The Brooklyn BrainLady

teaching & learning, in a fancy dress

It’s that time of year again. Time for calling upon the executive skills of a ninja if one wants to dress as a ninja. For us creative types, Halloween is our New Year’s Eve. It is that swoony time of year…rife with ideas for what could be, when anything is possible…that comes with a clearly established deadline. Thank god. It’s a downright conundrum for divergent thinkers who wow us at parties with costumes like “Papal Towel Dispenser” by my friend Alex (think the pope with a roll of Bounty hanging around his neck) or Laura’s “Windswept”.


My very creative friend, Laura

Costumes with this level of ingenious detail place a high demand on one’s executive functioning, or the set of skills that allow a plan to be formed and carried out in a reasonable time-frame. Everything from design choices to materials acquisition to party-durability tests each require a certain amount of planning. And there’s the rub: honoring your gift sometimes requires a harnessing of rules that feel counterintuitive at first.

Steven Kotler, author of The Rise of Superman, gave a name to this contradiction: transient hypofrontality. Transient hypofrontality is the Matrix-like moment when everything slooooows down and you’re truly in it. But you’re making, you’re doing. It’s the place where you don’t have to fight the work. Flow, the divine, big magic…seems everyone’s got a name for it. What attracts me to Mr. Kotler’s explanation is that it is physical, primal even, and literally means what it is trying to explain:

transient: comes and goes
hypo: not enough
frontal: as in lobe, the executive command center in your brain

In other words, when we channel the divine we cease sending messages that keep us in line.

You know what I thought when I heard this? WOOHOO! I can do a mini-version of this all the time! That’s what the “deficit” part of AD/HD actually is, the frontal lobe’s inability to keep us on track consistently. The chemicals between our neurons, called neurotransmitters, don’t hang out long enough to pass messages efficiently from one neuron to the next. So when you’re supposed to not do/touch/say something, the message doesn’t get delivered to your body/hands/mouth. You just go ahead and do the thing.

In some settings, it’s a help, like Halloween. In others, it’s a hindrance. You know, like the first 13 years of formal schooling. And in my case it was Catholic schooling. Picture it: Little me bending backwards, sliding under my desk, edge of the chair scraping my tail bone, pulling my uniform up, little undies peeking out. I could get my whole body under there without a sound, then flip over onto my hands and knees and crawl out the back door before the teacher got done writing the date on the board. (I only hung out in the bathroom. There aren’t a whole lot of places to go when you’re six.)

Those were dark days. My need to move got me quite the rap sheet. White slips, pink slips, yellow slips…demerits changed color from year-to-year. I actually got excited when there was a new color. I spent many hours in detention, fastened to a wooden desk, punished until I “sat still”. But that’s actually where I learned to create. It’s where I learned how to watch, how to be entertained by the tiniest discrepancy, how to let my mind wander while watching traffic on the Passyunk Avenue Bridge, imagining where everyone was going. I learned to be okay in a chair not because of them, but because of me.

They didn’t know they were sowing the seeds of shame I would later reap, dry, and light aflame. I have since shown many a child how to move *and* stay in class, how to diplomatically advocate for themselves with a seemingly sincere,

“Yes, m’am, I totally agree with you. I want to learn, so I’d love it if you could meet me halfway and let me take notes while standing.”

I teach them to resist the urge to throw something at injustice. To prove they will not be a distraction to others if given a chance, and then go about their business of learning. Power lies not in being an exception to the rules but by being exceptional within them.

Tonight we can be who we are within more reasonable rules. Halloween allows you to be silly, serious, snarky, or sexy if you want. You can harness every inch of that frontal lobe, and then let it go for a moment or two. Don’t worry, the rules will still be there when you return.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: