Tag Archives: Elinor Smith

Sixth Avenue on a rainy afternoon; Herman Melville

 

 

 

Sixth Avenue 4-23 a.m. 11-30-2018

Sixth Avenue, New York City; Friday afternoon, November 30, 2018

 

 

I took this photo of Sixth Avenue on my way home on Friday afternoon.

It’s been raining a lot in the City this week.

Rain can be a slight inconvenience, like other weather phenomena, but I never really minded it. It can be “nice.”

When I was very young, my mother took me once to my eye doctor, Dr. Johnson, in Boston on a weekday. We went by subway.

The appointment lasted a long time. Going home in the late afternoon, it was dark and rainy. I didn’t mind. I loved having my mother all to myself. When we got home, she put me to bed. She was so kind. She kept saying that I was cold and wet and that I must be very tired: it had been such a long day and we got home late.

Re this photo of Sixth Avenue, this street scene, it reminds me of Herman Melville’s words (in Moby-Dick): “a damp, drizzly November in my soul.”

Thanks to the Good Lord that it came upon me once when I was first living in NYC to read Moby-Dick, in a library copy. What a book!

THE Great American Novel.

 

 

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Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

— Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; CHAPTER 1. “Loomings.”

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 2, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a February concert

 

 

 

Last night I attended a concert at Carnegie Hall.

The program:

Mozart Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550; Orchestra of St. Luke’s; Robert Spano, conductor

Bryce Dessner, “Voy a dormir”; Kelley O’Connor, Mezzo-Soprano

Beethoven, Piano Concerto in E-flat Major, Op. 73 (“Emperor”); Jeremy Denk, piano

I jotted down some notes and impressions as well as personal thoughts on my way home.

 

 

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Mozart symphony no 40

have known and loved the first movement from a very young age

but, to my surprise, I think I enjoyed the second movement (Andante) even more tonight … it is a musical conversation between the instruments … Mozart THINKS musically (as I noted in a previous post)

The second piece, “Voy a dormir,” was the world premiere of a work by a young composer … beautiful soprano voice (the composer collaborated with her on the work) … Spanish text, based on poetry by Alfonsina Storni (Argentinian)

It is pleasurable to hear Spanish and to be able to follow the lyrics, since I know the language. It sounded so beautiful, as are all the Romance languages. All kind of the same — in a way — and at the same time each unique with its own “melody.” En el fondo del mar / hay una casa / de cristal.

Listening to the Emperor Concerto performed live. What an experience. There is such a range of emotions in Beethoven — e.g., from the first to the second movement.

One can HEAR such a difference in and evolution of styles between and from Mozart to Beethoven. From classical to romantic. But, to me, Haydn is the clearest exemplar of the classical style — not Mozart (not to detract from Mozart; it’s just a question of musical styles).

I had unusually good seats. It was great to watch the conductor, Robert Spano, and the piano soloist close up.

There must be such an incredible feeling of power to be the soloist in a piano concerto.

 

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I thought of my father, a pianist who conducted occasionally

and of my family’s experience with music as performers

my father, who graduated from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in music and who was a professional musician and piano teacher

my mother, who was in the Radcliffe College chorus and played the piano

my three siblings, all of whom are gifted musicians, notably on the piano, and each of whom achieved proficiency in more than one instrument

my maternal grandmother, who — I never knew this during her lifetime — is said to have played the piano well

my paternal grandmother, who was a church organist and choir director … and my father the same

my paternal grandmother’s mother (my great-grandmother), who, I was told by an aunt, played the piano and sang in a Methodist Church in the nineteenth century

 

 

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I have hazy memories of my father conducting once or twice … I see him striding down the aisle proudly with his usual good posture, perhaps a bit more serious of mien than usual, but not overly so; assuming an appropriate air of dignity … being applauded … the performance commencing

where did he learn to conduct? … guess it’s not difficult if you have performed in orchestras … he did not, to my knowledge, conduct classical works

 

 

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when one is growing up, one takes one’s parents and nuclear family largely for granted … they are a given, like your front yard or neighborhood

your parents’ unique or distinctive attributes are something you are not likely to think about until much later in life

watching this particular concert, I felt a twinge of sadness, loss, and regret for my father and mother — occasioned by thoughts of what such a concert would have meant to them; how we could have talked about it (and would have enjoyed doing so); and how their existence and persons not only made mine possible, but endowed me with musical and aesthetic sensitivity

