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.

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