ipswich Chronicle, and subsequently on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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What I Saw on My Artist’s Date

Mark Rothko

What I Saw on My Artist’s Date

It was completely irresponsible to drive to Boston and spend the Monday of a packed week at the Museum of Fine Arts, but that’s just what I did yesterday.

 

My husband had the day off after a week of being on-call at the hospital, and at first I couched the sortie as something he needed before returning to the clinic today. But it turns out, the expedition was a good reset for me, too.

What I Saw

One of Takashi Murakami’s huge paintings.

Neither of us wanted to look at Takashi Murakami: Lineage of Eccentrics. My resistance to viewing the busy, cartoonish paintings of this contemporary Japanese artist was all the red flag I needed to force myself to go. Reluctantly, Tim joined me in visual discomfort.

What I Saw

Japanese scroll hanging in the same gallery.

 

The best way I know to make sense of challenging art is to play a game of “I see,” naming the different elements in the painting. Both of us quickly fell into the first giant canvas, and our prejudices fell away as we looked and learned. It’s a spectacular exhibit that juxtaposes Murakami’s contemporary work with Japanese masterpieces from the MFA’s collection. I saw the connections, learned a bit about Japanese culture, and expanded my own store of metaphor. This was hard exercise for the visual processing part of my brain. My overworked linguistic muscles appreciated the rest.

Is rest the same as stillness? I think not, especially after viewing Seeking Stillness,  another exquisitely curated show of meditative pieces in different media. I was drawn to the abstract paintings of Agnes Martin: white canvases with lines, like a piece of paper waiting for words.

These paintings contrasted sharply with the dark, color block work of Mark Rothko, hung in an adjoining room.

All these canvases showed me how paint can have texture, pattern, rhythm, line and color. Some paintings told stories; some were intellectual challenges; others simply/complexly emotion.

Tim and I walked and talked, rested our feet at the museum café, and returned for more, more ,and more.

Art Changed How I See

This building looked like a work of art after a day at the MFA.

We finished with a stroll through an ongoing exhibit of modern paintings, before stepping outside in the late afternoon, where the sky looked like a seventeenth-century Dutch landscape, and the fenestration of a building across the fen looked like a Mondrian.

I highly recommend an artist date, especially if you don’t have the time; and I encourage you to look at art, especially art you think you don’t like.

Have you been on an Artist’s Date lately? Where did you go? What did you see?

Women Walking and Writing Toward Wisdom

WALKshop participants at Chaos Junction.

Here’s a photo of Women Walking and Writing Toward Wisdom last Saturday,  where we learned tools to nurture and listen our wise, inner voice.

You can learn more about what I write and the professional services I offer at Deborah Lee Luskin.

A New Strategy for Writing in Summer

Writing in Summer

I used to think that playing outdoors in summer interfered with writing. Now I know better.

Summers used to interfere with my writing. There was so much to do – both farm work and fun – that I used to despair about advancing narrative projects and meeting deadlines.

But I do.
I changed my attitude about writing.

Instead of heading straight for my desk after morning coffee, I’ve developed a completely different strategy about these lovely long days, where I’m busy from dawn till well past dusk.

I’m writing all the time – just not at my desk.

I’m writing as I drive to the river where I scull on the flat water at sunrise, when the air is sweet and cool. I slide through the water, the rhythm of my oars lulling me into the effort. I see, hear and smell the wild world while I’m out, notice changes from one day to the next.

Close observation of the world – natural, urban, indoors or out – is a key skill for a writer, one I practice in my boat, in the garden, and on the porch.

Living In Place. Deborah Lee Luskin

A detour through the garden on my way to work can delay me for hours.

After breakfast, I detour through the garden on the way to my studio. Some days, that’s as far as I get. I allow myself to become distracted by weeds or feel obligated to harvest the berries that have ripened behind my back.

I used to resent the need to stop everything to pick and process and pickle when I thought I needed to be writing. But now I know that I am writing while I engage in these summer activities. I’m expanding both my experiences and my store of metaphors. Both on the water and in the garden, my mind is freewheeling, and when I do finally get to my desk, my fingers are itching to press the keyboard.

In summer, I’m efficient at my desk.

How do you negotiate the challenges of writing and play in summer?

Deborah Lee Luskin, photoDeborah Lee Luskin is a recreational sculler, amateur farmer, and professional writer. Read an Essay Every Wednesday at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Dear Writer, You need more magic in your life.

