where the writers are
My Chinese Brain

What I have often said to myself is, Gee, when I switch to my Chinese texts at night, I feel like I am moving from one part of the brain to another. It's a physical move that I can almost hear. Swooosh, kachunk. I experience similar shifts when I move from writing to drawing/painting.

I've not paid much attention to the left brain, right brain dichotomy, the notion that became mainstream with Betty Edwards' "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" over 3 decades ago. Each side of the brain has its unique and special abilities. The right side of the brain is intuitive, while the left side of the brain is logical.

  (Not B.Y."s art.  Stock Photo)

I've also been reading a book given to me by my Internet friend, Naren Jackson. It is Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor's "A Stroke of Insight, an astounding account of a neuroanatomist who suffered a stroke in the left brain. She recovered fully to tell the world about her experience of peace and Oneness as as her right brain took over and her left brain continued to signal to her that she had had a stroke. She became her own subject of study.

Since accessing this book, I've started to ask myself how my mind might process Chinese words, written and verbal. How might my mind differ from yours? Mine processes verbal Chinese all day long with my Chinese-speaking parents, but I read, write and communicate most efficiently and passionately with Redroom and the rest of the world in English.

By and large, every single Chinese character has four tones, each associate with different meanings. The complicated tonetic change is an important reason that makes Chinese one of the most difficult languages in the world.

Studies have show that Westerner's left brain light up when processing words, while the Chinese people's right brain light up 200 milliseconds before the left brain begins to associate and process the meaning of the sounds. Generally, rhythm is handled by the left side of the brain; pitch and melody are handled by the right side of the brain.

Scientists have learned that Chinese use more right brain than Westerners due to the tonetic feature of the Chinese language. Most of the western languages, with only one tone for each word, are directly processed by the left brain.

And what about Chinese writing, which are descended from pictographs? It is unlike the Westerner's alphabetic words, which are entirely linear. There are rules to the order in which the Chinese character's strokes are set down, but the characters are nonlinear in their placement on paper. They can be written and read left to right or right to left, or they can be read top down with the columns proceeding right to left or the reverse.

I need to ruminate with my left brain and shape the whole with an aha moment with my right brain.


P.S.--I've always felt that Emily Dickinson was Chinese in her previous incarnation, but that's another post on the Belle of Amherst and poetry. Poetry and music, as far as I'm concerned, are the raisons d' etre for man's existence. I am particulary drawn to meter (a left brain function). Gotta go read my Chinese text now, and when I tire of that, I'll read English poetry, using both sides of the brain. Each brain does indeed have its own story/history to tell.

P.P.S.--I wonder if happiness, better yet, CONTENTMENT, has anything to do with the balanced use of one's right and left brain? I worked on the images of my graphic novel all day and now I have worked on this piece for more than an hour and-a-half. It's as if my brain has had a good all-over deep massage.

Please see my Youtube video, showing me at work on my graphic novel-in-progress, "Forget Sorrow."



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A lot to think about here, and I'll take more time later, but have you seen the video of Jill Bolte Taylor talking about her stroke? I wrote a little about this when I was exploring the concept of Sleep Writing a few months ago (link to her video there, too).

Also (and again briefly): I've always pictured different languages as having different "rooms" in my brain. I felt like my "French me" (back when I was fluent) was a different me than my usual "English me"... I could feel the shift when I began speaking French. I also feel like there's a "writing room" in my brain which is a very different place than my "talking, out-in-public" room. And I can feel that swooshy switch which you describe so well. So though I understand about the tonalities in Chinese placing it in a different hemisphere (or combining hemispheres) and the physical component to verbal/nonverbal -- the very dramatic example of the different brain hemispheres that Bolte Taylor SHOWS us with the brain -- I think there's even more to this. Within the hemispheres it feels like different locations for different creative functions. Is this true?

I'm going to order Bolte-Taylor's book.


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I agree about different

languages lighting different parts of the brain.

And, yes, I saw the T.E.D. video of Dr. Taylor. Really amazing. No touchy-feely New Age stuff but a real Neuroanatomist talking about Nirvana. What a revelation.

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Honest evaluation

I know Jill Bolte Taylor is bright, educated, and articulate but I have to agree with her critics that her stroke had somehow skewed her logical thinking.  Her assertion that you should now consider more of your right brain versus your left, and that the right provides an answer to your happiness via euphoria is plain silly.  The left stops you from making rash, illogical decisions that ruin so many talented writers and artists' lives. Ultimately you need both sides to communicate freely (balanced and free of stroke) in order for you to think critically and enjoy your life.

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what right brain??

Totally fascinating, Belle! I don't have that switch/shift experience, as far as I can tell, which makes me wonder if I ever even use my right brain! : )

By the way, I'm looking forward to reading that yet-to-be-written post on Emily Dickinson's Chinese past life . . .

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Evie, I have a theory that poets are better able to integrate both sides of the brain than other people. Maybe the reason you don't feel that shift (and, like Belle, I'm aware of it sometimes) is that your two sides are already working in tandem.

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

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nice theory!

Are you sure you're not saying that just to make me feel better, Huntington? : )

Actually, I think you may be on to something, now that I've mulled it over.  And beyond whatever may be true of poets in general, I get a lot of practice using my analytical skills hand-in-hand with intuitive skills when I'm writing literary criticism of poetry. I must be using my right brain to understand the moves the poet makes in the work and then my left brain to figure out how to communicate those moves to my own readers . . .

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That's the idea!

