Tuesday, June 12

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, June 12, 2012 10 comments
I won't torment you finger-crossing, breath-holding entrants in my anthology giveaway. Let's cut to the chase.

Heidi Willis

is the winner of  Poetry Pact volume 1!!

Thanks to everyone who entered. And note that the Kindle edition is now available for just $2.99. All proceeds go to Direct Relief International, a global aid organization.

Finding brain space

In the past year or so, I've struggled with an inner world that sounds a bit like this:

laundry - train - how many characters is too many? - school bus - out of aluminum foil - how do you document this version of Joyce's Ulysses? - veterinarian appointment - ADHD - printer jam - 1703 merchant costume for social studies project - Ezra Pound estate - ironing - prayer - elevator scene - weed and mulch - does Turkish have a possessive case? - choosing gratitude - blog commenting - dentist appointments - advertising deadline - back cover blurb - playdates - squirrel - baby shower - moldy shower curtain - curtain styles in the 1960s - Beatnik poetry - poetry anthology - Duotrope e-mails - another birthday party ?! - dinner with "the girls" - weight gain - parenting through puberty - date night - dying neighbor - homonym errors - book trailer - fleas - wedding present - friend's divorce - abiding in Christ - evil candy-filled vending machine - stroke or no stroke in chapter 11? - dog's arthritis ...

If I were to go through the list with colored markers, I could pretty quickly identify what thoughts are consuming most of my brain space (job, household management, kid) and which ones are barely registering (hello neglected hubby, extended family, poetry writing).

As I've been reading up on "executive skills" to help my daughter become less scattered, I've had to come to grips with my own strengths and weaknesses. My girl has a very poor "working memory"--the ability to hold and quickly draw on practical information--yet mine is excellent. I rarely write lists, believing I don't need to. But the more I keep adding new information to my mental lists, the more noisy my brain becomes. Soon that "excellent working memory" becomes more of a handicap than an asset. So much is in my head, I can't easily articulate my needs so others can pitch in. I get more and more overwhelmed because I've made my memory my master.

And you know what else? I have no brain space for aesthetic pleasure, creativity or long-term planning and dreaming. And this, friends, is no way to really live.

I've been able to help my daughter tackle her morning, after school and bedtime routines with fewer reminders and nagging by simply creating lists and incentives. As she successfully completes tasks and moves a magnet or pushpin from the "to do" to "done" column each day, she earns songs for her MP3 player. She's doing great, I'm yelling less. And best of all? I don't have to remember what she needs to remember.

In fact, remembering less feels so good, I want to start doing it more often in other areas of my life. At the office, I've made more use of spreadsheets and the "tasks" function in Gmail.

I'm keeping a journal in my purse for note taking. I've also looked into the Kindle apps store, and I think I'll download calendar and address book apps so I no longer feel the need to hold so many dates and phone numbers in my head.

Creativity requires breathing space in your brain. If you find yourself frequently stuck, or simply not writing much at all, consider how you might clear some mental clutter.

Is yours as crowded as mine? How might you clear some mental space?


  1. Oh my goodness, my brain is as busy and clogged up as yours. The whole time I was reading that I was thinking, "Dude, that's me! That's exactly the kind of constant clattering that goes on inside my head." And I get very little done comparatively speaking. I need to work on that.

    1. I call it "busy mom memory repository syndrome," in which we have to remember everything for everyone. It hit me like a bolt from the blue that using memory aids is not a crutch, but a tool that opens more space for creativity.

      So by all means, look for ways to offload the clutter by using memory tools: calendars, online automatic bill paying, task lists, phone alarm reminders, whatever.

  2. I read your post, thinking, "Wow, she's put in words what I feel like 99% of the time." Thanks! I've really been trying to deal with the same issues.

    1. Sometimes our strengths--like being able to remember everything for everyone--becomes a weakness when it gets in the way of our dreams of creative production. Using tools to clear away the mental clutter is a great place to start! Keep me posted on any other tips you happen to find. :-)

  3. First off - YAY!! I am so excited to get the poetry book! Thanks so much for offering this opportunity!

    As for the rest - I TOTALLY know that feeling!! My brain lately is just spinning with life stuff. I like the idea of making lists - somehow seeing it written down allows my brain to let go the "trying to remember" and I feel good when I get to cross something off. At night, sometimes, when I can't sleep, I write things down on scrap paper by the light of my iphone just so I can tell my brain it's okay to turn off for a while.

    1. You're most welcome. Glad you're so excited. :-)

      I see how well my daughter is doing when we accommodate her weak memory using simple environmental helps (like the lists I mentioned) and I realized how freeing it is to have less to remember.

      And your iPhone has a memo function doesn't it? If not, there's an app for that! If you've got the fancy phone, load that baby with as many tools as you can. It will save tons of brain space.

  4. Congrats to Heidi.

    I've never really thought about this before but you're so right. I don't write lists either thinking it will keep in my head, but now it's so full that I can't think about anything else. I like your suggestions and think I'll start writing notes on my laptop as reminders since I look at that everyday.

    1. Hope it helps your creativity, Patti. Here's to remembering less!

  5. My brain is so filled with writing stuff, it's the non-writing stuff that gets forgotten. Because of that, I have sticky notes all over my workspace. :D

  6. I've found that keeping a consolidated list can help, because sticky notes have a way of going missing. :-)