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 16, 2018

 

 

program

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Mozart. Symphony No. 40

second movement (Andante)

 

empathy

 

 

One day we were in the garden. Father stood looking in at the pig. Mother was hanging clothes out, and I was weeding. Two travelling journeymen came past. They were dusty, carried knapsacks on their backs, and looked rather wretched. Seeing the pump near the cottage, they asked for a drink. Mother asked if they would rather not have beer, in which case they could come in. I heard Father say she was not to invite such ruffians in, but Mother answered, “Niels, dear, just think if they were two of our own boys.” Father said nothing, but I could clearly see that he was struck by the reply.

 

— Carl Nielsen, “My Childhood on Funen,” pg. 91

 

 

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As I would have done (not to pat myself on the back).

As my father or mother would have done.

As our Lord would have done.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 2018

vengeance

 

 

If I whet My glittering sword,
And My hand takes hold on judgment,
I will render vengeance to My enemies,
And repay those who hate Me.

— Deuteronomy 32:41

 

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

— Isaiah 53:3

 

The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness.

— William Blake, “Jerusalem”

 

A Robin Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.

— William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”

 

 

 

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This post is about yesterday’s news stories about the sentencing of “monster doctor” Larry Nassar to a term of 40 to 175 years for sexual abuse.

Before I get to my main point – actually, points — I would like to mention some of my deep feelings about human suffering and sympathy.

My mother used to say to me that she had always wished one of her children would become a doctor. She used to say how much she admired our pediatrician, Dr. Cohen, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was the type of caring, humane physician she most admired. He was the type of doctor who was always on call.

I would always say to her, “I couldn’t be a doctor. I can’t stand the sight of blood.” And, indeed, the sight of people or animals suffering, just the thought of it, was something that deeply upset me. Once, I observed boys torturing frogs in a local reservoir with their pocket knives. This greatly upset me. It also struck me that there was no reason for such cruelty, and I couldn’t understand what motivated the boys or why they enjoyed it. I had such feelings about suffering in general, including emotional pain, even minor emotional hurts.

To repeat, I hate to see needless suffering: inflicted upon others; experienced by them.

 

 

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Yesterday, on January 24, 2018, Dr. Lawrence Nassar was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of from 40 to 175 years by Ingham County (Michigan) Circuit Court judge Rosemarie Aquilina for molesting young girls and women. Larry Nassar, D.O., is a 54-year-old former Michigan State University and USA gymnastics team physician who has also been sentenced (in November 2017) to 60 years in federal court on child pornography charges.

Judge Aquilina, who had opened her courtroom to all the young women victims who wanted to address Dr. Nassar directly, forced him to listen when he pleaded to make it stop.

“It is my honor and privilege to sentence you,” she said yesterday, and noting the length of the sentence, added, “I just signed your death warrant.”

Given an opportunity to address the court before sentencing, Dr. Nassar apologized and, occasionally turning to the young women in the courtroom, said: “Your words these past several days have had a significant effect on myself and have shaken me to my core. I will carry your words with me for the rest of my days.”

Just before sentencing Dr. Nassar, the judge read parts of a letter that he had submitted to the court last week, in which he complained about his treatment in a separate federal child pornography case and wrote that his accusers in this case were seeking news media attention and money. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” he wrote in the letter. There were audible gasps from the gallery when the judge read that line.

Dr. Nassar was accused of molesting girls as young as six, many of them Olympic gymnasts, over a period of many years under the guise of giving them medical treatment. In November, he had pleaded guilty to sexually abusing seven girls.

Judge Aquilina was a fierce advocate for the victims, often praising or consoling them after their statements.

“Imagine feeling like you have no power and no voice,” Aly Raisman, an American gymnast and Olympic gold medal winter, said in court. “Well, you know what, Larry? I have both power and voice, and I am only just beginning to use them. All these brave women have power, and we will use our voices to make sure you get what you deserve: a life of suffering spent replaying the words delivered by this powerful army of survivors.”

 

 

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I hate to see anyone suffer. And that includes Larry Nassar. I wish he could be given some hope.

