Are You Ever in Your Right Mind? Part Two

For the last post in Part One I shared how I did projects and straightened my house.

I’m like the oldest child in the Family Circle comic strip who when sent on an errand by his mom couldn’t just walk to the end of the block and back. He had to take the meandering scenic route which included the playground, going up and over every jungle gym and monkey bar set and straight through the sandbox and mud puddles.

So I loved it when several years ago our friends Melody and Mark shared about one of their Saturday afternoons when they had three hours to get their house in order. Melody claimed the inside of the house and moved her husband into his workshop to “make a dent in organizing and cleaning it up.” Left-brained Melody methodically made her way through every room with probably minutes to spare. She then realized that three hours had passed, and she hadn’t heard or seen her husband.

Walking through his workshop, still in its original disarray, she discovered Mark contentedly sitting at his workbench. He was putting the final touches on a tie rack he had just constructed. Melody just shook her head and laughed.

After hearing Mark and Melody share their sides to the afternoon, Bill and I laughed with them and felt relieved for several reasons. One, we were grateful to know once again strong relationships can survive in spite of brain-style differences. Two, we saw evidence of how each of us can complement another. Three, it wasn’t a gender-thing since Bill was the true lefty in our marriage. Four, that as an art teacher, I had another example that valued the way our individual brains are wired, along with our gifts.

What had just happened for Mark was a much needed and rarely gotten retreat, allowing him to have a creative outlet on one of his off-the clock days. As a school superintendent, Mark was usually pulled in multiple areas–students, staff, parents, administrators, schedules, the list continues. Fortunately, his brain style fits with Ned Hermann’s analysis of the perfect CEO (see Part One for explanation).

In the school office he was teamed with his administrative assistant Kary, one who was also well-suited for her position. Many times I had witnessed in awe as Kary juggled her multiple left-brained tasks with ease. After a few minutes, I usually left rattled from just watching, welcoming my chaos in the art room with students and projects as normal.

Moreover, Kary credits her years working with Mark as a time when she learned to reach into the creative side of her brain.

“I could only see things one way,” Kary said, “and Mark showed me boundless options.”

Little did Mark realize how those four years of high school art had invested into his future. He had absorbed more than just drawing horses or houses. He had learned to draw upon creative problem solving skills many never know are available. Kary has since implemented her newfound creativity into the designs and expressions in her office work as well as at home, church, for holidays and events.

When Bill and I moved to Searcy with two of our sons still at home, I realized both boys were growing into their true selves.

Nick is linear, sequential and fastidious with his lists. He has known since his elementary years that he wanted to be a pilot.

One weekend when Nick was home from college and needed to build his flight hours, we planned for him to fly us to Fayetteville for a Razorback game. I was a little nervous at first for him and us as we boarded the four-seater twin-engine plane.  I observed Nick walking around the plane with his clipboard. Conscientious as usual, he checked off each step once done. I grew confident we were in able hands. Now as a professional pilot, Nick is doing what he loves, what fits him.

Even now, when Nick comes home, I have him coach me on how to organize things, like our kitchen drawers. I can still hear him questioning me, “Really, Nonny, do you need paper clips and rubber bands in all the drawers?”

“Yes, pretty sure,” I’d say, thinking it was just smart to have a bit of hardware/office supply selections at every finger tip. At this point, I’m usually digging stuff out of the trash that Nick threw away. (Did I mention I envision a recyclable art project in most everything?)

Yet, Matt’s brain works differently. I remember his elementary days when I was guiding him through opportunities to discover what he loved. I tried taking him to baseball, but after watching him draw in the dirt two seasons in a row, I realized he had no interest in that. He was great in his tennis and golf lessons, but they were not sports he just had to do. He joined boy scouts and the badges held some intrigue. He loved science, even reading encyclopedias (the hardbound kind before computers). And I’ll never forget his sitting at my drafting table writing and illustrating his first book.

But what he really loved was taking things apart; he’s fascinated in how things work. And I didn’t know what to do with that. While picking up all the pieces of his last discovery mission, I’d remind myself that Einstein did that, too.

Yet, in looking back, now that he’s back in school as a computer science major, now that he’s built his own computer that really works (a phenomenal task since I can’t even upload–or is it download–photos on my Facebook page), I have to ask myself, why couldn’t I have celebrated his diverse interests more?

I know why. I was so trying to get him to fit perfectly with the left-brain scheme of things. I was convinced it would make life easier.

However, it can also make our lives less.

How can we begin to understand how our brains work? And how do we celebrate family, friends and colleagues who express themselves in manners we’ve yet to understand? If we could just open our minds and hearts and try to understand the specific ways we absorb and assimilate information. . . If we could only grasp what makes the wiring of our brains unique, we might capture more of those possibilities in us and others.

And we’d judge ourselves and others less harshly.

Like a lesson I learned: Artistic irony occurred that Saturday when my husband and I dropped by my art room. Bill pointed to a poster I had on the board of Romare Bearden’s painting Pittsburgh Memories. It’s a painting that looks like construction paper cut-outs of buildings and people. It’s one I used from standardized sample tests to teach junior high students how to evaluate art.

“That’s not art,” Bill stated emphatically.

