From the outside looking in, people typically remarked that things came easily to me, a product of being in the right place at the right time or taking advantage of a given opportunity that fell into my lap. Even as a little girl, I knew that I had to work incredibly hard to be successful. I had nothing to hang my hat on, nothing to cultivate.
My older brother and twin sister had natural, quantifiable talents: he was a gifted mathematician and could easily move from abstractions to complex problems, she was a gifted writer and singer who made her presence known.
So I was determined to be “the hard worker,” “the people-pleaser” until I could figure out where my strengths lay. I was a list-maker, a rule-follower, a goal-oriented person, but I certainly did not think of myself as amazing.
Finding My Way
My talent snuck up on me. I thought I had no original or creative ideas, so I pursued and quantified other people’s thinking. I took copious notes on what my classmates said, what my parents told me about what poems meant, what my teachers told me about the meaning of given topics.
I was a master of bad karaoke of other’s ideas and it worked. Teachers, for example are always quite impressed with their own ideas. I dutifully regurgitated their thinking and I was rewarded for it.
Throughout college, I became an arduous quotation collector, culling gems from authors and speakers who had insight into a topic that I was working on for a paper or a project.
Through my over-reliance on gleaning information from outside experts, connections of my own started to take shape.
The Beauty of the Brain
I grew into my talent of taking pieces of seemingly disparate information and transforming them into fresh ideas. I developed a skill of “combinatory play” – recombining lots of ideas through language. I used the details from others to present problems and ideas in a new way.
The left side of my brain read and extracted details to feed the right side of my brain to work its magic.
To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing at the time. Post-stroke, the workings of the brain became instantly apparent because of the deficits I was (and to a certain extent still am) experiencing. As a consultant, I was known for revealing my brain in real time, but I could rarely say something in the same way twice.
It was a product of my thinking in that moment, and once the moment was over, it was gone. I was known for my spontaneous epiphanies, rather than for my preplanning. Therefore, being well prepared or being a good writer was an afterthought, something that I did out of due diligence for my audience, but my mind was already racing to another idea.
Post-stroke, my inabilities to read and evaluate text, compounded by my inability to communicate what I was thinking, left me stuck in abstractions, desperate to translate those visual images into intelligible thoughts.
I need to tell you all of this upfront because what I had known to be true, how I organized my life, where I envisioned the trajectory of my life was gone in an instant on a cold Saturday morning.
In a matter of moments, I became unrecognizable to myself.
- PART 1: The Day I Had A Stroke
- PART 3: Persevering Through the Worst Day
- PART 4: When the Teacher Became the Student