I hope I do not appear to be minimizing the horrors of what the girls who were abused by Nasar experienced. Perhaps I am. I don’t know what it was like.

 

 

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A sad story. Horrible. So what do I think? And why should anyone care what I think?

That I wonder: is anyone completely beyond redemption?

Should the purpose of punishment be to humiliate and make an example of the victim? To make a statement? I think that that is what the judge was doing. The trial has given her the stage, a platform; she is in the spotlight. She is making the most of this opportunity to impose a draconian sentence on Nassar.

Is anyone so horrible that they cannot still be considered part of the human race? Perhaps amenable or susceptible to making amends and reforming themselves? Nassar is clearly a pedophile. The evidence of his guilt is overwhelming. Is there treatment for such persons?

To repeat: I hate to anyone suffer, and that includes the worst of the worst, the most lowly and depraved.

 

 

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The Nassar trial was like an orchestrated Orwellian “hate,” with the judge the conductor. Public outpourings of hate seem to be common nowadays. Consider the Women’s March 2018.

I was looking at some photos shared with me by an acquaintance who attended the march on January 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. Here’s what I saw:

A woman holding a poster aloft with what appears to be a doctored close up photo of Trump. Two arrows are pointing to Trump’s mouth. Trump’s lips have been altered and colored brown, so that it appears that his mouth is an anus. On the sign, in big letters, “‘THE ONLY SHITHOLE” is written.

A woman with raised fist, a tattooed forearm, half closed eyes, and pursed lips holding a sign that reads “Kicking Ass & Taking Over the World” with a cartoon Rosie the Riveter type flexing her muscles.

A woman holding aloft a sign that reads “the EMPEROR HAS NO TAX RETURNS.” There is a cartoon drawing of a fat man’s midsection. Where his penis would be, a blank piece of paper is covering it up, with only “1040” written on it.

A young woman with a pink knit cap holding aloft a sign that reads “HELL hath No FURY LIKE SEVERAL MILLION PISSED OFF WOMEN” with the female gender symbol.

Two women sitting on a low stone wall (with another woman between them). Both have large signs on their backs. One sign reads: MY SUPER POWER IS THAT I CAN LOOK AT SOMEONE WITH GETTING A BONER.” The other sign reads “I’D CALL HIM A CUNT BUT HE LACKS BOTH DEPTH AND WARMTH.”

Two guys with broad grins standing on top of a stone wall. They are holding aloft a sign that reads “THE ONLY xxxHOLE IS IN THE WHITE HOUSE.”

An elderly man with a funny hat and aviator sunglasses, holding aloft a sign reading “TRUMP: Racist. Sexist. Fascist. PSYCHO”

Most of the hate is directed at President Trump, and, by extension, to sexual predators.

Much of it seems crude and uncalled for. And, actually, disrespectful. Yes, I do think public figures deserve some kind of respect. As was true of authority figures and adults when I was growing up.

There is a swell — threatening to become a tsunami — of meanness, and a lack of a modicum of decency, in our culture nowadays, in the public square.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  January 25, 2018

 

 

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In an up email to close friends on February 28, 2018, I wrote:

I wrote on my blog last month: The Nassar trial was like an orchestrated Orwellian “hate,” with the judge the conductor. Public outpourings of hate seem to be common nowadays.

That’s what I disliked about the trial. I know Nassar was guilty of doing awful things.

To know what such a “hate” is, you have to have read “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

 

 

 

 

 

Judge Aquilina & Nassar

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina; Larry Nassar

the effervescent (sometimes typographically challenged) pedant

 

 

I am blessed to come from a family that is very verbal, that delights in oral and written exchanges and expression and in word play. It seems as if they always put things just right, and often they amuse or provide a pleasant surprise with verbal ingenuity.

When I was in college, my brother and his wife gave me a book as a Christmas gift: Samuel Eliot Morison’s The Oxford History of the American People. On the flyleaf, my brother wrote an inscription: “To the effervescent pedant / With love”

I thought of this because of an email exchange I had with my brother this morning.

In the email to my brother, I quoted from my post

 

“her” instead of “him”; Ms.; and what else?

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/12/20/her-instead-of-him-ms-and-what-else/

 

as follows: “The PC types are all for conversation (of the wilderness and the natural environment). Why do they want to tear asunder our language? Like nature, it should be conserved, which does mean embalmed or ossified.”

