Musing on Trusting the Little Man Behind the Curtain

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We all have the power to collect cues subconsciously before we are actually aware of them. Whether you call it a gut feeling, a hunch, a sneaky suspicion or the sixth sense, intuition offers a course of action without much rational thought. Intuition can help you decide what you should embrace and what you should avoid long before you’ve had time to analyze the situation.

We subconsciously adjust our behaviour many times a day. In fact, shortcuts like these were probably an evolutionary survival mechanism that allowed us to react quickly to dangerous external stimulus. Everything about the environment – what you see, feel, smell and touch – is instantaneously computed. Of course, we can’t track or attend to all the details of everything we experience in a conscious way, so instead, some of this processing takes place ‘behind the curtain’ (think Wizard of Oz, the whole “pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain”).

How the brain makes these unconscious decisions is just beginning to be understood. The brain is a highly organized storage facility capable of evaluating and filing every experience. For efficiency purposes, the brain also has a fondness for patterns; all new experiences are quickly matched against ones that have already occurred. The positive side of this pattern-matching is intuition, which allows you to cut to the chase, act faster and use less energy.

Consider the funny feeling in the pit of your stomach. In the English language, the tacit understanding we all have that intuition is related to the gut is memorialized in phrases such as ‘go with your gut’, ‘gut instincts’ and so on. This is more than mere language. Much like the brain, the gastrointestinal tract is home to an abundant network of nerves, which is why it is often called the “second brain.”  When the brain receives certain input from the environment, a surge of nerve activity travels via the vagus nerve into your core, causing that “gut” feeling.

I can bang on about this all night . . . but I won’t. In a future post, I’ll try to connect it intuition to the process of creative writing. 

References and More Readings on Intuition

Chopra, Deepak, and Judith OrloffThe Power of Intuition. Hay House, 2005. (Audio) ISBN 978-1401906221

Davis, ElizabethWomen’s Intuition. Celestial Arts, 1989. ISBN 978-0890875728

Mayer, Elizabeth Lloyd. Extraordinary Knowing: Science, Skepticism, and the Inexplicable Powers of the Human Mind. Bantam, 2008. ISBN 978-0553382235

McTaggart, LynnThe Intention Experiment. Free Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0743276962Schulz, Mona Lisa, and Christriane Northrup. Awakening Intuition. Three Rivers Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0-609-80424-7

Sheldrake, RupertDogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home: And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals. Three Rivers Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0609805336

Sheldrake, RupertThe Sense of Being Stared At: And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind.Crown, 2003. ISBN 978-0609608074

What happens in a critique group for writers? What benefits are there to joining one?

I am a member of two critique groups. In both groups, people take turns presenting some of their work. They distribute paper copies of the piece to be critiqued,  then read their work out loud to the group. Once the writer has finished reading, the rest of us offer up comments and suggestions.  Usually the feedback is verbal, supplemented with a few brief notes scribbled on the pages we were given. Most people make an effort to be kind and constructive in their feedback. Nevertheless, I think it’s important to

  • wear your ‘big girl’ panties when you are being critiqued (in other words, don’t be overly sensitive about your Very Important Writing)
  • consider the source (some comments, however well-intentioned, seem to miss the point)
  • remember that the biases people have in life tend to find their way into their perspectives on writing (recently I read a section of one chapter from a novel-in-progress at a critique group. In it, a character makes a wisecrack about necrophilia– “don’t call me a necro; you make it sound like I fuck corpses.” A young man in the group told me I should “watch it” and also that I should “be careful.” I wonder what he thinks I need to be wary of?  Perhaps this is merely a subset of bullet point two).

Here are some ways critique groups have benefited me so far:

  • they provide instant feedback on whether the funny parts are funny, and whether the scary parts are scary
  • they help me see my mistakes and annoying writerly habits
  • they help me put my finger on what is not working, and give suggestions as to how I might fix it

I am grateful for the feedback of the other writers, even the feedback that annoys or upsets me. You can be grateful through gritted teeth, right? That is where the growth is, in all the tender places that hurt when you poke at them.

On favourite words and being creepy

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Like most writers, I have some favourite words. I was recently writing a short piece for another website on this topic, and I discovered that many of my favourite words are thematically linked. In a nutshell, they are creepy.

A sampling . . .

SKELETAL (but only pronounced the UK way, skel-EE-tal, not the US way SKEL-eh-tel).

AMNESIA (make a nice baby girl’s name, don’t you think?)

HARROWING (not sure why I like this one, but I do. The relationship the contemporary definition has to the verb to harrow is interesting)

TRUCULENT (not as creepy as the others, but still an interesting word. You can roll it around your mouth like a poisoned menthol cough drop. Go ahead, I’ll wait) 

CORPOREAL (esp. the way I tend to use it, as in “He was utterly surprised to see he had left this corporeal plane and was now plummeting toward a lake of fire.”)

I wonder if I could construct a sentence that uses all of these? The sentence should not be word salad. Let me think about it.