Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shakespeare the Scribe

Parents and teachers and doctors . . . please consider this. A quotation from a blog referred to me by my brother-in-law, illustrator, Matt Stewart. Some words about Leonardo DaVinci's mind and its inner workings as suggested by his personal notebooks :
The notebooks bring to light Leonardo's insatiable curiosity, as well as an immense lack of focus. Some experts, such as Jonah Lehrer, think that this lack of focus may actually have contributed to DaVinci's creativity. In his upcoming book Imagine, How Creativity WorksJonah states: "We live in an age that worships attention. When we need to work, we force ourselves to concentrate. This approach can also inhibit the imagination. Sometimes, it helps to consider irrelevant information, to eavesdrop on all the stray associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain."
Einstein once said that "everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

While I don't agree that everyone is a genius, I do believe that it is dangerous to try to homogenize people. I do, also, believe that people posses different kinds of intelligences. Fish, of course, are the perfect swimmers, but they would look rather foolish trying to climb trees.

The other day, I was substituting (we do our own internal substituting in my school) and a student asked me for help with a math problem. He was a freshman, so, I figured -- English teacher or not -- it couldn't be that hard. It was a word problem. Yeah. You guessed it: I was a fish fopping around at the roots of a redwood.

I cannot focus on problems like that. Impossible.

Once, I was evaluating a teacher of a chemistry class. He was balancing equations -- it was the class's  first lesson on it. I decided, since I nearly failed chem as a student, I would, now, with my well-developed, graduate school bolstered intellect, learn how to do that which was impossible to me as a kid.

More flopping; higher tree.

If the teacher was pouring from the pitcher, my mind was an overturned glass on the table. It would not fill.

As a kid, I would have probably been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, but they didn't do that back then. If they had, would my parents have chosen to give me a drug to correct it? If they had given me a drug to correct it, would I have become the same person?

I don't know the answer. If I had been in a special education program, I may have gained the ability to do the math that still remains so elusive. It might have been good. But to have given me a drug . . . it's hard to say what the results would have been.

No, I'm not comparing myself to DaVinci -- not in terms of intelligence. (If he's a fish, I'm a barnacle.) But I am comparing myself in terms of the way my mind works. I function creatively. I like to think that it isn't so much that I don't focus on anything as it is that I focus on everything. All at once, sometimes.

Maybe, with attention-deficit medication, we are in danger of turning the soundtrack in kids' heads from that of an orchestra to that of a solo flute. But, maybe, if the orchestra is a cacophony, the time for medication has come . . .

So, I am not saying there is never a time for this medication. All parents need to make their own choices. I just hope that all parents think deeply before they make the decision. Some will make the decision because it is truly the best one for their child; some will make the decision because the doctors make drugs sound like the only way to go; some will make the decision because it is to be the parent of a child who doesn't think like DaVinci . . .

What if some mountebank's unction had turned Shakespeare into a mere scribe? Would he have been happier as a scribe than he was as a playwright? Would the world have been as rich without his plays? -- or if DaVinci had become a nice, focused shoe-maker?


  1. Agreed and disagreed sir. I am a big believer in enjoying the absurd to expand the brain and creativity. I've actually read that experiencing ridiculous situations in life improves brain function because the brain is trying to make some sort of sense of it, which creates new pathways and ways of thinking. The brain, historically, likes to have patterns, just look at normal distribution in statistics...well maybe you shouldn't, but you see my point.

    All that aside, I think we all need to embrace the absurd, the strange, and the odd once in a while. It's good for you. All information is good information in my mind. For example, I may never need to know where to go in the case of a zombie apocalypse, but the knowledge itself can be useful, maybe just to make a new friend.
    Your take on intelligence is my take on art. I believe everyone is an artist in their own way. It's just a matter of finding what their medium is.
    Happy thanksgiving to you, your family, and your readers.


  2. And a happy and absurd Thanksksgiving to you, Papster.

  3. Off-topic a bit, I know, but first of all, happy Thanksgiving! And second, jeez, between you, your sister, and your brother-in-law, there's quite a lot of talent in your family...

  4. And a belated "Happy Thanksgiving" to you, Jeff. Thanks for the kind words about the family -- I guess talent is in the eye of the beholder, but we sure do all keep busy in fields where talent would be a big help.