When was the last time you considered how your brain works?
This may seem an odd question, and probably it is. I ask, though, because of an experience I had this week. I was viewing an installation by the artist Christina Zwart (pictured above), titled, Tuition, Room & Board, Miscellaneous Fees (Pizza Not Included), which is showcased in a building in Harvard Square owned by Harvard University. As an artist, Zwart connects seemingly unconnected details to create a bigger picture. So, for the above piece, as she word associated about Harvard, “students”, “pizza”, and “tuition” successively came to mind. The result was a panel created with pizza boxes, showing the current price tag for attending Harvard, in the style of a game show.
As I thought about this piece and some others Zwart created, such as Rosekill, a photomosaic of dead animals, that from a distance becomes the image of a rose, I wondered what would happen if I allowed myself to associate in this way, writing without a plan or idea in mind. My inspiration was a quote from Chekhov, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass,” and as my eyes rested upon the sentence, an image of shattered glass appeared. So, I wrote, “Shattered glass littered the kitchen floor,” and waited to see what would happen.
Shattered glass became a cookie jar that a mother had broken, which developed into the shattering impact of the mother’s Alzheimer’s upon both mother and daughter. It felt remarkable because I have had no personal experience of this, and did not consciously choose to write such a narrative. When I shared the piece with friends who are actually dealing with this type of life-changing circumstance, they marveled at how I had captured not only the truth of their situation but their feelings.
Somehow I had absorbed my friends’ circumstance, and then, through free-association created a fictional narrative that put the reality of their struggles into words.
So my question for is: When was the last time you considered how your brain works? The creative process is an associative one, and like the art of Christina Zwart, it’s the seemingly unconnected that gives the bigger picture.
Paula Castner is a mother of three and a co-founder of Seven Bridge Writers' Collaborative as well as a freelance writer, writing and baking workshop facilitator, and drama director. She receives emails at email@example.com.