This has nothing to do with my ADDled brain … but it’s still important

“The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.”

— Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Continental Congress Delegate Edward Carrington

That famous bolded section of the quote above was repeated recently by the host of a local radio show I recently had the pleasure (and terror) of being interviewed on about the importance of local media. Thankfully, it was not live!

On a chilly gray Saturday, Jeff Milchen and Steve Kirchoff, hosts of “The View From Here” on KGVM brought me and Bob Wall, Operations Manager for the community radio station, into the studio for a lively discussion.

If I sound like I know what I’m talking about, I guess, I do. As a former reporter with the Bozeman Daily Chronicle (among other daily newspapers), a current freelance journalist and a radio DJ on KGLT — a primarily music-oriented local station that intentionally avoids the news — I felt I had a good handle on the subject matter. It helped that I came prepared with quotes and stories from other sources to support the assertions I made.

Here’s a link to the recording.

I’m curious. What are your thoughts about the media and its role in preserving democracy?

Feel free to post your comments. I’d love to know what you think.

Why my challenges are also a blessing

A few months ago, I challenged myself to do something scary. Really scary. I spoke about having ADHD and dyslexia in front of hundreds of people over two nights here in Bozeman.

It was a PechaKucha talk meaning I had six minutes and 20 seconds to tell my story. I created a Powerpoint of 20 slides that played 6 seconds each behind me on stage at The Ellen Theatre. It was a powerful experience hearing people react to my words as I spoke.

It was also affirming having folks — even people I didn’t know — praise the presentation. More importantly, I was surprised and pleased to have several people thank me, themselves having been recently diagnosed or having struggled with these issues for years. Some even sought me out for advice.

Whoa!

If I think back on the days when I first started keeping this blog, I realize how far I’ve come from that anxiety-ridden, depressed woman. Now, I feel strong, confident and capable. And I’m getting things done … not despite, but BECAUSE I have ADHD.

Don’t get that? Watch the video.

A silver bullet? How a notebook changed my life

If like me, you’d never heard of Ryder Carroll, you’re not alone. It’s not like the Brooklyn-dwelling digital product designer is a household name. Until yesterday, I’d never heard of the guy either. But he changed my life and so many others when he invented a system of task organizing he dubbed bullet journaling.

I first learned about keeping a bullet journal during a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators meeting when author Janet Fox spoke about it. I was intrigued but felt like it was too complicated and free-form for me. How could I possibly keep my ADDled brain organized with something so seemingly random?

But a bullet journal can be complex or it can be fairly simple. The idea is basically to keep all your thoughts, ideas, to-do lists and calendars in one place – a notebook. Any notebook. That you WRITE in.

It starts with a few pages in the front of the book that will serve as your index or table of contents – this is key. Then numbering pages as you go along, for each topic you write about in your journal, you enter it the index so you can find it again later.

So, for example, you know all those scraps of paper you’ve collected over the years with suggestions for books to read – you can put all of those on one page in the journal with the heading “Books to Read.” Then when you are heading to the library or bookstore, you can scan the list (finding the page via your index) and pick which book to seek out.

OK, so maybe this seems counterintuitive with all our phone apps meant to keep us dialed in to our lives. But here’s the thing. How often do you actually go to your Goodreads list? Where do you keep your ideas for your next project or notes for that project? Have you lost them? Do you use multiple apps to keep track of all the things that pop into your head daily?

I used to do everything on my phone and kept a random notebook with thoughts. But I found all those apps overwhelming and the ideas would get lost in the ever-present notebook. Maybe that’s just me. I do still use Google Calendar for my appointments and the mundane tasks of life, but all my lists and ideas – they go in the bullet journal. The reason this works, at least for me, is because it keeps all my goals and lists organized and in one place so I CAN FIND THEM AGAIN.

Bonus: I’m not using digital media, so I don’t get distracted by something I see on the web or an email that’s popped into my inbox. In other words, I’m not tempted to “multitask.”

Yes, I put that in quotes.

McGill University neuroscientist Daniel Levitin wrote about the phenomenon of multitasking for The Guardian. Quoting Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist Earl Miller, he wrote, “‘When people think they are multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.’ So, we’re not actually keeping a lot of balls in the air like an expert juggler; we’re more like a bad amateur plate spinner, frantically switching from one task to another, ignoring the one that is not right in front of us but worried it will come crashing down any minute. Even though we think we’re getting a lot done, ironically, multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficient.”

