The hippocampus, located in the temporal lobe of the brain, stores the majority of long-term memories created in a lifetime. For me, one half of my small hippocampus is filled with skills acquired from two years of formal creative writing lessons, while the other half is filled with unending embarrassment from workshopping terrible poems typical of an underclassman. The stabilization of neural connections that allow a memory to become “long-term” has helped me to build a vast literary toolbox. This has led me to believe that, as the years went by, all the lessons and writing exercises would lead to a period of literary enlightenment in which I would finally understand my own voice and along with it, the true meaning of being an artist.
For nearly the entirety of last year, I focused on writing through sickness, which I had observed on a day-to-day basis. While this emotionally charged writing helped me process grief and connect more deeply with my culture’s complex history of colonization and war, this year, my frontal cortex, the hub of creative thinking, has rejected any beginnings of work written in the same emotional realm as last year’s. This reaction places my almond sized amygdala, which dictates emotional survival, at fault. I have cultivated an irrational fear towards the thought of overusing a common traumatic experience to the point of inauthenticity and having the repetitive topic become the cause of meticulously hidden annoyance from peers, only shown in hallway snickers after school when I have already left for home.
Here is where I encounter the issue that withholds me from the literary enlightenment (which I thought I could find in the CW2 seminar room). It is simply this: I have not found my true voice. I spent freshman year learning mechanics, sophomore year seeing writing monochromatically, and now what? My frontal cortex is at a standstill; no longer has a go-to sob story where my emotions are still fresh enough to pull from. And instead of writing until I find a flow, or even writing at all, my amygdala has made itself comfortable in the town of Perpetual Flight Response, which is situated across the river from the village of A Healthy Balance Between Fight And Flight. Is it possible that artistic enlightenment resides across the river as well?
I have been told that my writings, once stripped down, circle most evidently around human interactions and relationships. But isn’t everything, once stripped down, about interactions? Whether with the environment, oneself, or others, isn’t writing most commonly the description of a chain of reactions?
The orbital part of my prefrontal cortex spearheads social behavior and emotional rewards. For years, I spent life solely inside this part of the brain. In short: I was a people pleaser. And in order to pull that off, I had to remain observant. Since this part of me has not entirely fizzled, the habit of observation persists and has been deemed critical for the specificity required of writers.
I suppose that is where I should root my road to artistic enlightenment: in observation.
By Xuan Ly
Class of 2021