 

and, in the email, said:

See any problem with this?

The PC crowd does tend to be loquacious.

 

 

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My brother responded as follows:

Cute typo.

Reminds me when you confused “martial relations” with “marital relations,” an apt malaprop that sent Mom into gales of laughter — loving laughter because in part she was enjoying your early advanced vocabulary.

 

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I wrote back:

All very true, Pete.

Aptly described.

Your memory is impressive.

I had forgotten how I used to get “martial” and “marital” mixed up.

Sometimes, I would make words up, which amused Mom … I used to say, “It’s just the INTRACITIES of life.”

Once I wrote Mom a letter using several big words I had just learned. I said that if she had no objection, I would DESCANT upon a few things. (To descant means to talk tediously or at length.)

She wrote back a letter beginning with, “So, cant me no descants.” She loved word play.

 

 

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This was brilliant usage by my mother. The intransitive verb cant (the meaning of which I did not know) is defined thusly:

1: to talk or beg in a whining or singsong manner

2: to speak in cant or jargon

3: to talk hypocritically

I’m trying to remember in which work of literature I first encountered the word descant.  I usually don’t forget such things.

It will come to me.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 22, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

left vs. right brainedness; and, CREATIVITY

 

 

An animated discussion with an acquaintance the other day got me to thinking about the concept of left vs. right brainedness (known by scientists as lateralization of brain function) and how it affects people. Clearly, it is a fact of one’s makeup that is extremely important. There is much to be contemplated by the layperson trying to understand himself or herself. It seems to affect us so profoundly.

No doubt, the terms are often used loosely, and while I am not an expert, there seems to be much confusion, with concepts getting tossed around by people who feel that this or that trait is dominant in their makeup.

My wife is right brained. I am left brained. My entire nuclear family — parents and four children — was thoroughly left-brain predominant. I am so “left brain” it isn’t funny.

My acquaintance acquainted me with a chart summarizing the key features of the two types of brain dominance, which is very helpful. The key distinctions are that the left brain is dominant in speech and language, logical analysis and reasoning, and mathematical computations, while in the right brain spatial awareness, intuition, facial recognition, visual imagery, music awareness, art, and rhythm predominate. This is a very useful schema, heuristically, but as is true of much that is written and spoken about in human psychology, facile explanations and distortions are all too possible.

I have zero expertise and cannot do more than speak from experience and my own speculations: my experience as it seems to corroborate the basic ideas; my speculations about what this might say about creativity.

 

 

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My Left-Brainedness

 

I am totally left-brained, as noted above, and knowing this and what its implications are has helped me greatly to understand myself. This is very true in terms of defects of mine in perception that stand out. I am very poor at learning and perception when it comes to spatial relationships. Give me an aptitude test of verbal ability and I will excel. Give me a test (as has happened) in which there are pendulums and pulleys, and one has to figure out which way a wheel will rotate if another wheel is rotating in the other direction, and I am helpless. I have no mechanical ability. If you give me directions in words, I’m fine. Show me a map and I am confused.

Facial recognition is a right-brain dominant strength. Being left-brain dominant, I am very weak at this. I used to have the embarrassing experience occasionally at my workplace of failing miserably at facial recognition. It would happen in the following manner. I would encounter someone who did not work in my department and perhaps worked on a different floor, but whom I knew and would see fairly often. I would encounter them at random so that the encounter was not foreseen. Suddenly, I could not think of their name, which caused me great consternation. I knew I knew them well, but I could not match the face with a name. I would say something like, “Good morning, how are you?” —leaving off their name — which the other person could perceive as being insulting. A few minutes later, after the encounter, the name would come to me, too late.

I am very good at remembering names of persons known to me in the present and in the past. I remember names of persons from way back whom I met but did not become closely acquainted with. So, there is a storehouse of names in my left brain. The problem, which used to cause me near panic at work, is that facial recognition somehow fails me, and I can’t connect the face with a name, even though there is a storehouse of names ready to be recalled in my left brain.

This is a significant fact of my experience, but it may not be that important. A more important fact is that I am at weak at thinking which is said to predominate in right brain types: holistic thinking, getting the big picture. I can reason and parse a problem with something bordering on brilliance, but sometimes when I have to make a decision and the facts are staring me right in the face, I have trouble seeing the solution clearly.