I love that. It sounds a lot like ADD and not exactly productive, right?

E.J. Masicampo, a psychology professor at Wake Forest University, studied something called the Zeigarnik effect whereby unfulfilled goals can linger in the mind … even hound us. Ever wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat realizing you’ve got a project due in a day that you haven’t even started? It’s like that.

Essentially, his team found that participants who planned out a goal were less likely to get distracted by another (easier?) task than those who had not thought about a plan.

“If you just take a moment to make a specific plan for a goal that was previously unresolved and worry-inducing, then it gets rid of that stickiness,” Masicampo told Nicola Davis of the Guardian.

Levitin noted using a blank notebook might also have a positive impact on productivity. Some people spend time creating gorgeous layouts in their journals – some may be daunting to see. On face value this may seem a waste of time, but Levitin thinks otherwise. “Research tells us that if you can take time off from your workflow and let your mind wander – maybe doodle, listen to music, draw pictures or even just stare out the window – those periods of inactivity are actually essential to having productive periods of activity,” he says. “When you’ve got a piece of paper in front of you, it sort of encourages you to expand your visual field and expand your imagination.”

A plethora of research has also shown how expressing one’s thoughts in writing can improve mental and physical health. By jotting down a thought as it pops into your brain, you can temporarily put it aside and stay focused on the task at hand. Can you say productivity?

So, there is science that illustrates why bullet journaling works for so many people. In fact, Carroll, the bullet journal’s creator has ADHD, but relishes the break from screen time (which has its own negative effects on the brain).

Writing on nice paper is soothing to me and there’s a certain gratification I get from checking off a finished task (which I will do as soon as I post this). My bullet journal keeps me accountable and organized – like any trusty sidekick should.

An artist’s discovery

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“ — so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

                            From “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll.

Like many with ADD, what I lack in focus I make up for in creativity. In other words, ideas are abundant, action is not. It’s the bane of many an ADDled brain.

But recently, I had a revelation about writing.

I’m just beginning to surge into the world of fiction writing which is so new to me and I’m learning that unless one is unnaturally gifted, it’s hard.

Really hard.

But it’s also fun.cheshire cat

The fun part is when your mind wanders into places it wouldn’t ordinarily go. The problem for a non-fiction writer like me is getting to that place. Dreams are perfect venues to discover that space. At least it seems that’s working for me lately.

Julia Cameron, in her book, “The Artist’s Way,” tells her students of creativity to write “morning pages” every day.

EVERY DAY.

Write 3 pages longhand every morning in a flow of consciousness with no concern about what is coming out. No crossing out, no editing … The idea is to shut Mr. Internal Editor down — Cameron calls it one’s “Censor.”

“Let your Censor rattle on. (And it will.),” she writes. “Just keep your hand moving across the page. Write down the Censor’s thoughts if you want to … The morning pages teach logic brain to stand aside and let artist brain play.”

I love that.

So one recent morning, I’d woken up after a really strange and amusing dream. The dream fit the genre of a fiction project I am working on so I felt compelled to write it down.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do that before I had to run off to an appointment.

I usually write my blog posts on my computer. As a journalist, I like to support at least some of what I write here with research, so it’s helpful to have the Internet handy for that purpose. Also, I’m just used to writing non-fiction in this manner.

The problem with writing on the computer, especially if one can type without looking at the computer, is that unrelenting internal editor. I could disregard my typos, but tactile feedback signals me that my dyslexic mind determined to type a “d” instead of the “k” using the wrong middle finger. I know the minute it happens even if I am not looking.

Enter the internal editor who says, “Fix that!” So I do and this backspacing and correcting disturbs my creative flow.

It’s not a big deal when I’m writing non-fiction. But fiction happens on its own terms and stopping the flow often results in a disjointed and unsatisfactory writing experience.

So I learned something about my writing process. I’ve always suspected that writing by hand on paper resulted in better writing, but I never knew quite why.

As I waited in the doctor’s waiting area, I pulled out my, red “decomposition” book (which is an actual thing, by the way).

Decomposition Book

I was either too lazy or in too much of a rush to get the dream down on paper before getting interrupted or both. So I didn’t bother to pull out my glasses and just wrote. By the way, I intentionally chose an unlined notebook with the idea that it might enhance my flow – I think it does.

Three pages later and in just a few minutes – the craziness of my unconscious dream brain was recorded.

