Sideways. Portrait of a non-linear thinker.

February 16th, 2012

I have a brain that works sideways. I call it lateral thinking. I don’t know if that’s an actual term, or something I just made up, but if you picture someone casting a broad net from a small boat at sea, as opposed to angling with a single line, that’s me. This is very handy when it comes to writing, because I can gather quite a lot of ideas and images in that net, and hold them simultaneously while I see how one connects to the other. People say I have a gift for metaphor. My sideways brain is why. It’s easy to see how one thing is like another when you have them all spread before you. To employ another metaphor, my mind goes wide.

Getting it to go long is a problem.

I’m getting so much better, as I grow up and finally know myself, at playing to my strengths and managing my deficits. But I still really struggle with time management. I don’t perceive time with any degree of accuracy. I’m not sure I understand time. It’s a mysterious, elastic element to me. Quicksilver on my palm.

If you have a sideways brain, you already know how this issue manifests in day-to-day living. If you don’t, sideways people drive you crazy. There’s the clock, there’s the date, what’s the problem?

I have made huge strides in using a calendar (my iphone is my prosthetic left brain), but tasks or events that have multiple steps really give me trouble. For example, one of the kids is scheduled to go on a scout camp-out on Saturday morning. That I have this in my calendar, and a text reminder programmed is major progress. But there are things that need to happen besides remembering to drop him off at the appointed place at the appointed hour. Like washing clothes, sewing badges, and finding his boots. And these things have to fit in with other things. Like a book signing on Saturday afternoon and dinner guests Saturday night. With things that need to happen in order to happen. Like promoting the book-signing, picking out something to wear, cleaning house, planning a menu, shopping for food and wine.

If you are a linear thinker, if you are the angler casting your line from the shore, this is all self-evident. Maybe you intuit it instantly, in the way I flash on the image of mercury in my hand when I think of time.

If you have a sideways brain, it is exhausting and laborious, and you want to cry with shame when your child comes and gently reminds you that shopping for camp-out food needs to happen between now and Saturday, with all the sweetness and tact of a wonderful secretary, because they know you don’t know. And that it might not happen if they leave it to your sideways brain. If they rely on you alone.

If you have sideways brain, shame is your oldest companion.

There are medications one can take. Ā Because different is pathology in our culture. People die from different every day. The medications helped in lots of ways. I haven’t ruled them out for myself in the future, and I wouldn’t rule them out for anyone else. Yes, there were side effects, but none so deadly as shame.

But I missed my sideways brain.


16 Responses to “Sideways. Portrait of a non-linear thinker.”

  1. tamara says:

    first of all – Beautiful picture of you!
    Also, having read your book, and continue to enjoy your posts – I would say – I appreciate your ‘sideways brain’ ,
    and am quite sure I ‘suffer’ from the same affliction!

  2. Shayne says:

    I started reading your blog after I bought your book for my wife as one of her Mother’s Day gifts last year (I had heard your interview on the local public radio station). It wasn’t until later that I realized that I have also been a fan of your other half since junior high. I had no clue you were married to Pat – Facebook…a tricky thing at times. But your “sideways” post convinces me now, more than ever that while you and my wife might not have been separated at birth, you somehow share some genetics and were possibly separated at a Gunbunnies or Elvis Costello show in the 80s. Enjoy your musings very much. You both are a talented and comfortable couple. Cheers.

  3. Cassie says:

    You are stunning! And thank you for this post! You’ve described me. I thought my brain was just messed up.. a total disaster.. I thought I was alone!

  4. Schmutzie says:

    I have a sideways brain, too! I’ve learned to embrace it for all the wonderful things it helps me make, but it can frustrate the hell out of me when I try to bend it to tasks that must be done in order in a chronologically linear fashion. The shame can be tremendous if I forget how it is my brain is built to work and why I embrace it.

    There are drugs for this?

    • KyranP says:

      I’ve taken two kinds of ADHD medications — one stimulant, one not. I didn’t like how the stimulant made me feel “buzzy.” The other made me badly nauseated. They both had interesting pros and cons.

  5. Heather says:

    Lovely photo! I have never heard anyone describe my way of thinking quite this way, but I think I have a sideways brain, too. I have begun using my calendar to put in all the little things that other people wouldn’t have to remind themselves to do!

  6. […] Especially last week. By the weekend, I was wiped out and ready to nap for two days. But my sideways brain had other plans, scheduling dinner guests for the same day I had to launch two boy scouts to camp […]

  7. […] Kyran so she’ll know we’re on our way. I said, did you see that post she just wrote on sideways brain? And then, simultaneously, I […]

  8. Oh, Kyran. Oh, kindred spirit.

    My husband walks into our kitchen at least twice a week and tells me that I’ve left out food from lunch. This wouldn’t be so bad, but I know I’ve walked through the kitchen at least twice after I ate lunch. My toddler has already reminded me gently about stuff like “Mommy–I asked you for food, remember?”

    I get distracted by projects that I concentrate on wholeheartedly. And I have sideways brain. sigh.

  9. […] management is a constant challenge for my sideways brain. I don’t believe in airtight planning. There have to be gaps and spaces in a day to let […]

  10. […] a person with a sideways brain, I’ve come to rely on digital tools for capturing and dumping practical […]

  11. […] sideways brainĀ approaches home improvement as an interval workout: long stretches of slogging through denial and […]

  12. […] know what day of the week it is. Which suits me, but isn’t always good for me. My sideways brain needs levees of season and routine, or it spreads too wide, shallow and aimless in its […]

  13. […] Daily newsletter I subscribe to, since knitting is one of the areas where I’ve been training my sideways brain to do things sequentially, one at a time, through completion.Ā This knitter said that having the […]

  14. Daniel says:

    Today I saw linear and lateral thinking as a cross. I decided to google linear and lateral together. I wound up here.

    This is great. It really helps to see that another person has progressed through what seems to be the same stages of a certain something.

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