 

 

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My Right-Brained Genius Friend

 

I had a friend in college who influenced me greatly intellectually. We used to have deep discussions (called bull sessions back them) that went on and on, often late into the night.

I recall when I first met him in our residence hall. He almost seemed like a hayseed and didn’t seem that smart. My college roommate, being informed that we had talked, said of my new acquaintance (the soon to become close friend and bull sessions partner) that he was brilliant. Really?, I thought. Several years later when reading a biography of Herman Melville, the words of Sophia Hawthorne (wife of Melville’s friend Nathaniel Hawthorne) about Melville (in a letter to her mother) reminded me of my college friend:

He has very keen perceptive power; but what astonishes me is, that his eyes are not large and deep. He seems to me to see everything accurately; and how he can do so with his small eyes, I cannot tell. They are not keen eyes, either, but quite undistinguished in any way. … When conversing, he is full of gesture and force, and loses himself in his subject. There is no grace or polish. Once in a while, his animation gives place to a singularly quiet expression, out of those eyes to which I have objected; an indrawn, dim look, but which at the same time makes you feel that he is at that instant taking deepest note of what is before him. It is a strange, lazy glance, but with a power in it quite unique. It does not seem to penetrate through you, but to take you into itself.

My friend was like this in that he seemed to be mentally lazy, to not be that inquisitive or attentive at times. (This was actually NOT the case, as I was to discover.) He did not exhibit verbal brilliance; his conversation was not scintillating on the surface. (Actually, he was extremely insightful; I just didn’t see it.) He didn’t come off as an intellectual. But, I discovered over time, through sustained acquaintance, that he was a near genius and exceeded me intellectually in many important respects. He was a right-brained, big picture guy with great insight into people and human relationships. (He became a psychiatrist.) He was highly capable of original thought and coming up with brilliant formulations of his own that were couched in plain, homespun language.

We were briefly postgraduate premedical students together. I petered out. He excelled in the premed program and was accepted by an excellent medical school. We were both working then and attending classes in the evenings. We would meet after lectures. Everything would have been digested by him and stored in his brain for exam time. He barely had to study or look at a textbook, it seemed. He has gotten all the essential lecture points down pat. That is why I perceived him as being intellectually lazy; he never seemed to be making an effort (usually, I should say; this was actually not always the case).

My right-brained “genius” friend was not well read (although he did well, to the extent he made an effort, in English and humanities courses and helped to introduce me to James Joyce by encouraging me to attend a lecture on Joyce’s story “Araby” with him in my senior year in college). He had totally plebeian tastes in music; he was unacquainted with classical music. He could occasionally be unobservant about fine points of things and human relationships, making him appear insensitive. He was helpless at foreign languages. I stayed up all night once translating a paper into French for him that he had written, for a French course, in English and caught a bad cold. He barely thanked me.

 

 

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My Wife and I; Right Versus Left

 

 

My right-brained wife excelled at geometry. She is better than I am at fixing things.

My wife has an excellent grasp of big picture issues. She often helps me unravel things — often when they concern human relationships — making clear what is plain as the nose on one’s face, but which I missed.

Early in our relationship, I thought to myself, she’s the math major and I’m the writer, she probably can’t write well. I was wrong. I am a more polished writer, but her writing (such as in student term papers she showed me and in communiques such as work related memos and emails to me) is well organized and clear. I came to see that (as illustrated by wife’s writing) the left brain/right brain distinction can be misleading when crude measures or yardsticks are applied. It’s basically a question of APPROACH.

An illustrative example will help to make clear what I mean by this.

When disputes arise that my wife and I can’t seem to resolve, I will often find myself giving her a long lecture, a “sermon,” trying to convince her that my viewpoint is right, segueing from minute point to minute point, with corollaries and ancillary points. Only if all my points have been made, fully and clearly, with illustrative examples and supporting “evidence,” do I feel entitled to say: I have proved my case.

You can see her eyes glaze over. All she wants to know is: what is (are) your main point(s)? But, from my point of view, this almost ensures defeat, because she didn’t agree with me in the first place.