Here’s an excerpt.

The scene: I was looking at greeting cards in a college campus bookstore.

“There was this long-haired orange tabby [on the cover of a card] that when you pet it, its eyes changed color. I was petting it and thinking it seemed so real …”

Suffice to say the cat was real and, well, it wasn’t like the Cheshire Cat in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (if only I were as good as Lewis Carroll).

In any case, I found a freedom and flow that I’d never felt before by writing without the aid of my glasses. It’s not that I couldn’t see, it was just so blurry that Mr. Internal Editor couldn’t tell if I was misspelling something or using the wrong word, so the story just flowed out.

More on flow in a future post. Until then, know that we artists are windows to understanding the world in which we live. Keep yours open.

New Year, new me?

Birthday resolution: Submit at least one blog post monthly

It’s my new year, as in, I recently celebrated a birthday. Truth be told, I’ve been working on this post for weeks now.

But honestly, birthdays aren’t nearly as exciting as they used to be when I was a kid.

In fact, I’d much rather forget time is passing. “Time,” as such, has never been one of my strong points.

I won’t blame ADHD. However, it is a convenient excuse for, say, losing track of time when intensely focused on a task.

That’s not to say I’m always late. In fact, I’m probably late less than half the time – much less. But I do have a tendency to neglect the clock particularly when I’m writing, painting or doing anything using my right brain (ie.: being creative).

Daily newspaper editors hate that about me.

So anyway, I started my birthday writing about what I’d like to accomplish this year.

I share it here in the hopes that you, kind reader, will hold me to it. I suppose just by making it public makes it harder to ignore. Perhaps this is a good exercise for anyone who has trouble finishing projects (another lovely trait of those with this so-called disorder)?

You see, many of us with ADDled brains are also quite creative — constantly coming up with new projects, but rarely completing them. ADDers talk about ideas — a lot. Other people are often charmed by these creative people, but soon grow weary from the incessant jabber leading nowhere.

You see, sometimes we take action. But more often another idea pops into our overburdened brains and attention for the former one wanes.

So, we end up with bolts of fabric intended for quilts; piles of stories, poems, memoirs and unfinished novels; half-decorated or refurbished rooms; lush gardens choked with weeds – you get the idea.

Ahem, I dare say, this blog is case in point.

But attention is a complicated concept, particularly these days when the pace of the so-called “Information Age” is trending us all toward ADD. We are constantly connected to social media, TV, email, texts, video games, news feeds … Does anyone even know how to make a cell phone call anymore?

According to Lucy Jo Palladino, a psychologist who studies the brain and focus in this digital age, we have two types of attention: voluntary and involuntary.

Staying focused on activities such as reading, listening intently to someone speaking or writing requires focus and effort, or voluntary attention.

Conversely, involuntary attention is relatively effortless. It’s what happens when one plays video games or watches TV, for example. It just isn’t difficult and often redirects voluntary attention. Think email notifications or texts popping up while you’re working.

I don’t know about you, but I get overwhelmed by the constant roar of media traffic. It dulls my wit and turns me inward and that’s when my attention gets diverted.

So what do I do? I’m ashamed to say I spend entirely too much time playing brain games on my computer. Or I watch a movie or TV. In other words, I resort to using involuntary attention – it seems to soothe my agitated brain.

Eventually, I find my way back to focusing, but I always feel guilty for wasting time and my brain’s powerful neuropathways.

People’s thoughts and behaviors are not hard-wired, Palladino says. Brains (and, therefore, behaviors) are elastic and can change.

On her blog, Palladino explains: “For voluntary attention to get stronger, you need to exercise it. Much like weight resistance strengthens muscles, distraction resistance strengthens voluntary attention.”

Using voluntary attention builds important circuits that originate in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, Palladino asserts. The prefrontal cortex controls conscious decision-making, mood and time management. Interestingly, it is also an area of the brain affected by ADHD.

“Brain scientists have a saying: ‘As the neuron fires, the brain rewires,” Palladino continues. “Your brain rewires itself, following the blueprint of your choices every day.”

In the case of attention, the more one resists distractions (involuntary attention) and stays focused on more difficult tasks (voluntary attention), the more effectively the brain works.

It follows then that the more one accomplishes, the better one becomes at accomplishing more (um, like finishing blog posts).

So I haven’t yet gotten to my list. But stay tuned. I promise I’ll get back to you. Sometime. Soon. I hope.