Brain Gains

Let’s call it the ancient brain. That part of us that keeps vital bodily systems functioning day in and day out. Making adjustments to our heart rate and our breathing to keep us upright. I actually think it is much more than that. It is probably aware of our surroundings and can warn us of danger, always ready to engage our ‘fight or flight’ response if need be. None of these activities need to be taught, they are programmed into our native operating system.

We don’t have much control over most of those involuntary ancient brain activities, not for long periods of time anyway. But we can, with some repetitive actions, upload new modules.

Take driving. When we’re learning to drive we have to think about every action we take as we make our way down the road. It takes all our attention to stay in our lane. But after a while we can carry on a conversation, and even operate the radio without driving off the road. Eventually, driving for most of us becomes second nature.

I have a painting I’ve been working on for a few weeks…it’s been sitting on my easel in my studio, waiting as I consider my next move. A few days ago I found myself standing with brush in hand, and to my surprise, a full hour had passed — I realized that I had been painting in that magical place between conscious thought and the working of that involuntary ancient brain.

I felt rather euphoric, and I was reminded of something that the great jazz pianist, Bill Evans, said of playing jazz and the creative process.

“Now the whole process of learning the facility to play jazz, is to take these problems from the outer level in, one by one, and to stay with it at a very intense conscious concentration level, until that process becomes secondary and subconscious. Now, when that becomes subconscious, then you can begin concentrating on that next problem, which will allow you to do a little bit more, and so on, and so on.” –Bill Evans, Universal Mind of Bill Evans (Documentary film, 1966)

I write a lot here about the problem solving fortitude it takes to make art. The principles of composition alone are enough to keep me awake at night! Add to that the technical facility and control we need over our tools and materials so that we can execute the work we want.

By making our art regularly, daily even, year after year, we begin to upload new skills to our ancient brain. Hopefully then we can (as Mr. Evans says), “…begin concentrating on that next problem, which will allow you to do a little bit more, and so on, and so on.”

Can we ask for much more?

A Conversation with the Last Week of September 2021.

I never saw you coming.
It’s not like I wasn’t paying attention.
You just appeared like you expected me to know just what to say.
So, what did you do with my summer anyway?
How interesting, I said you could have a sip, but you’ve gone and drunk the whole thing.
Waiter, can I have another one of these?
So, what have you been doing with yourself since last year?

Yes, No, Maybe So.

Coulda, shoulda, woulda. I can’t dwell on that too much — but I think I could have been a pretty good documentary filmmaker.

Of course, I hadn’t thought about that until this very morning. I was sitting in my studio plundering my brain for something to write about. While considering the nuanced differences and existential ramifications of saying yes or no to any given situation, something outside my door captured my attention.

There is a plant that grows near my studio. I don’t know what it is, but this time of year a portion of it dries up and breaks off in the wind and commences flitting about wherever it likes in a rather fairy-esque state.

I suppose it is the northern Michigan version of a tumbleweed?
I’d rather them be fairies. (Full disclosure: I am watching Midsummer Night’s Dream.)

I grabbed my video equipment (aka my iPhone) and set out as a landed Jacques Cousteau to document the elusive creatures.

They allow me to get quite close, but it is as though they sense my camera and in the same way many indigenous people have historically worried about cameras stealing their souls, they skitter away.

I am reminded how involved it is to focus and create. My mind was instantly consumed with editing and even soundtrack ideas as I was straining for the perfect camera angle to record these ethereal beings in their natural habitat.

WAIT A MINUTE! he says to himself. Once more you are standing at the edge of a rabbit hole begging you to jump in.

Maybe I was on to something with yes vs no. The older I get the easier it is to just say no.

So, NO! I’m not going down that path. I am going to keep enjoying my fairy friends speeding by my studio and welcome their occasional sneak in through my open door. No harm in that. I suspect that if I keep it friendly and don’t give them any grief they won’t cast any troublesome spells on me.

It Takes One to Draw One

idiom: phrases that say one thing but mean another. They sometimes come across as backward-speak. A quite a complicated segment of the confusing English language. 

‘Face the music’ is an idiom that connotes something you might not want to look at directly, yet I find music always sounds better when you face it.

‘Dime a dozen’: I would buy just about anything at that price.

‘Go jump in the lake’ happens to be one of my favorite things to do.

‘Miss the boat’ might be unfortunate if you need to get to a place where no bridge exists, but any of us that are former boat owners smirk and say, “Miss the boat? Yeah, right…”

I generally welcome ‘Make a long story short,’ but the stories I want to be shortened are hardly ever shortened enough.

…in an attempt to make this short essay shorter let me get to the point:

As artists, being told ‘Go back to the drawing board’ should be a welcomed admonition. More and more I realize that the ‘drawing board’ is my happy place. If I said it once I’ve said it a thousand times: “Draw more.”

On the other hand, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is theoretically a positive idiom that strikes me about as unhelpful as a thousand Facebook likes.