February 22nd, 2017
Right Brain or Write Brain? Either Way, I Let It Lead The Way
Recently I sat down at my computer thinking about a conversation about online education I had with a neighbor, which led me to search YouTube for videos about editing and writing. Next thing I know, I’m remembering my favorite high school A.P. English teacher and trying to recall whether she wore black and white saddle shoes or red Converse high-tops. Footwear questions aside, it was a lovely surprise to find myself thinking and writing about a beloved teacher who hasn’t crossed my mind in years, an incredible woman who died young but influenced my whole life.
When I got up from my desk after an hour of writing, I’d danced down memory lane and wound up in a place I never, ever expected. It was a treat, really. Yet if I hadn’t plonked myself down in front my keyboard and just started typing, I wouldn’t have started down the path, let alone ended up where I did. Over the years, I’ve learned that when the right side of my brain kicks in, I never know where I’m going, let alone how I’m going to get there. In this pure, almost hypnotic state, time races yet stands stock-still. I am both completely focused and entirely relaxed. I am, as they say, in the zone.
In his memoir, On The Move: A Life, renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote,
The act of writing, when it goes well, gives me a pleasure, a joy, unlike any other. It takes me to another place—irrespective of my subject—where I am totally absorbed and oblivious to distracting thoughts, worries, preoccupations or indeed the passage of time. In those rare, heavenly states of mind, I may write nonstop until I can no longer see the paper. Only then do I realize that evening has come and that I have been writing all day.
I know exactly what Mr. Sacks means. Of course, this “heavenly” experience isn’t limited to writing. A few years ago, I spent a lot of time focused on painting and other visual arts. I know what it’s like to stare (blankly) at a blank canvas, take a deep breath and then make my first, often tentative brushstroke. Slowly – or sometimes quickly – an image or impression begins to emerge. With painting, my right brain led me to reach for new colors and different brushes to explore and convey ideas, shapes and marks on the canvas. When I’m writing, it helps me gather images, associations and connections from all directions and weave them together with linguistic threads.
In both painting and writing, the failures are as important as the successes. Sometimes a canvas or a sentence – or the whole darn thing – needs to be deleted with white gesso or a few keystrokes. Either way, the shadow of that erasure still exists, and it informs all the marks or words that follow. Getting it “right” means cutting, culling, pruning, parsing. It takes time. Patience. Discipline. And trust.
Maybe that’s the biggest hurdle of all. I’ve learned to implicitly trust the right side of my brain when it beckons me down an unexplored path and lets me creatively meander and roam. Without fail, it leads me on a journey that somehow, always, gets me exactly where I need to be.
I’ve recently learned about the nutritional super powers of buckwheat. Packed with protein, fiber and antioxidants, this misnamed grain is, in fact, entirely gluten free. Because buckwheat was on my mind, this recipe in Cooking Light magazine caught my eye. I tried it, I liked it and I decided to share it. Enjoy!
Note: Look for pale-green buckwheat “groats” rather than the toasted, dark-brown variety, which can be bitter.
1 ½ cups old-fashioned oats
½ cup unsweetened flaked dried coconut
½ cup almonds, coarsely chopped
½ cup unsalted pumpkin seeds
¼ cup uncooked buckwheat groats
2 Tbs canola oil
2 Tbs honey or maple syrup
1 tsp kosher salt (I used about ¼ tsp)
1 tsp ground cinnamon (I used about 1 ½ tsps)
Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. (Note: The recipe calls for 375 heat, but I found this too hot. I recommend cooking a bit longer at a lower temperature to avoid over-browning or burning.) Locate your favorite rimmed baking sheet and some parchment paper.
Combine first five ingredients in a large bowl. Then combine oil, honey or syrup, salt and cinnamon in a smaller bowl and whisk together. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients, stir well to coat. Spread in a single layer on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden, stirring after 10 minutes. Watch carefully to avoid burning.
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
I just finished this 2016 novel, and I couldn’t put it down. Lucky Boy primarily follows Solimar, a Mexican woman who immigrates illegally to the United States, and Kavya, an Indian-American woman living with her husband in a charming Berkeley bungalow. On the face of it, these two women have nothing in common: Soli endures unimaginable hardship, pain and trauma in her quest to find a better life in California. Kavya’s safe, secure existence is downright idyllic in comparison, yet she faces her own very real struggles about identity and belonging. In fact, Soli and Kavya have more in common than they realize, and their unfolding stories trace the shared themes of motherhood, love, devotion, determination and desperation. All these themes are put into sharp relief thanks to events related to Soli’s baby boy, Ignacio.
Given today’s ever-tightening immigration policies, Lucky Boy – which is set in very familiar Berkeley – feels both prescient and timely. Soli’s story is just one version of what so many “illegals” experience in this country. Her heart-wrenching tale gives voice to countless hard-working immigrants who want (and deserve) the most basic of human rights: safety, employment, education, respect.
Sekaran teases out the complexities of Soli’s situation (legally and otherwise) as she builds her novel around another potentially heart-breaking question: What, and who, defines a good mother? By the end of Lucky Boy, the author presents a clear answer to this complex question. Along the way, Sekaran skillfully switches the narrative perspective back and forth between Soli, Kevya and Kevya’s husband, further strengthening the threads of their interwoven lives. As her protagonists experience extremes both of joy and suffering, Sekaran takes her readers on a powerful journey that is compelling, moving and impossible to forget.
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