Hidden Magic (Instagram: @suddenlyjamie)

Do you ever plunk yourself down, pen in hand, and feel like there’s nothing left? Do you ever come to the keyboard and only to find that your inspiration has been thoroughly depleted? You don’t have to answer. I’m betting you’ve had similar experiences. Some people call it writer’s block. Other’s call it life fatigue. Whatever name you give it, there’s a can’t-miss solution to get you back on track: get more magic in your life.

You see, magic begets magic. When you make more room in your life for magic, you’ll find that it fuels your creativity like nothing else. Even better, finding magic is easy. You can do it in the spare moments of your day. All you need to do is keep your eyes open. It’s there, all around you.

I wrote the following column for my local paper, but I’m hoping it may also be suitable to share here among fellow writers. Artists and writers should take special care to seek out magic in their daily lives. I consider it part of my self-care routine, and I can tell when I’ve been neglecting it.

So, here’s to finding magic in unexpected places. Enjoy!

 

 


One of the best things about hanging out with little kids is getting the chance to see the world through their eyes. A child’s view of reality isn’t clouded by doubt or cynicism. It isn’t limited by things like logic or so-called “common sense.” When a kid looks at the world, it is with an open mind that is ready and willing to embrace things an adult would overlook simply because of our grown-up prejudice against the impossible.

But, as Alice’s White Queen would tell you, you can believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast if you simply draw a long breath, shut your eyes, and try.

The truth is, there is magic all around us, each and every day. To see it, we just need to take the queen’s advice. There’s a lot to be said for deep breaths and other things that help us pause for a moment and become fully aware of the wonders right in front of our noses.

It’s much too easy to surrender to the tugging and nagging of the Everyday World. As grown-ups, we’re supposed to be responsible and realistic. We’re supposed to know about things like taxes and flu prevention and the latest dreadful headlines (of which there seem to be so many these days). Our lives are busy-busy-busy and packed full to bursting with all kinds of Serious Matters and Important Tasks.

But we all need magic in our lives. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Thankfully, magic comes in an infinite number of flavors. In addition to the magic of a child’s imagination, there is the magic of sunrises and sunsets — brilliant and subtle sky paintings in every hue and shade, all lit from within and turning the world pink and blue and purple. There is the magic of spring’s first buds emerging into the bright air despite the cold and lingering pockets of ice and snow. There is the magic of last year’s seedpods, looking for all the world like perfect, faerie architecture with arches and catacombs.

One of my favorite kinds of magic is dog magic. I have yet to meet a canine who lacked the ability to work a spell on me. I see a dog, and I smile. I can’t help it. Dogs lighten my heart and remind me of all the goodness in the world. I can be walking down the street, dragging my cloud of worries behind me, and then I see a dog and those worries just evaporate into nothing. All it takes is one furry-faced smile.

And, of course, there is magic in stories and poems and music and all manner of art. During especially stressful times, I make sure to pepper my day with creative magic. My morning usually includes the enchantment of classical music, each movement and piece offering up a wordless story that is clearly magical. Throughout the day, I take a moment here and a moment there to visit the Facebook posts of certain friends who have a knack for curating the most whimsical and inspiring collections of art. Each visit lasts only a minute, but the effects linger for much longer.

I have reached an age at which I believe I have earned the right to be taken seriously when I say, “Life is short.” The more years I live, the more quickly each year seems to fly by until one blends into the last, blurring experiences and memories into one another. But the moments of magic that I weave into my life always stand out. Whether they are solitary moments standing in awe of Nature’s creative brilliance or shared moments experiencing a work of art, an adventure, or an unexpected encounter with a magical person or creature in the wild, those small moments are the ones that sparkle in my memory like stars in the night sky — constellations that guide me to remember what matters most in this short life.

 

 

 

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Keeping the Creative Fires Burning

“The world is violent and mercurial—it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love—love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”

Tennessee Williams

A friend posted this quote on Facebook this morning. It was a gem in my newsfeed, glittering darkly amidst a colorful cacophony of political posts, vacation pictures, and LOL cats. I held each word for a moment – violent, mercurial, love, burning – and then, as the bigger concept coalesced in my mind, I was surprised to realize that the idea of living in Williams’ burning building was actually comforting.

Making time in our lives for any creative endeavor is a challenge, but the effort seems particularly Herculean today. Not only is the house burning, but the entire world is ablaze – global warming, political unrest, racial tensions, Brexit, wars, not to mention the dumpster fire of American politics. And yet, even in these precarious times, we feel compelled to write. The fire in our hearts yearns to escape the secret confines of our minds and leap into the conflagration of the real world where it might ignite passion (or at least curiosity) in someone else.

