This Is Your Brain On Drugs (Not Real Drugs, Like Metaphorical Drugs)
I don’t know anything about the brain. Not the science or the structure or how it functions. I know I have one and it possibly looks like the pink squishy brains in cartoons. I am not sure how things affect it and why but I do know that they do and some of the damage can be permanent even when it isn’t physical. I don’t know much about the brain but I’m about to go Dr. Derek Shepard here and talk about how I think the creative mind may operate from personal experience.
I have spent the past two days working on writing and writing only. As I wrote before, I opted to take June off from employment and focus on writing. I got back from New Orleans last week and worked on smaller items I wanted to tackle. This week my goal has been to write 1500 words a day like I did for Nanowrimo. I thought that would be a great way to get my second draft churned out.
I’ve been writing 2500+ a day.
My second draft has leapt from 15,000 words to over 22,000. I created a routine and while it has been an adjustment, I have stuck to it so far and it has been an incredible joy. It’s been odd not to check my work email or Slack as I did working from home the past few months. It is a free feeling I am not used it. I get to sit and write and my brain is whizzing around like an out of control carnival ride. It is happy, creative, wild. I am doing nothing more than opening my document and setting my fingers to the keys and while there have been moments of “I really don’t like that scene”, everything that has sprung forth is flowing with ease.
So why couldn’t I write this when I was unemployed for nine months?
Here’s where I become a doctor. Sort of.
I think about my unemployment back in Vermont and I wonder why I couldn’t function like this and churn out something creative. I had days on days of free time. My husband worked most nights and doubles often so I never saw him. I had two commitments at most per week which was my improv team rehearsal and show. Often I was put on other comedy shows so maybe I had two or three shows one week. My friends had kids or were homebodies and it was winter in Vermont. If you have been to Vermont in the winter, you know and if you haven’t, well, let’s just say you don’t want to leave your house unless you’re heading to the mountain.
I tried every day to write. I wrote blogs which helped. Writing out my feelings was extremely cathartic as it always is. But every day (I can’t even say most days because it was everyday), I gave up, exhausted, and crawled to the couch to watch more Grey’s Anatomy. Is this now a Grey’s fan blog? What’s happening?
My creative brain was going through a trauma. It had been beaten and bruised and was heavy with a guilt I had invented about losing my job when it was not my fault in the slightest. It was foggy and sleepy, dragging itself to make food and shower. It wept as long as it was awake and continued as it cried itself to sleep. It stared at blank pages and pages filled with words and obtained nothing. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t write, I could do improv but barely. I’d put some beer in my brain and it would relax enough to go onstage and “yes, and” and then crawl back into its cave alone.
I don’t think many of us can perform our passions when our fire is out. I still had passion for performing and writing but my fire was gone. I know there have been troubled artists and they’ve made the most exquisite pieces of art during depressions, drug addicts, car accidents, familial deaths, etc. It is possible. I think with the trauma I was experiencing, it was not. My confidence, my dignity, and so much more had been sucked from me by this one experience. When your brain is surrounded by rubble, how can it possibly climb out and plant a garden? I had pieces of myself at my feet and no energy to bend over and pick them up.
I am currently unemployed again. Does it give me panic? Yes, of course. Even though I made this choice, I am conditioned as most of us are to have a job and stability. I’m a 35 year old woman without a job, good God! But it isn’t scary. I am in a very different place. My brain is so alive it almost feels like I need an extra skull to keep it in. I am quite literally doing a dream job for a living for a few weeks. I remember any time I got to act with enough pay I didn’t need to work a day job, it was exhilarating and felt so purposeful. Like THIS, this right here is what I want. Going back to work was nothing short of devastating and I would count the minutes til I next could be an actor full time.
I wonder all the time why I couldn’t write when I had all the time in the world. I couldn’t write because I wasn’t myself. The creative brain needs the brainstem to be connected to your soul, your heart, your passion. Mine was severed. It was there floating in my head alone. I feel sad about that time for a million reasons but also because I didn’t write. It felt foolish for a long time because I had so many months where I could have had this novel finished. But in truth, I couldn’t have even begun it. The idea sprouted but it never grew, even with my fingers on the keys. I couldn’t have written it then because I am writing it now. I’m feeding it the good stuff again. The creative brain needs a particular kind of fuel and allowance to actually create.
The brain is complicated, obviously. It is a marvel how different mine feels in this state. Like it just walked out of a dark tunnel into the light. That time I thought was wasted was only my brain healing and preparing for what is to come. For this gift of time in a different form. It was merely preparing for now.
I can now say as a brain doctor which I clearly am, sometimes your creative brain won’t work no matter how hard you push it. It needs to shut down and restart. Don’t panic like I did. It will come back. There are things that never leave you and your imagination is one of them.