Bill is one who would choose a Rembrandt or Caravaggio as art. We both have great respect  for the skill and talent of the great masters. Yet, as an art teacher I am open to many artistic expressions.  (I do draw the line–get it–in calling a blank canvas museum worthy, but again, that’s my opinion. And dripping paint on a canvas might require some thought about color selection and design drip placement but it’s more fun and creative than artistic genius worth tens of thousands . . . again, that is just my thinking.) So I did agree with Bill that Bearden’s artwork was simplistic and childlike, much like a shape project I did with my younger students.

That very night Bill and I attended the Arkansas Repertory Theater to see August Wilson’s play Fences performed. In the playbill the biography for August Wilson duly noted him as a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright. It also described how artist Romare Bearden was one of the four major inspirational influences in August Wilson’s life.

I couldn’t point this out to Bill fast enough. We both continued reading:

Wilson says of his first seeing Bearden’s series The Prevalence of Ritual which included his representational collage and mixed media Return of the Prodigal Son (1967), “What for me had been so difficult, Bearden made so simple, so easy. What I saw was black life presented on its own terms, on a grand and epic scale, with its richness and fullness, in a language that was vibrant and which, made attendant to everyday life, ennobled it, affirmed its value, and exalted its presence . . .”

Wow! I had never known to get so much out of Bearden’s works. But it spoke to Wilson in a powerful Pulitzer Prize winning way.

Who are we to judge how hearts can be moved through the numerous expressions possible?

Art in its many forms is meant to evoke emotions, passions that run deep within us that we might miss in an all-too-scientific-and-computerized world. Even for those who never choose to develop an eye for drawing or master a paintbrush, acting or singing on stage, we can still appreciate artistic expression. We can dare to participate in its creation by journeying through what’s been expressed by others, their diverse offerings, and decide what soothes us and exhilarates us. My husband doesn’t paint, but he loves visiting art museums with me.

Decades ago I read how the left brain activity has a dominate-take-charge force. It was during one study that researchers realized that when writers, artists and musicians used drugs and alcohol, the left side of their brains was silenced. Their creative thought was able to “speak” and release ideas, for a while at least. Sadly, their using this easy access to the creative side came with great cost. Their addictions eventually destroyed their brain cells, physical, mental and emotional well being, as well as relationships with others. Hence, this is one of the reasons why we have formed a negative image of artistic thinkers.

All the while, God meant for us to have a natural and healthy means to all parts of our brain.

Isn’t that what Mark was doing in his workroom? For him, it was a resting refueling. And he had something to show for it.

As a result of those times, memorable pieces result. I have a beautiful leather matchbox cover with my name on it. A dear friend’s husband made it. Obviously, he’s brilliant as an international consultant; yet, he took the time to craft this beautiful leather box cover for matches. I use it daily to light my favorite candles, and I think of them on the other side of the country.

And our endeavors can be a healing force, too. I remember reading about a woman who had been in a wreck and suffered excruciating physical pain. One restless night, she asked God for help. She got up and sat at her kitchen table, and with paper and colored markers in hand, she doodled all night. Not having any kind of artistic background, she just enjoyed swirling the colors. She became so engrossed in the process she forgot about her pain. Guess what she started doing on a daily (or nightly) basis? And would you believe her expressions turned into a million dollar card company?

Without our realizing it, many of us use the right sides of our brains when we design a poster or invitation and choose colors and patterns that please us for a room or computer wallpaper. Or we go back and forth, like with Matt when he was building his computer. My daughter Ari does that when designing a bouquet of flowers or a whole event.

Once we’ve identified the ways our brains are geared, the ways we easily lean, we can then focus on creative solutions to balance the other areas that make our lives more difficult. For example, those of us who are right-brained dominant should recognize that we abide by left-brained society’s rules and time constraints. We can then work towards being more efficient and punctual for a smoother, more organized life. We can ask for help from our left-brainers. Most especially, we can develop a reliable work ethic that glorifies God and enjoy it!

In turn, the left-brained dominate thinkers can release their limitations to access the right-side by immersing one’s self into the art of daydreaming, pondering, freeing the mind to roam during a nature walk. (It’s times like these we remember where we set our lost keys. The pieces of solutions can also fall in place for a problem’s end.) We can even ask right-brainers for help.

My prayer walks are my lifeblood for rearranging and organizing my life. Why not just go straight to God–the creative source of our hearts and minds!

But most of all, let us be true to who we were created to be.

I’ve only recently realized the areas where I’ve limited myself and especially limited God. Did you know I’ve quit painting and enjoying my art projects? Why? Because somewhere, sometime, over the past years I tried to only paint what I thought others expected of me. It was stressful because I’m not a Rembrandt or Vermeer. I don’t care to be. If painting nature fascinates me, I need to do that and not bother with faces or a still life that replicates each form and texture perfectly. If I’m in an abstract expressionist mood, so be it.

It just makes sense. Just because we’re not a music major, hopefully, we don’t not sing. Singing adds great pleasure to our days. What else have we abandoned that we need to reclaim?

If we don’t allow for those times just for us to express ourselves, we lose a part of us.

It’s not too late though to find all of who we are, to recapture and develop those healthy God-given areas of our lives.

I’d love to know what you’ve discovered that’s yours when you’re in your right mind.

Be sure to read this post’s Heavy Hurts page. I share how to find victory and peace in our battles. The Inspirational Thought offers a glimpse of eternity. The artwork is a fun polymer work I created for an example for a class. 

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