“When you’re a writer, you’re never quite like other people; you’re doing some job that other people don’t know you’re doing, and you can’t talk about it really, and you just are always finding your way in this secret world, and then you’re doing something else in the normal world.” – Alice Munro
My friend Tom shared that quote this morning. I nearly fell over when I read it because it took my breath away. It took me by surprise and instantly filled a hole I have been desperately seeking to fill. It answered a question I have been struggling with for weeks. Probably longer than weeks. Probably years – it’s just been sitting at the front of my consciousness for weeks. As happens, this question was initially prompted by some remarks from a friend – a dream he had – that forced it to the surface. And today – BOOM! Just like that, after I patiently worked through it, seeking answers – one arrived. A gift of sorts.
What I have come to realize is that I am bifurcated. A line is scratched vertically down my being. From my brain to my toes I am split. Not always evenly, not always perfectly. Sometimes the line is less visible, sometimes far more pronounced. And, this is not a new phenomenon. It’s how I was born. It’s how I am hard-wired. My mother miscarried a set of twins a year before my birth and I’ve often wondered if both of them are reincarnated inside of me. I used to joke that their birth would have manifested two of me. Perhaps one of me is, in fact, equal to my two sisters. As a result, I spend my days navigating my divide. I am careful, always aware of the separate lanes. Always sure to remain planted. I cannot fall in the gap. The chasm can swallow me up.
My bisection manifests in many different ways but, most prominently, in how I process information. Last week, I met with my business partners for a several-day strategy session in New Hampshire. They are two remarkably intelligent men with broad business experience and very diverse approaches to business. However, in contrast to me, they are similar in their ability to quickly cut through information (we discussed their ability to “thin slice” as Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book “Blink“) and make decisions based on limited information. I, on the other hand, am a deep processor. I slice very deeply because I am continually looking at all the angles. I am searching for additional information. I am taking each item, placing it in the palm of my hand and examining it from all sides, trying to see through it, beneath it, beyond it. Nothing is ever as it seems. I am working with my business brain and my secret brain – the brain, as Alice Munro discusses in her quote, that is doing other work. Everything I do, everything that enters my consciousness becomes fodder. Even the most mundane, benign, banal, seemingly irrelevant information often serves as a device for me to process my thoughts. They become tools in my other trade – my secret life as a writer. I am forever dual processing. And it should be no mystery why my brain never shuts down.
Prior to reading Munro’s quite and not quite understanding this reality about myself, I shared what I could explain with one of my partners. “This machine never shuts down,” I told him. I will work through information for weeks or months to put additional context, add color, bring it to life in a new way for myself. The sigh and groan that came in response to my comment was not an indictment on my style but, rather, his own fatigue and exhaustion just thinking about operating in this fashion. It seemed so overwhelming and, probably, useless, to him. But not to me. It is who I am. It is how I work. It is the secret sauce. It is what I am supposed to do. There is simply nothing that can stop this. And I wouldn’t want to.
The duality does not stop there. Oh, how I wish it did. The other part is a bit more challenging to navigate.
My curiosity around this phenomenon became heightened on Thanksgiving morning when my friend shared a dream he had about me the night before. It took me only about a second to realize that his dream was a watershed moment for him because it was an indication that he implicitly understood me. “In my dream there were two of you,” he began. My heart felt like it stopped for a second. I wasn’t sure if I was thrilled for this declaration from him or afraid of it. There was simply not a better way of explaining me. Simply put, there are two of me. I am not one person. I am not one-note. Now, of course, none of us are. Humans, as a species, are all very complicated beings with many aspects to our personalities. I tend to take this a little further. For me, I feel like I am literally two different beings. Not schizophrenic or divided with completely different identities that need to be merged. I am fully merged and living in two very different spaces at all times.
Several years ago, I wrote a series of blogs about my challenges with being present and of my struggles with melancholy. While I am constantly balancing the tightrope of my divide, I choose, at all times, one lane or the other. If I don’t, one of several accidents will occur. Either, I fall and am sucked into the gap or I jump from one side to the other and crash. The moment I allow myself to veer into the other lane, I hit the oncoming traffic and I am wrecked. So, balancing the divide means that I choose a lane and am acutely aware of the chasm that separates them and of traffic on the other side. It is a dynamic struggle for me because I tend to want to live on both sides of the road. I see the greener grass that grows alongside the opposite side whenever I look over. I long for it. So, I have to remind myself that I will always have other opportunity to spend time on the other side. Just, for now, I am traveling in this lane and, whichever side that is, is great for the moment.
My friend’s dream really stuck with me because, in his interpretation, one of me was childlike and blissful (yet directing the other me on how to handle her life). One of me lived nearby to him in the midwest and the other lived here in my home with my husband and kids. Both of me seemed to work harmoniously to keep the parts together to form a whole and I had fulfillment and happiness as a result. I think my friend subconsciously (and, likely, consciously) acknowledges my struggles but interpreted it as a sort of dissatisfaction or discontentment in my life. Simplistically, it might appear that way but it is much more complex. For, I am a seeker. I will never be content. I’m not even sure that I strive to be. I never simply stop, breathe in the air, soak in the sunlight and absorb it. I have moments when I can do that but, within seconds I am searching for words, trying to build a tapestry to illustrate my moment. I am looking for a way to preserve the image before me. A living, breathing, photograph that will illuminate not only the blues of the sky or the oranges of the sun or the touch of the breeze as it blows through my hair, kissing my cheek in the most delicate fashion but will also internalize it, memorialize it forevermore. It needs to be permanently tattooed so I will be able to summon it up at any moment and have just the right words to tell the story.
There are times when I am sitting with friends or quietly taking in a scene around me and I drift off into my secret place and try to capture the experience in my own special way. In a group I will often lean back and soak it in. I tend to walk behind people to study the scene. I am equally interested in the words being spoken as the way the light is hitting the scene, helping to paint the image in my mind. Each frame becomes my connective tissue. Layers and layers of information to be sorted through and compiled. Words becoming pictures becoming words becoming pictures. My distance or separation in those moments is often misinterpreted. It is often misunderstood as distraction, disconnection or unhappiness. Much the opposite. I am absorbing. I am working.
I struggled to explain to my partners my challenges with tunnel vision. For someone who desperately seeks to see the bigger picture and connect the dots between experiences and outcomes, I have a hard time getting out of my own way. My need to over-process, my duality, takes up a lot of mental space. I cannot always understand how others see the world because I simply cannot imagine anything other than the complex machine that is my mind. As I scramble to get out, opening one secret door after another, I realize that the vast wilderness of my mind blinds me from the horizon beyond.
So, for now, I will take the information – the gift – shared with me today and work it through. I will process it, reflect on it, internalize it. It gave me a quick breakthrough for which I am most grateful, but I know there is much more of this story to tell. My dichotomy is a phenomenon I need to study and understand to ensure that I use it productively and successfully. I will never accept what I see as a potential shortcoming and let it rest. As I encourage others to look beyond themselves, I must hold myself to the same task. I will continue to enrich both halves of me and refine my navigation of my duality.