Musings on the brain

img_3014Billowing snow streamed fast as the wind from a sepia skyscape, snowflakes dancing and shifting in gusts the way they do, the way you’ve seen them. Only they weren’t falling against a night sky, but against my own eyelids, in my own, resting mind. After hours of snow outside and inch after inch of it piling up, I awoke one morning to the view of a blizzard– before I’d opened my eyes. My brain was creating torrents of entirely new, phantom snowflakes, like a movie reel in my mind.

Has this, or anything like it, ever happened to you?

I’ve had a similar experience a few times in my life after repetitive activities, most vividly after picking strawberries when I was a kid. Have you been there? Getting up before dawn to catch the berry bus, spending the whole day in the dirt under a hot sun, picking enough berries to fill a flat, then picking more…

strawberries-handfulSometimes the phantom berries came in the morning, but mostly at night: there they were on the backs of my eyelids with their jaunty green stems, as plump and red and individual as any of the real berries I’d picked. But I never got the sense that this was a replay of an actual moment. I don’t have a photographic memory–far from it. It seemed, instead, like my resting mind offering an answer to repetitive stimuli. A reminder, maybe, of what I’d done all day? An organic, creative download?

I like to think it’s the power of imagination, how, after taking in berry after berry all day long, the brain says “I can do that–see? Look at all these beautiful berries!” The phenomenon reminds me of dreaming, how our minds, when free to roam, can conjure up incredible detail, even when the setting or events don’t make sense.

A recent dream of my own comes to mind when I found myself at a birthday party for a good friend. There I was, in a festive atmosphere, a table of food laid out before me, my friend happy and laughing, her guests seated all around. Oddly, they were young women I’d never met–who don’t exist that I know of–yet there they were, around that table in full detail: their clothes, their hair, their features, the sound of their voices and the way they moved. None of it was real, but it didn’t matter–and I’m sure you know the feeling, your mind just keeps making it up as the dream progresses.

Incredible, right?

img_3053The morning I saw the snowflakes, as I lay there newly awake but with my eyes still closed, I thought about writing this article. Some of the words came to mind, and I considered how the ideas might flow and connect. I even came up with a closing paragraph that felt right–until I got up, neglected to jot it down and, within a few minutes, forgot every word.

So that’s where I’ve ended up, musing about the brain’s creativity–and fallibility. The last time I posted here, I mentioned a certain end-of-the-year deadline for my next novel, now three-quarters complete. Alas, that deadline has come and gone, and I still need several more months. There you have it, fallibility.

But it’s all good, as they say, as long as the creativity keeps coming. One day soon I’ll have a manuscript ready for beta readers–and myself–working up to that final edit. I can see it now: after hours of careful reading and flipping page after page, it’ll be words on my eyelids, flowing past.

What am I thankful for?

Turkey face, bird, close up.I’m wondering if you know the feeling: you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, crazy busy getting everything ready–What time did I put the turkey in?–then finally, everyone is gathered, the potatoes are mashed, the gravy done, and you call the masses in to eat. But it’s only after everyone’s seated and halfway through their meals that you realize you forgot to give thanks. On Thanksgiving Day! I confess I’ve done this and ended up feeling like an overstuffed, ungrateful birdbrain–all before I’d even had pie!

This year, for a little insurance, I’m thinking ahead about all I’m grateful for and making a list. It’s not complete. How could it ever be? But it’s a start:

Clouds with sun shining through.

Summer sky over Lake Billy Chinook



First, I’m thankful for the grace of God, and how, despite evil and heartache (too much of which we’ve seen lately), hope and goodness shine through.


Marcia and Ed out to dinner.

Anniversary dinner in Lincoln City, OR




I’m thankful for my husband, who shows tremendous patience with the hours I spend writing (and not cleaning house!)…



me with kids (little) asleep in pajamas

Asleep before the story is done, circa 2000



…and for our kids (who for some odd reason never learned to clean house).



Clayton and Hazel with trick or treater.

Clayton and Hazel with neighbor “baby May”



I’m thankful for my parents (about to be great-grandparents again) and for every new day they’re able to stay in their own home…

Sisters in brown outfits, circa 1968.

Coffey sisters 1960s style (clockwise from upper left) Karen, Sally, Linda, Marcia





…and for my sisters, for all our years together, and that we’re each able to help with mom and dad.



My friends, around a table, waving.



I’m thankful for friends I can reach out to after a bad day for a little confidence or a big laugh…



Me with a goofy smile.




…and for humor, EVERY SINGLE DAY, which keeps me sane!


Sunrise over neighborhood.

Sunrise from our living room window




And, finally, I’m thankful for this life, however flawed, and hope that, one day, when it comes to a close, I’ll have family beside me and the presence of mind, one last time, to give thanks.


–If you’d like to add to this list, please feel free to leave a reply below–