What I think this shows — what thinking about left- versus right-brain thinking seems to indicate — is that there are elemental reasons why my wife and I often can’t resolve disputes. We approach mentally perceived things differently.

 

 

 

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Creativity

 

In the chart below, what we see is:

Left Brain Functions: Speech and language, logical analysis and reasoning, mathematical computations.

Right Brain Functions: Spatial awareness, intuition, facial recognition, visual imagery, music awareness, art, rhythm.

This is a problem with psychology extracted from science. It often becomes pseudoscience.

Which is not to say that the schema is unsound, or that the scientific findings (and I am not a scientist) are unsound.

But, someone who glances at the chart may think, left-brain people like myself are nerdy, pointy headed analytical types who don’t have pizzazz and are too uptight, too straightlaced to be able to be spontaneous or creative. Whereas right-brain types are intuitive persons into music, art, and rhythm who are much more creative.

A lot of people think that being logical means one is inhibited and incapable of creativity and to be creative you have to be kind of nutty like a Salvador Dali. This is a superficial, misleading view.

I believe that this is a fallacy, a serious one, and that it can lead to a profound misunderstanding of what creativity involves. To repeat, it’s not the schema that’s at fault. It’s that misinformed people don’t interpret it properly. As a matter of fact, the internet posting indicates that “It is possible to be analytical/logical as well as artistic/creative and many people are.” (What is not said, which is a serious oversight, is that most creative people are analytical/logical.) The posting also indicates that it is not true that analytical people cannot be creative.

Note that the internet posting indicates that typical right-brain occupations include politics, acting, and athletics. “Acting,” one might say, “that’s creative. Proves my point. Right-brain types are creative.”

Two of the occupations listed, politics and athletics, are not in the creative category. And, actors, while they may have a lifestyle one associates with creative types, are not creative people. It is the playwrights, screenwriters, and directors who are creative.

The posting indicates that right-brained types are “intuitive,” whereas left-brained types are “logical.” Meaning that poets are right-brained? How about writers in general?

I’m not sure about poets, because I am not knowledgeable about poetry. But, I do know literature and great writing. Most writers — I will go out on a limb and assert it — are left brained.

Think of a writer such as Milton (poet!), Tolstoy, Melville, or Joyce laboring to produce a great work of art. Take the example of Joyce. A genius at language. Who labored about four years over Ulysses and seventeen years on his final novel, Finnegans Wake. The sequencing, the choice and order of words, were all. It is a master of language engaged in the most challenging exercise of exposition imaginable, drawing upon all his left-brain resources.

The schema associates right-brained people with musical talent. Perhaps at strumming a guitar or enjoying acid rock. But, this is very misleading; nowhere in the schema is there any indication that left-brained people may have a capacity for music. But, it is noted that left-brained people excel at mathematics.

It has been known for a long time that people with innate intellectual ability when it comes to abstract mathematics are often great appreciators of classical music. And, what’s more important, I am certain that most of the great composers were left-brained. Think about Beethoven endlessly revising his compositions. Working out the inner logic of his symphonies until it (the “musical logic”) seems preordained and inevitable. That is left-brained thinking, unquestionably.

People use words like “creative” and “intuitive” too loosely. Left-brainedness does not preclude creativity, far from it.

My mother provides an example. Her biggest intellectual strengths were reading/writing; communication/conversation. She was left-brained. She loved literature. She wrote very well. She remembered the books she read in great detail, as she also did conversations, incidents, and people she knew from the remote past. And, she was highly intuitive. It was the type of intuition a poet might have. She was great at picking up on subtleties, as poets (and also novelists) do and noticing or recalling little, telling details, in contrast to what is seen in “big picture” right-brain types.

A key, as is also true of my wife, to categorizing the mental or intellectual “cast” of person such as my mother is not to apply an adjective such as instinctive, intuitive, or artistic to that person from an a priori vantage point and then attempt to make it fit. It is, rather, to ask, how does that person habitually cogitate, communicate, and so forth? My mother excelled at writing and conversation. She was a born writer who never became one professionally. My father, to give another example, was a professional musician who showed talent from a very young age. Did that make him right brained? The answer is, definitely not. His writing demonstrated where his strengths lay. He wrote beautifully, whenever it was required of him. He had a gift that seemed remarkable for exposition, for making things clear, and for presenting his thoughts cogently, which is to say logically, both in conversation and writing.

