brain strain


I don’t know much about the architecture or the geography of the brain. I know the left and right brain thing (I would favor the right side) and I know a couple of names for different regions. My favorite is the hippocampus, not because I know what it does but because it has the word hippo in it and makes me picture a whole bunch of my favorite animals going to college together: the Hippo Campus.

I learned more by reading The Nation this week where college student Sarah Stillman of Yale University wrote the winning essay in the first-ever Nation Student Writing Contest. Her essay is titled, “Project Corpus Callosum.” I learned the corpus callosum is the part of the brain that connects the left brain and right brain, enabling our analytical and imaginative sides to coexist and communicate. She talked about listening to a lecture on the effects of removing the corpus callosum from the brain of an epileptic patient.

As I listened to my professor describe the devastating effects of extracting the corpus callosum – for instance, one exasperated patient pulling up his pants with his left hand as he pulled them down with his right – it occurred to me that this might be the ideal metaphor to describe the split-brained status of my own generation.

(She goes great places from there. Make sure to read the essay.)

My day had little to do with being an activist. It was, however, quite active. I left home for the restaurant about 10:30. When I got to the Red Lion, thinking I was heading into a normal Wednesday (which is pretty slow), I found out we had a group of eight women who were having a baby shower over lunch – and they were early. I got busy setting up the line and getting their meals ready when the ticket printer started going. The short version is we served about sixty-five people between 11:30 and 2. Did I mention I was the only cook working with one bartender and one server? I must say we all rose to the occasion and everyone left full and happy.

On the way to work, I listened to On Point, a call-in show on NPR. where Tom Ashbrook was interviewing a couple of think tank pundits (doesn’t that sound like a punk band: “And now the new song from Think Tank Pundits. . .”) about what our course of action should be in Iraq. Some of the callers had good questions, but most all of the answers sounded as if they had been put together in a tank far away from the realities that gave birth to the questions. The guys talking were nice enough, and earnest too, but they just didn’t say anything that mattered or would move people. They talked about Iraq as if it was nothing more than live action Stratego.

On Point is aired live in the mornings and then replayed in the evening. The way my day played out, when I turned on my radio on the way home from work, one of the TTP’s was answering the exact same question he had been answering when I turned my radio on going to work. The replay didn’t make him any more relevant because he didn’t have anything creative to say.

I want to hear someone who has something to say. I want to be led by someone who is captured more by his or her passion and conviction than by the latest poll results. I want leaders who use their imaginations to do more than try to hide what they are doing so they can stay in office.

Can you tell I’m excited about midterm elections?

(Yikes. I’ve written myself into a corner. I wasn’t planning on ranting this way. The slope of my frustration is far too easy to slide down. Let me try and climb back to a better vantage point.)

Part of what I must come to terms with is I can go days without thinking about Iraq; or Somalia; or those who were victims of the tsunami, Katrina, and Rita. At least the Think Tank Pundits can say they think about stuff like that everyday. (It’s what made their record so good.) Stillman closes her article prophesying of a time when her generation will begin “a much needed mission to restore the space within our collective conscience where our radical imaginations meet our commitment to everyday action.”

I’m both pulled and convicted by the words “everyday action.”

Ranting about what Bush is doing in Iraq holds as little creativity as his decision to bomb Iraq into freedom. Turning up the volume on the argument is not imaginative; it’s disturbing. Having to figure out how the way in which I spend my day affects the rest of the world is a puzzle that calls me to be both imaginative and analytical. It’s hard work. But I unless I decide to do it, Bush and his buddies are going to be content to put on their headphones, turn on their iPods, and do nothing but listen to Think Tank Pundits all day long.


PS – Don’t you think the Hippo Campus is beautiful this time of year?


  1. Where can I get the Think Tank Pundits Sing Gershwin: Rhapsody in (Electric) Blue? Is it only available on vinyl?

    One of the best band names I’ve heard in awhile: Dieselfitters (as in “dese’ll fit her!”).

  2. Random Brain connection: Hippo Campus, brings to mind a school, which brings to mind Totino Grace, a real RC school. Always makes me think of praying for pizza.

    {And then there is Flathead U. no kidding.]

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