The interesting thing about fire is that while it can be an instrument of destruction, it also provides inspiration, warmth, and fuel. Fire can consume, but it also helps us to build and create. Staring into a fire, it’s impossible not to be drawn into thoughts of the balance between light and dark, the truth of ashes to ashes and dust to dust, and the dream of the phoenix. It is impossible not to think about the metaphorical fires that burn inside us.

And yet, even when the fire burns down and the ashes turn cold, there is always a spark or a coal buried deep, just waiting for the right conditions to spring back to life as a dancing flame that lights up the darkness, bringing hope and warmth and the power to pierce the night. Our creative fires never truly go out. They may burn low for a while, or even disappear underground; but then something to turn the earth over, exposing the smoldering coals to the air, and we’re ablaze again.

 

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings.  Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
Photo Credit: Christian Ferrari Flickr via Compfight cc

The Power and Universality of Hopes and Dreams

Today, I want to share a piece I recently wrote as a column for my local paper. I was moved to share it here because of conversations I’ve been having as part of an online class I’m taking called “Get Your Scary Sh*t Done,” or GSSD for short. I didn’t write this thinking about writing in particular, but I believe it may ring true for anyone who has ever held a dream close, and that certainly includes many writers I know.

I hope you enjoy it and find some comfort in knowing that we are never alone in having great hopes … even if we keep them secret most of the time.

 

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Emerging from underneath the forest floor …

Even when we hide them from ourselves, burying them under the convenient detritus of our daily lives, our hopes and dreams never die. Like sentient seeds that believe, perhaps against all odds, they will eventually see the light of day, our dearest desires and most secret wishes nestle under the weight of Real Life. They are patient. They are constant. Despite the unremitting assault of endless responsibilities and obligations, they persist.

Hopes and dreams are a study in contradictions. On the one hand, they are as fragile as a whisper. Quiet and timid, they step from the shadows only now and again, mostly in the quiet moments of reflection that come upon us just before sleep or when we are staring absentmindedly out of the window. And yet, despite their outwardly retiring nature, our hopes and dreams hold great power over us.

They make us feel deeply vulnerable. Simply acknowledging their existence can send our minds careening into a dark maze of illogical-but-still-terrifying possibilities of ridicule, failure, and disappointment. To wish for something is to put yourself at risk of never having it — perhaps the epitome of the double-edged sword.

On the other hand, hopes and dreams have the ability to sustain us through great hardship. They drive us to achieve that which we once considered impossible. And they help us find purpose and meaning that might otherwise be lost in the swift-flowing river of time. Our lifelong hopes and dreams bring us home to ourselves by reminding us who we have been and always will be.

Everyone has hopes and dreams. While we often guard our most precious aspirations from the rest of the world, it is no secret that each of us carries some hidden longing in our heart. You and I may never speak our secrets to each other, but we know they are there. It is part of what makes us human.

Forgetting that each of us has our own hopes and dreams makes it dangerously easy to lose sight of someone else’s humanity, to lose touch with the connection created by the shared experience of living life in constant (if not always conscious) communion with our truest hungers.

Do not, for instance, look at an elderly person and turn a blind eye to the still-beating passions that lurk just beneath a protective veneer of apathy and resignation. Dreams are ageless. Do not look at those who are living hand to mouth, unable to pursue anything greater than survival, and think for a moment that their hopes and dreams are any less vibrant or real than your own. Dreams do not discriminate. Do not believe that just because people live halfway around the world (or have come from halfway around the world to live here), their dreams are that dissimilar from your own. Dreams know no boundaries.

Mostly, we all want the same things. Though the exact details exist on an endless spectrum of diversity and creativity, each of us wants safety and comfort for ourselves and our families. We want the chance to discover and fulfill our purpose. We want the opportunity to express ourselves without fear of retribution. We want the freedom to make our own choices. We want peace and prosperity. We want love.

Perhaps even more than the conversations and interactions we have in the so-called Real World, it is our secret dreams that bind us together. Sometimes the unsaid speaks volumes. Sometimes a whisper carries across time and space. And sometimes I imagine that, while they are waiting to emerge into the sunlight, our hopes and dreams stretch silent roots deep into the ground where they entwine with the roots of other dreams in the dark and fertile earth. Imagine the vastness of such a network, and the possibilities.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared online on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog. Prior to that, it was published in print as part of a column series for The Ipswich Chronicle, a publication of Gatehouse Media.

Photo Credit: amy20079 Flickr via Compfight cc