Journalism

A noticeable difference between left and right brain activity

August 11th, 2008

It has been a bad week; first I dropped my mobile phone down the loo, and then I gave it the Iraq treatment in the top oven of my AGA.
I am not an absent-minded person, and certainly not like Wittgenstein who had to summon his friends to help him fasten his braces – he couldn’t match the loops to his trouser buttons, and if left to dress unaided, went forth into Cambridge in a twisted tweedy mass of clown clothes.
Yet, the noticeable difference between left and right brain activity becomes pronounced whenever I am deep in a piece of work. I can write alongside doing real things – which I regard as gardening and cooking, but I cannot manage the outside world and its inanities. No call centres, tax forms, special offers, media-babble, maps, mobiles, emails, shopping. If I go out I will leave or lose my keys, purse, etc, and so I eat from my garden, or I stuff some cash into my pocket and take my bicycle into the village.
Then it occurs to me that all I am doing is living the very simple life that any writer would have lived until the assault of ‘convenience’ living, which seems to me to be very inconvenient indeed.
Poor old Wordsworth – what on earth did he mean when he said ‘the world is too much with us?’ He lived in the Lake District and walked everywhere. If he was there now he’d had to put up with Tourist Information and Teas, but what if he came down to London, wrote his Ode on Westminster Bridge, walked past the Wheel, and ended up at the IMAX?
I have a theory that the drink and drugs, self-harm and violence so common among creative people, and beloved of biographies and bio-pics, is not just the physical fall-out of a furious encounter with the god, (by which I mean the greater forces at work in any creative endeavour), but the impossible split between Right and Left brain.
Our world is increasingly Left brain while we work and in our daily interactions, and No-Brain at leisure. Where does this leave the dreamy intuitive playful creative Right Brain?  For most people, the Right Brain is being wiped out. For anyone creative, the gap between the two hemispheres is like rafting a rough sea; shipwreck is likely.
But not necessary. Naturally I think it is the outside world that is bonkers, not the steady sane inner life that is driven bonkers by the clash.
I have just agreed to write a book about all of this; at least it won’t be on the lines of Shakespeare was a sixteenth century life-coach. Let me write it here, carefully and clearly: Shakespeare was not the sixteenth century equivalent of a life-coach. He is a dramatist, a poet, an alchemist and an enigma. Nobody needs a life coach; we all need a life.
And I suppose that is what distresses me so much about the way we are forced to live – the 24/7 emergency zone of no time and endless stress, barrages of useless data and the ceaseless rush to get somewhere. The quiet meditation of art – books, pictures, music, theatre, is an antidote to that, not as a quick fix, but as a renewing and concentrated energy.
But it was Emily Bronte’s fault anyway – the phone in the AGA.
I was thinking about her, wild, troubled, alive, free, and I wasn’t thinking about my toytown mobile phone, so I put it in the wrong oven – the bottom oven where the cat sometimes sleeps would have been fine.
What would Emily Bronte have done with a mobile phone? Who would she have had on Speed Dial? Charlotte? The Rev Patrick?
And if Heathcliffe could have texted Cathy, how many wet walks across the moors could have been avoided?
In fact, the whole drama of Wuthering Heights could have been played out with no effort at all, and Nelly could have saved everyone a lot of trouble by sending two Copy All texts: CATHY DYING. CATHY DEAD.
But it’s not the real stuff I want to avoid, but the rest, the stuff masquerading as real life, that isn’t worth much time and energy.
Books – writing them, reading them, are worth all the time and energy they need, because they give it back a hundred-fold.
So the next time someone glances up from their psychotic mobile-mania, and says they are too busy to read, tell them that all texts are not equal, and give them Wuthering Heights.