My own career as a writer illustrates some of the above points. I was blessed with innate ability when it comes to language and exposition and raised in a family where these attributes were customary and essential. Yet, I slaved for years to hone my skills, beginning with rigorous writing instruction as a student and continuing with professional writing.

As a beginning professional writer, I often despaired of getting things right, meeting deadlines, being able to write to spec, and so forth; and labored for much longer than anyone might conceive to write short pieces for publication. What I have found over the years as I have become more skilled and my productivity has increased, is that there is a still a process which I go through in most cases. I start out with an idea for a piece of writing, I get some ideas down on paper. Leaving aside the question of research, which is a major undertaking in itself in the case of most expository pieces, I begin writing and it usually goes reasonably well. I am able to make a start (and am much more adept at this than in my earlier years as a writer when I labored over leads). Then, there is a long process of building upon that initial stab at a piece, of incremental additions, of qualifiers, rewriting, rearranging and recasting of thoughts, and of trying over and over again to get it just right, to get the words and sentences to cohere. It’s sort of like completing a jigsaw puzzle. (People think creativity means inspiration. Yes, it does, and no, it doesn’t. Meaning that most great works were produced after prodigious labor and endless refining — leaving aside the extended apprenticeship, years of study of models of excellence and of beginning or trial efforts, that a creative genius must undergo before achieving mastery. And, the works themselves do not just spring like rabbits out of a hat. Endless toil and labor go into producing them, during which the artist is not sure of the outcome. The best insights often come when you’re thinking hard, which means working hard, to perfect a piece, and they often come near the point of completion.)

For a while, one’s writing seems muddled, but it begins to take shape. Still, one knows that it’s not anywhere near completion, to being in finished form. One experiences frustration. But, the subconscious continues to work. One goes back to the piece, and on the tenth draft or so (literally) — if not the fifteenth or sixteenth — one feels the piece beginning to cohere and to have an inner logic: that it works. One has gone from becoming a logician of sorts (a logician of words and sentences, trying to work out their desired sequence) to an “artiste” (used sardonically), a creative writer, as they say. One experiences true creativity, which is very pleasurable. But true creativity is not possible without careful preparation and planning, without drudgery. This is not just true of a Roger W. Smith, it was also true of James Joyce, Gustave Flaubert, and Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. Didn’t I already say it? I belong in distinguished company. I’m left-brained! As were they.

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 2017

 

 

 

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Appendix:

 

 

Left Brain vs. Right Brain

 

http://www.diffen.com/difference/Left_Brain_vs_Right_Brain

 

 

 

Left-brained people are supposed to be logical, analytical, and methodical, while right-brained people are supposed to be creative, disorganized, and artistic. But this left-brain / right-brain theory has been refuted by a large-scale, two-year study by researchers at the University of Utah. In other words, it is untrue that logical people predominantly use the left side of the brain and artistic people predominantly use the right. All people use both halves of the brain. However, the stereotypes associated with being left- or right-brained persist and continue to arouse curiosity.

 

 

Comparison chart

Left Brain versus Right Brain

 

Left Brain Functions

Speech and language, logical analysis and reasoning, mathematical computations.

 

Right Brain Functions

Spatial awareness, intuition, facial recognition, visual imagery, music awareness, art, rhythm.

 

Left Brain Traits

Linear thinking, sequential processing, logical decision-making, reality-oriented.

 

Right Brain Traits

Holistic thinking, random processing, intuitive decision-making, non-verbal processing, fantasy-oriented.

 

Left Brain Perceived personality traits

Analytical, logical, pay attention to detail

 

 

Right Brain Perceived Personality Traits

Creative, artistic, open-minded.

 

 

Left Brain Overall Thinking

Linear, detail-oriented — “details to whole” approach.

 

 

Right Brain Overall Thinking

Holistic, big-picture oriented — “whole to details” approach.

 

Left Brain Thought Process

Sequential; verbal (process with words).

 

 

Right Brain Thought Process

Random; non-verbal (process with visuals).

 

 

Left Brain Problem-Solving

Logical — order/pattern perception; emphasis on strategies.

 

 

Right Brain Problem-Solving

Intuitive — spatial/abstract perception; emphasis on possibilities.

