Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Left Brain, Right Brain

Beth, looking pretty much as she did 20 years ago... Full moon on the beach at Conil de la Frontera.

Well it's a funny coincidence because after a discussion with an old friend last week during a moonlit, firelit beach party (with flamenco music) in Andalucia, the same topic came up in the latest Litopia podcast (005).

Beth, a Bostonian woman I hadn't seen for 20 years since we briefly crossed paths at St Catz, Oxford, now works as the foreign media officer in a hospital in the US. She produces short movies about the hospitals healthcare offerings. She'd known me 20 years ago as a biochemist and was intrigued to hear that I was now going to be an author. "So you can do left brain stuff as well as right brain," she said, fascinated.

I bet most of us can, although some scientists I know probably can't. My brother-in-law, for example, who admits to 'outsourcing' all his emotions to my wonderfully sensitive, touchy-feely sister. (He won't mind me saying this, but he might have to check with my sister if he's supposed to be cross about it...)

I admitted to her that I have a very 'left brain' approach to writing, in that I'm massively structural. Beth seemed very surprised that it could work this way, so I explained.

Where did the 'muse' come into it, that's what Beth wanted to know.

It's an interesting question. I was reflecting with Agent Cox the other day that when I read back my writing, months later, I mean, I look at it in wonder and think, "Did I really write this?"

Not that I'm making a value judgement, just that all that time later, I can't see what part of me those words came from. I've begun to think that some weird entity takes over me when I sit down to write. Now - the entity has its instructions - because the structure is all in place by the time I start to write. But aside from two or three lines dictating what must happen in the next 1500 words, the entity is free to get on with it, and it does, and I don't seem to have a lot of conscious input. I guess that's the right brain taking over. It's verrrry strange.

Borges wrote this wonderful little essay 'Borges and I', in which he described how strange it felt to be the writer in this relationship with his famous self. There was the Borges who went and gave talks and was received over the world and lauded. Then there was he, Borges, who wrote the words that made that other Borges so famous. And the writer-Borges didn't always feel that connected to the famous-Borges.

When I first thought about all this, I hadn't thought of it in terms of left-brain/right-brain. (Well, duh, I am gradually becoming a hedonistic airhead, in case no-one had noticed). But I guess it kind of is.

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