To build on Belle's idea of humanity's raisons d'être, I'd also ascribe this to musicians, who have to meld math sense with abstract creativity. Of course, the agonies that musicians and poets so often suffer doesn't give me confidence in Belle's hope that such right-left integration might lead to harmony.

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

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What Hunti says

is likely close to the truth. Rhythm is guided by the left brain, pitch and melody by the right. You need both sides of the brain for meter( left) and form (right).

I don't write poetry--or only enough to apprecite other's. Even if you are not writing blank verse, as a poet you are very aware of the stresses in the accent to bolster meaning.

But left-logic and right-intuition probably oversimplifies it all. The brain of a trained musician and that of a non-professional musician "light up" differently,

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Francoise, I feel its just

Francoise, I feel its just the opposite -- that I'm right-brained during drafting and composition, left-brained when I'm rewriting, editing, and polishing. Then again, I tend to write first, then structure, then write again (and again and again). That first blurt is definitely right brain.

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are probably simplifying the dichotomy too much (but what the heck).

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they were probably yelling at you. China is the wild wild West and everything goes. It will simmer down in time.

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Most modern computer

Most modern computer programming uses a method known as Object Oriented Programming....OOP.   Traditional functional programming used operators (verbs) and operands (nouns) to perform their number crunching.  On the other hand in OOP, a chunk of programming can function as either an operator (verb) or operand (noun) depending entirely on its position in the program.....this is identical to Chinese grammar.

For this reason, Chinese people are really good at doing OOP programming...it's lingustically second-nature.....and totally alien to Western linear thought patterns. :)


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I didn't understand entirely,

but what you say is interesting.

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Belle....for further clarification. :)

Here is a snippet of actual Object Oriented Programming source code. Notice the striking resemblance to an e e cummings poem. The difference is, if you run an e e cummings poem through a compiler, you get a lot of error messages, whereas if you compile this, you get an actual working program. :)

#if !defined(_ENABLE_AUTODEPEND)
#pragma read_only_file;

#ifdef __cplusplus
extern "C" {
#endif /* __cplusplus */

#include <_comdef.h>

#if defined(__PPC__)
#if defined(__NT__)
typedef char * __va_list;
typedef struct {
char __gpr;
char __fpr;
char __reserved[2];
char *__input_arg_area;
char *__reg_save_area;
} __va_list;
#elif defined(__AXP__)
typedef struct {
char *__base;
int __offset;
} __va_list;
#elif defined(__MIPS__)
typedef struct {
char *__base;
int __offset;
} __va_list;
#elif defined(__HUGE__) || defined(__SW_ZU)
typedef char _WCFAR *__va_list[1];
typedef char *__va_list[1];

_WCRTLINK extern char *cgets(char *__buf);
_WCRTLINK extern int cputs(const char *__buf);
_WCRTLINK extern int cprintf(const char *__fmt,...);
_WCRTLINK extern int cscanf(const char *__fmt,...);
_WCRTLINK extern int getch(void);
_WCRTLINK extern int _getch(void);
_WCRTLINK extern int getche(void);
_WCRTLINK extern int _getche(void);
_WCRTLINK extern int kbhit(void);
#if defined(_M_IX86)
_WCIRTLINK extern unsigned inp(unsigned __port);
_WCIRTLINK extern unsigned inpw(unsigned __port);
_WCIRTLINK extern unsigned outp(unsigned __port, unsigned __value);
_WCIRTLINK extern unsigned outpw(unsigned __port,unsigned __value);
#if defined(__386__)
_WCIRTLINK extern unsigned inpd(unsigned __port);
_WCIRTLINK extern unsigned outpd(unsigned __port, unsigned __value);
_WCRTLINK extern int putch(int __c);
_WCRTLINK extern int ungetch(int __c);
_WCRTLINK extern int vcprintf( const char *__format, __va_list __arg );
_WCRTLINK extern int vcscanf( const char *__format, __va_list __arg );

#if defined(__INLINE_FUNCTIONS__) && defined(_M_IX86)
#pragma intrinsic(inp,inpw,outp,outpw)
#if defined(__386__)
#pragma intrinsic(inpd,outpd)

#ifdef __cplusplus
} /* End of extern "C" */





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this was fascinating

and I would understand it better if any part of my brain was working.  I will read more carefully tomorrow.


Jessica Barksdale Inclan www.jessicabarksdaleinclan.com

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cartoon pantheon to enjoy


Great cartoon of the human bicultural brain!

Hey, here's a website (also listed on my blog today) fo the 50 greatest comic book characters in full color with descriptions.


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Left right, left write, left wright

Beware the things that go " swoosh,kachunk " in the night.

When the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, one side of the brain says it is a good time to get centered. The other side of the brain seems to enjoy the milieu.

Both sides of the brain need to be in harmony. Otherwise, we end up doing things half-assed. But, that's a whole other story...



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I'm so glad to find your work in all its guises.


    Your painting is extraordinary!  And I look forward to getting to know your writing.   What richness, the maps you leave!

    Warmly, Marilyn Kallet 

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Dennis and Marilyn

In this case, the art is not mine. I found it on the Internet.

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case vs. tone

What a rich thread. We are deep in an issue I usually go at through Derrida, dare I say it, and Nietsche and the question of dialectics. The question of computer code and linguistic structure has to be worked through how case functions in Latin and its ability to free up the placement of various sentence components within the "period." Dont forget that a lot of the imaging issues in Chinese appear in discussion of Hebrew and its affinity with pictographs. I once read quite a bit on this topic and yes Paul Fussell's little book rocks, as does John Hollander's Rhyme's Reason.