Battle of the Brains

The difference between the left hemisphere of our brains and the right hemisphere is well known among the general populace, if poorly understood. Some people it seems are governed by analytical styles of thinking, seeing the world as a science project or math equation. These people are left-brained. Other people, the right-brained, see the world in a more analog, colorful, fuzzy way. These are the creative people. This system of bicameral thought works well enough for the majority of people because most people are governed by one side or the other. However, when there is no clear leader in the left-brain/right-brain battle for supremacy, interesting things can happen. I take myself as a test case.

I work as a structural engineer, a decidedly left-brain activity. My days are filled with numbers and equations which proceed along the research proven lines of building codes. I like to think that I’m pretty good at it, but I don’t really enjoy it. On the other hand, what I do enjoy is reading, writing, seeing art, and being around the creative. It seems that, able to move between the analytical and the creative, I must be ambi-brained, right? The ability to apply creative solutions to analytical problems is the stuff that geniuses are made of. Am I a genius then? That would certainly be nice, but in my experience I don’t seem to work that way. Just because I can shift between left and right brained frames of thinking doesn’t mean I can engage the simultaneously, which leads me to one of the great struggles of my existence.

I feel alternately creative and analytical, surely depending on some esoteric brain chemistry, but it is difficult for me to switch between the two styles of thinking. For example, when I write for a whole weekend, I will feel great about my writing, really get what I want to say down on the page. I will feel able to articulate the increasingly detailed visions in my head. But when I go to work on Monday I find it impossible to concentrate on something so frankly boring as analysis. Conversely, if i spend my week engrossed in my work, really getting into the nuts and bolts of structural behavior, when I sit down to write, nothing comes to me. I’m blocked because my left-brain is in full gear, as if it is sucking all the blood from my right brain. It will take a few days to switch gears.

So whats the problem? It seems like being able to switch back and forth would be an enviable ability, and it would be, if I could control when and where I thought analytically vs creatively. But I can’t, and not being able to control my mindset means that I cant actively develop either side of my brain to work better. Basically I feel stuck between two worlds where I don’t belong; not analytical enough to excel at engineering and not creative enough to excel at writing. It seems increasingly clear that I must choose between two very different sides of myself if I am ever to amount to anything in either world. But I can look forward today and tell that in the long term, something will give and the choice between worlds will become easier. Something has to give, has to change. The future is full of unpredictability, and rather than disturbing me, this comforts me. So it is with an eye on the future that I struggle in the present, trying desperately to balance the energy and time I give the two hemispheres of my brain fighting for resources, because the time will come when I need everything one side of my brain can give me, and I want to be ready.