Saturday, March 13, 2010

I Finally Get It

The brain damage has left me with three core problems:

  1. I have difficulty sorting because I have trouble holding multiple items in my brain at one time and manipulating them. I suck at filing.

  2. I have difficulty suppressing intense emotion. This was apparently something I used to be able to do very selectively.

  3. I suffer from chronic fatigue that’s akin to living like someone in their sixties or seventies. Moreover both sorting and dealing with strong emotion are the things that greatly exacerbate this fatigue. This probably has to do with "rewiring" the brain does to get around the damage. Ironically, moving heavy boxes is less fatiguing for me now than filing or cleaning. Anything is less fatiguing than intense emotion.

The first two skills are the foundation of all disciplined work. Having the last defect sure doesn’t help get my job done.

When I’m thinking up new ideas, I get emotionally overstimulated. The stuff I dream up excites me a great deal. Talal Amin described the charismatic inspiration of shamen and artists this way:

Johann Sulzer, a theorist of the fine arts, wrote in more general terms: “All artists of any genius claim that from time to time they experience a state of extraordinary psychic intensity which makes work unusually easy, images arising without great effort and the best ideas flowing in such profusion as if they were the gift of some higher power. This is without doubt what is called inspiration. If an artist experiences this condition, his object appears to him in an unusual light; his genius, as if guided by a divine power, invents without effort, shaping his invention in the most suitable form without strain; the finest ideas and images occur unbidden in floods to the inspired poet; the orator judges with the greatest acumen, feels with the greatest intensity, and the strongest and most vividly expressive words rise to his tongue.” Such statements, Flaherty argues, are strongly reminiscent of accounts of shamanism—in this case of a shaman described not skeptically but in wonderment. They employ the idea of inspiration metaphorically—as control of an “instrument” from outside the person, or as a “gift” from a “higher power.” But these remain metaphors, covering an inability to explain a this-worldly phenomenon in natural terms.

Sorting through the flood of inspired ideas pouring into my skull and rapidly organizing them would be difficult enough in my state. I can't rapidly organize anything anymore. But feeling that intense passion, literally ecstasy, makes it even more difficult for me to sort. I overheat emotionally and have to slow down and process more slowly. Moreover, I don’t really feel ecstasy anymore. I feel panic. I feel a very strong reflexive immediacy to write, as if slowing the thinking down will makes me forget the connections my imagination has made between objects. To some extent that is actually true. There are ideas that one might not imagine again if one doesn’t latch on to them immediately. So what was once ecstasy is now pure choking.

Nonetheless, slowing down and handling the flood of inspiration through patient note-taking about what I’m imagining over several passes over months is a viable way of handling this. Once I detach emotionally from what I've imagined (which takes a few weeks), I can sort through the mad intuitive drivel for the real gems. It’s slow, but I do eventually “get there.” I can still do this work.

But I nonetheless can’t absorb the input from my imagination rapidly enough to proceed the way I used to before. That ecstatic, charismatic feeling of “channeling divine inspiration” is something I’m never going to feel again. I will never be able to sort rapidly enough to select which relationships to accept and which to reject as inspiration floods my brain, let alone handle the flood of emotion this creates. The emotion exhausts me well before I can achieve the sorting task. That is what the disability has cost me.

But using my brain to rapidly sort the deluge of inspiration that would flood my mind was the work process with which I most identified myself. Losing this gift has entailed losing what I valued most about myself as a person. I don’t need to mourn it anymore, because I’ve been mourning it for years now. But finally being able to articulate it has finally allowed me to let it go and move forward.