 

 

Left Brain Strengths

Mathematics, analytics, reading, spelling, writing, sequencing, verbal and written language.

 

 

Right Brain Strengths

Multi-dimensional thinking, art, music, drawing, athletics, coordination, repairs, remembers faces, places, events.

 

 

Left Brain Difficulties

Visualization, spatial/abstract thinking

 

 

Right Brain Difficulties

Following by sequence, understanding parts, organizing a large body of information, remembering names.

 

 

Background

 

The theory of right brain vs. left brain dominance originates with Nobel Prize winning neurobiologist and neuropsychologist Roger Sperry. Sperry discovered that the left hemisphere of the brain usually functions by processing information in rational, logical, sequential, and overall analytical ways. The right hemisphere tends to recognize relationships, integrate and synthesize information, and arrive at intuitive thoughts.

These findings, while true, serve as the basis for the now-disproved theory that people who are logical, analytical and methodical are left-brain dominant, and those who are creative and artistic are right-brain dominant.

A study conducted at the University of Utah has debunked the myth. Neuroscientists analyzed over 1,000 brain scans from people between the ages of seven and 29. The brain scans did not show any evidence that people use one side of the brain more than the other. Essentially, the brain is interconnected, and the two hemispheres support each other in its processes and functions.

 

Lateralization of Brain Function

The human brain is split into two distinct cerebral hemispheres connected by the corpus callosum. The hemispheres exhibit strong bilateral symmetry regarding structure as well as function. For instance, structurally, the lateral sulcus generally is longer in the left hemisphere than in the right hemisphere, and functionally, Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area are located in the left cerebral hemisphere for about 95% of right-handers, but about 70% of left-handers. Neuroscientist and Nobel laureate Roger Sperry has contributed significantly to the research of lateralization and split-brain function.

 

 

Brain Process and Functions

The left hemisphere of the brain processes information analytically and sequentially. It focuses on the verbal and is responsible for language. It processes from details into a whole picture. The left hemisphere’s functions include order and pattern perception as well as creating strategies. The left hemisphere controls the muscles on the right side of the body.

The right hemisphere of the brain processes information intuitively. It focuses on the visual and is responsible for attention. It processes from the whole picture to details. The right hemisphere’s functions include spatial perception and seeing possibilities in situations. The right hemisphere controls the muscles on the left side of the body.

 

The Stereotype

People who are analytical and logical and who pay attention to detail are said to be left-brain dominant, i.e., they use the left side of the brain more than the right side. Basic characteristics of left-brain thinking include logic, analysis, sequencing, linear thinking, mathematics, language, facts, thinking in words, remembering song lyrics and computation. When solving problems, left-brained people tend to break things down and make informed, sensible choices. Typical occupations include being a lawyer, judge, or banker.

People who are creative, artistic and open-minded are said to be right-brain dominant, and the right side of their brain is more dominant. Basic characteristics of right-brain thinking include creativity, imagination, holistic thinking, intuition, arts, rhythm, non-verbal, feelings, visualization, recognizing a tune and daydreaming. When solving problems, right-brained people tend to rely on intuition or a “gut reaction.” Typical occupations include politics, acting, and athletics.

 

 

What’s True

There exist personality types who are predominantly more analytical than artistic.

It is possible to be analytical/logical as well as artistic/creative and many people are.

 

 

What’s Not True

Analytical people cannot be creative (or the other way round) because only one part of their brain is dominant.

 

Strengths and Difficulties

Left-brained people are supposed to be good at mathematics, reading, spelling, writing, sequencing and verbal and written language. They may have difficulty with abstract visualization.

Right-brained people are supposed to be good at multi-dimensional thinking, art, music, drawing, athletics, coordination and repairs. They remember faces, places and events. However, right-brained people may have difficulty understanding parts if they can’t see the whole. They may also struggle with sequencing, organizing a large body of information and remembering names.

a note from my mother

 

 

Mom’s note to Roger, 1964

Wed. –

Dear Rog –

Sorry we let you get off without even discussing clothes with you. Had such a good weekend with you —

Rog – I enclose check for $10. – which is very little I know, but will you please buy 2 pairs permanent press chinos? This will be a start, and I’ll try to send more soon –

Must to hospital — Feeling pretty well today –

Love — + luck —

M