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Just Who Do You Think You Are?

Just who do you think you are?

Someone asked me this recently. Not directly, of course. It came couched in “concern” by way of some unidentified third person who read that I described myself as a citizen-neuroscientist on social media. “Concerned” took a screenshot of my bio and sent it to “Also Concerned” who brought it to my attention, just to make sure I wasn’t “misrepresenting” myself.

Brain Barbs

I thanked Also Concerned and promptly began my process of self-interrogation.

Had I included the word “citizen” in my description to differentiate myself from a professional neuroscientist? Yes.

Had I added a hyphen between citizen and neuroscientist just to make the distinction that much clearer? Yes.

Did this line of inquiry have anything to do with concern for me? I suspect not.

I am an unapologetic citizen-neuroscientist.

I graduated magna cum laude with a degree in psychology from the University of Florida with an emphasis in developmental psychobiology;

  • I researched the effects of enrichment on an animal model of autism in the lab of Dr. Mark Lewis at the University of Florida

  • Wrote my honor’s thesis about the results, which were published in the Journal of Developmental Psychobiology

  • Developed an art protocol called the SPARC Method

  • Partnered with neuroscientists Drs. Kenneth Heilman, Mark Lewis and Jason Coleman to design a study to test SPARC

  • Partnered with Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital neuro-rehabilitation hospital to pilot the study with survivors of stroke, and

  • Am writing a book about it (ArtSparcs Guide to Possibility. Stay tuned!)

Did I say any of that?

I did not. I didn’t even think any of that until a couple of days later when I realized what my brain had done. Instead of questioning her assertion, I internalized the perceived sleight and when I began to believe it, I felt misunderstood and sad. Regardless of her intent-my brain processed her words- and along with the help of the amygdala, formed a pathway straight to the yet to be identified neural substrate that is home to the Mean Girls Committee.

In this experience, I’m not unique. The subtle and not so subtle questioning of ones’ right to create (art, a life of one’s own, a career, etc.) is so familiar to women, and to women artists, that Pamela Tanner Boll made a documentary about it called…wait for it…Who Does She Think She Is? Please check it out. But I digress.

Minding My Business

I’m not a therapist. What motivated Also Concerned’s scrutiny is really none of my business. My business is ArtSparcs and ArtSparcs is all about expanding ideas by playing with art processes.

The SPARC Method offers a gentle, non-judgmental process to guide creative experiments using Strategically Placed Arbitrary Randomized Constraints. By exploiting the same dopaminergic pathways and neural processes that make gambling rewarding (and highly addictive), new neural pathways promote healing and well-being. Though the SPARC Method is based on years of cognitive and physiological neuroscience research and application, it’s really just a structured process for goofing off with art.

Exploring the question, “What if?” with Art

ArtSparcs invites the question, “What if?”, a la

  • What if I painted aluminum?

  • What if I etched Plexiglas?

  • What if I printed photography on fabric?

SPARC is about focusing on the process of experimentation with intentional detachment from any particular outcome. Sometimes we even try to create something “ugly” just so we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

From serious messing around, come serious cognitive shifts. As we experiment with art processes, we might notice that our beliefs around art become more expansive and less rigid. When our ideas about art become less rigid, we might notice our ideas about other things becoming more flexible.

Our ideas about who we are become more expansive, more open to possibility. We start to see the Mean Girls Committee of the Mind for what it is- a neural rut caused by a well-meaning but misguided attempt to protect ourselves from fear.

The Frontal Lobe Joins the Conversation

I notice that my thoughts seem to come as randomly as rain and that I am as powerless over them as the weather. And though I can intellectually know that those sideways “concerns” weren’t really so much about me as the people expressing them, I also notice that the thoughts and beliefs around that one conversation can still trigger hurt.

I’m also learning that I can invite my more evolved frontal lobe to join the conversation and ease mental discomfort through mindful self-compassion. And research has demonstrated compelling evidence that changing how we relate to our own thoughts can actually change the physical structure and neurofunctional responses of our brains.

ArtSparcs is about changing how we think through experimenting with art so that we can live healthier, more joyful, fulfilling lives.

So Just Who Do You Think You Are?

My hope for you is that Just Who You Think You Are is big enough to contain the wonder that is you. You might find yourself identifying as a citizen-neuroscientist, or perhaps a psychic photographer, or a portrait collage-ifer, or some other new kind of creator. There are as many ways to be an artist as there are ways to be a human being.

And the next time someone invites you to doubt yourself, remember that you can decline the invitation. You can also take a screenshot of this blog, text it to your Concerned Friend (perhaps they will forward it to Also Concerned) and gently direct them to this last sentence.

What you think of me is none of my business.

SPARC on, Dear One.

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