- Stephanie Sorensen
I Wonder... and Brain Freeze
Updated: Dec 14, 2019
I am part of a wonderful women writers' group. About ten of us, give or take a few, meet every month for lunch and go around the table updating the others on our progress, any new developments in our work, networking about new ideas, etc. Without fail, the majority will bemoan the fact that they have been so uninspired this past winter or summer; that they haven't found a way to buckle down and write consistently everyday. They try this method or that suggestion, and nothing works. So I started wondering why.
What makes my brain, for example, sluggish, or decidedly blank or uncreative?
Is there a time that works better for me? Is there a place that works better for me? What kinds of reading material feeds my spirit? Does exercise help? Does coffee? Making love?
While pondering these conundrums, I thought about a study being done in Seattle. A group of childbirth professionals were wondering about a new phenomenon where couples in labor were coming into hospitals around the country, only recently, without birth plans, without a list of wishes. They had simply given up. It had all become too confusing and overwhelming. They surrendered to whatever staff were on duty and told them to do whatever they needed to do. You might ask what I am doing reading studies on prospective parents and current childbirth trends. The short version is that I am a retired midwife-turned-author.
What was scaring many of these couples was the fact that they could say what they might like to try or do during labor, but should a doctor suggest something different, or push for interventions, they were at a loss. How could they possibly contradict medical advise, signing a waiver if necessary and risk harming their baby? The responsibility in the face of conflict was just too much. I get it.
So now you are asking what the two stories above might possibly have anything to do with each other. Well, it occurred to me that perhaps my writer friends were experiencing the same kind of overwhelming, confusing, dysfunctioning, paralyzing episodes that those parents were. Pondering how to go forward only produced fear. In turn the brain is left with no options. All it can do is freeze in self-defense until it can slowly thaw and heal. If we continue to bombard it with information, i.e., the millions of ways one can publish on social media, the lists of books on writer's block, the innumerable blogs for inspiring writers, ad infinitum, is it any wonder we check out? Literally? Does the Information Age and the World Wide Web possibly have anything to do with it? It might even be super-human or heroic that we are even able to produce any writing at all, in spite of such overload.
To test my hypotheses I have begun experimenting with my own brain, the only one donated to the study thus far. First I wondered about how much new information I am feeding my brain on a daily basis. I could list the newspapers or radio every morning, then checking my email, scrolling the news there, then opening any interesting attachments. Next I would check my blog, perhaps work on an article I have been trying to write, taking a short detour to look up the latest Paleo recipes, then back to breakfast and the radio or music. Oh, yes, and volunteering once a week and working part time.
The everyday shopping, driving, cooking, cleaning, etc. have to be squeezed in besides. And this time of year there are garage sales all along the way that the car turns into almost on its own!
The night before last I had watched a movie with my husband and then read a memoir in bed for close to an hour. I mark important places with Post Its to review later. I am currently writing two memoirs simultaneously. One about our 25 years living and working with Hmong refugees, and one about entering the Land of Psychosis as I experienced it some years ago when I was inadvertently given a very powerful drug to which I reacted badly. It was an interesting trip, not unlike what I imagine LSD might be like. It gave me a glimpse, however, into what the mentally ill mind experiences all the time, year after year. I am now back to normal—I think.
In my preliminary evaluations, I decided there was too much information coming in at too fast a pace. I was reacting by trying to produce as much in ratio to my writings at the same time. I was simply TOO BUSY. That went for reading, screen time and radio. I noticed that on the days I was really on a roll, I would be even more exhausted and often took a nap by four in the afternoon, have supper and tuck in early, sleeping in until eight the next morning. It was exhibiting almost like a self-inflicted mania. What would happen if I just stopped? (What would happen if I didn't was an even-scarier prospect.)
So I did. I went almost a week without the news, the radio, TV or my laptop, and turned off my phone only checking it twice a day. Instead I walked, sat outside watching mama ducks nervously trying to keep track of 17 baby ducks, sipped herbal tea and did nothing. I took a nap. I don't remember what else I did. It was pretty quiet. It helped that I was visiting a friend in Wisconsin that week, but once I got home I committed to doing without for a while more. I cleaned off all the tables and desks at home. I mended the little pile on the sewing machine, then I put away the sewing machine.
I am trying to keep my desk tidy. The more cluttered it is, the more frantic my mood, I've noticed. It makes me wonder about the wisdom of our Amish friends whom I had gotten to know when I was practicing midwifery. No cars, no com-puters, no phones. Perhaps we humans were actually meant to live like that. I wonder how normal this pace we have gotten ourselves into is. I no longer think that modern man (and woman) have been blessed with technology. I wonder if in reality it is a curse. We only relate to one another in tiny time slots now, like my writers' group: two hours in any given month at most. If there are ten of us, that is about five minutes each to talk, given we need to eat during that time, too.
In the end, perhaps writing and birthing babies isn't all that different. Nature will take care of both if we let Her. Each one works well without a whole lot of interference. Granted my brain isn't in the same place as my, well, you-know-what, but I need to respect both and the time and space needed. !
Midwife-turned-author, Stephanie Sorensen has been published in numerous publications and authored several books, most recently Ma Doula: A Story Tour of Birth, available on Amazon. Stephanie lives in Isanti, Minnesota with her husband at a retreat center called Pacem in Terris.