the loquacious brain

monday 22 august 2011

I recently read the book (something I can seldom do anymore) Shadows Bright As Glass by Amy Ellis Nutt. It details the brain injury and aftermath of a man named John Sarkin. It’s a book that’s jammed full of fascinating information about the brain in general and this man’s experiences in particular. I have used one of Ms. Nutt’s chapter titles for the title of this post. And I’ve done this because I myself have one of those very loquacious brains, and have known others with them too.

Among many other things that happened to Sarkin was this: after his brain damage was finished happening, and it was a process, he had an absolutely compulsive need to write and paint and draw. This stays with him still, as far as I know. He really can’t do much of anything else. He writes and paints and draws wherever he is, with whatever materials happen to be lying around. He cannot stop.

One of the specialists whom Ms. Nutt quotes in the book is Alice Flaherty, a neurologist at Harvard, and one who worked with John Sarkin. Here are some samples, all taken from the book.

1.  “In many ways, Flaherty said, Sarkin was a classic case of Waxman-Geschwind syndrome, a personality disorder characterized by excessive verbal output, an intensified mental life, and an obsessive preoccupation with detail.”

2.  “Psychologists have retrospectively identified hypergraphic writers, painters, and scientists, including Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Vincent van Gogh, Agatha Christie and Stephen King.”

3.   Flaherty believes it is the limbic system, the seat of our emotions and our most primitive drives, that kicks creativity into hyperdrive in those artists, writers and thinkers who exhibit hypergraphia, and it is suffering and pain that pricks the limbic system into life (italics mine). “…..   “Some scientists, in fact, believe that the act of compulsive writing and art may be an attempt to understand or manage the deep complexity of existence.”

I’m not saying that I disagree with any of Ms. Flaherty’s insights, which I happen to think are very keen. What eternally bothers me about psychiatrists and some neurologists is that every single bloody thing in this world that does not  conform to an arbitrary definition of “normal” (who the hell made that definition anyway? freud? jung? who?) has got to have some loopy label put on it and be classified as either a syndrome or a disorder. If you wash your hands more than somebody or other wants you to, you’re obsessive-compulsive. If you have trouble with small spaces, you’re claustrophobic. Whatever happened to things being just part of the huge variations in human personality? Where did that go? It used to be: Joanie always likes to have clean hands. Walter doesn’t do well with heights. Mary gets her really down periods. Mike is a good guy, but he’s got a hell of a temper. The wide range of possibilities in human personality. Not anymore. Joanie is OC, Walter is acrophobic, Mary is depressive, Mike needs to go to anger management classes. Why isn’t it that just the most extreme examples (like poor Sarkin) get the labels thrown onto them, and the rest just be the way we human beings can be.

Certainly in John Sarkin’s case, his need to create is very extreme, and maybe because of that it deserves labels and syndromes. And then I look at myself. Since the horrifically traumatic events that occurred in my life in 2008, I’ve been writing much, much more than I ever wrote before. Do I have hypergraphia, according to the psychobabbles? Do I have Waxman-Geschwind syndrome? If any psychobabbles would show up here and leave me a comment: yes, anne, you have one or both of those disorders, I might just answer them this way: So what. Who does it hurt that I write a whole lot? I’m doing the best Ican after a fatal blow to my psyche, after everyone I love was stolen and killed, after the worst trauma of my trauma-filled life. I’m not able to kill myself for some reason, so I write. I have no family to take care of anymore, so I write. Just as John Sarkin is doing the best he can after devastating injuries to his brain, I and many others are doing the best we can after equally severe injuries to our psyches. Leave us alone to get on with it.

I myself have always had an extremely loquacious brain, and I’ve known a few others who were that way too. I’ve always had a need for stimulating conversation, reading, writing, drawing, music, making things. The writing and conversation parts have become many times stronger since the events of 2008. So what. I have no one to talk to most of the time, no one to have stimulating conversations with, so I write even more. My brain has a huge need to communicate, in one way or another, and so does John Sarkin’s now. Maybe one of you reading is like that too. Why do we have to have so many labels slapped on so many things. This is the infinite variety of human brains, and human personality. If you paint pictures all day long, so be it. I bless you in your painting. You’re not hurting anyone, as far as I know. Maybe people like us are simply trying to “manage the deep complexity of existence,” and the deep complexity of the pain we’re in.


read…  Lifelines…    Stolen stars


Share   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ website 


a href=”” data-count=”none” data-via=”annegrace2″ data-related=”ziidjian:outre tweeting”>Tweet</a><script type=”text/javascript” src=””></script