Hare Brain & Social Anxiety

[Insert generic gig at a small dive bar] It’s around Midnight, I have a beer in my hand and I’m standing outside smoking a cigarette. Maybe I know the person I’m talking to, maybe not. Maybe there are a half dozen humans in a circle. We might all be talking about music, or work, or dogs, or the president and the state of our political climate. [Any one else tired of the political whiplash from the last 7 years?] If my husband wasn’t in the band, I would have probably stayed home. It’s not that I don’t have fun. It’s that this is hard work.

When I make it home, it all hits me. I collapse on my bed, barely taking my shoes off. I think we call that an introvert these days.

A friend recently read a book and gave me a brief summary of a topic it covered. As I remember it: there are two ways our brain works. There is Hare Brain and Tortoise Brain.

The Hare brain has places to be and things to avoid. It is full speed and running in a zig zag pattern that no one can follow.

The book was written in the context of creativity. When you work on something and you’ve really struck gold so to say, your brain engages Peter Cottontail and bounces all over the place. I think of a the way a Roomba crisscrosses the carpet instead of in parallel lines? Anyways, I get it. If the bunny stops, the big bad wolves catch him. And how will the bunny finish the book if a wolf eats him for breakfast? So in writing for example, we might find that we’ve got an idea for a story, and all of a sudden the story is rolling. We’re thinking of action and plot and emotion and wit and world building and foreshadowing and villains and we cant stop or we’ll lose all the wonderful ideas and groundbreaking literature and clever gags and full circles and Easter eggs and we won’t get the Pulitzer prize and is life worth living if we don’t get a trophy?

Inevitably, we must stop to eat, or defecate, or walk the dogs, what have you. [Because god forbid we not finish that pot of coffee or take a nap.] But you see, dear reader, when away from the writing desk the brain powers down into a slow and steady tortoise version of itself. It’s not stopped, it’s just, I don’t know, smelling the roses–placing one foot in front of the other. The book argues, this tortoise mode is essential for the creative process.

I think the same thing applies when you learn a new skill. Drumming for example. An instructor can lay out the beat, count 1 and 2 and 3 and 4. Logically, you know you hit the bass drum on 1 and 3, snare on 2 and tom on 4. If you start slow, you’ll do all the right things in order, but as soon as you pick up speed, your arms get crossed and your toes get confused and the whole thing goes to shit. So you practice and you practice and all of a sudden you’ve lost 3 hours and you still can’t keep the beat for more than a couple measures. What do you do? You walk away, sleep it off. Let the Tortoise brain absorb the information and file it away. When you come back in the morning, muscle memory kicks in and, wait a second, you’ve done it! Sure you might mess up some more, but now you barely have to think about it. In fact, it’s when you think about that everything unravels.

The case might be made for an argument, too. Let’s say I’m arguing with my husband about the dishes. The sink is full and to my knowledge I am the only one who has been doing the dishes. I’m furious. I raise my voice, maybe I stomp around. My husband listens, and maybe he says something back, but I’m so furious, all I can do is repeat my grievances. I go to bed mad, convinced he doesn’t respect me and thinks I’m just a dishwasher for his royal highness. The next morning, I’ve returned to a homeostasis that can look at the dirty dishes in the sink and either wash them or just ask him to. In fact, now that I think about it, that was his response. If I just asked him to do the dishes instead of wait for him to realize he needs to do the dishes, then 1. the dishes get done and 2. I don’t have to always do them.

[Don’t get me wrong, I’ll ask him and he’ll still forget. My tortoise brain is just like, yeah yeah, sure I’ll just let you know when the dishes in the sink are more than I can handle. My Hare Brain is OMG ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME? CAN’T YOU SEE THAT THE DISHES IN THE SINK ARE RUINING MY DAY? IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT? TO RUIN MY DAY?]

OKAY. Enough yelling and back to creativity. I found this information to be exponentially comforting and encouraging as I think about my own creative work. I tend to write in the mornings and sometimes that turns into the entire first half of my day. Then I go to class or work in the evenings. That means I basically work all day. Occasionally I get a half day off, and rarely do I get a full day off. No wonder it feels like work when I go out to a live show!

Obviously the human isn’t made for this. Some days I’ll sleep in and not write in the mornings. Some days I’ll sit at my desk but not do anything remotely productive. [I’ll just look for gifs of turtles.] However! Now that I’m aware of the two modes of my brain, I’m thinking more favorably about my time away from projects. Productivity can be a bunny bouncing in the tall grass evading predators. Productivity can also be sitting in a chair, sleeping, eating, showering, walking the dogs, etc. If I can let my tortoise brain explore my senses, maybe chew on some leaves, etc, I don’t have to feel bad about not writing. Because I am writing. So I guess I’m thinking about productivity by means of un-productivity? This is weird grammatical and existential loop to try and explain.

Fun fact: Turtles live a really long time. Bunnies do not. We’re talking 10 years vs 100 years. Also Turtles hibernate. Homes with pet turtles use them as door stoppers in the winter (real story). Also, they grow as large as their space allows. Keep them in a tiny plastic box, they stay small. Let them roam in your house or yard? They grow big. Last fact you didn’t ask for: when they walk, they walk in direct lines. They do not go around. Small rock in their way? Plow on through. Couch? That’s fine, the turtle will rearrange your living room to accommodate it’s path. Does a full size turtle want to go from one side of the driveway to the other, but there’s a CAR parked in the way? Easy Peasy Lemon-shaped-turtle squeez-y. A turtle will MOVE the car. (Also real story, your welcome.)

So lets just linger there for a minute. Yes bunnies are cute and cuddly and oh so soft, and good luck catching one in the wild. And those ears! *chef’s kiss* But enjoy it while it last. That bunny ain’t here for more than two, maybe three presidents. It won’t even make it to drinking age. It’ll run it’s little heart out. Alternatively, the oldest tortoise still living, just celebrated his 190th birthday. His name is Jonathon and he’s fabulous and gay.

The writing is on the wall. The hare brain is fun and all, but if we are in it for the long haul, we might try leaning more towards our Jonathan brain. Now what does any of this have to do with getting lung cancer outside of a bar while the band loads up their equipment into Subarus?

So the way I figure it, Social Anxiety is like def-con 4 Hare Brain. I’m standing around with friends, thinking about my words, my posture, my facial expressions, my proximity to other beings [don’t want to be the weirdo who doesn’t observe proper personal space], my body odor, the amount of eye contact, the intensity of my laugh, the intellectual depth of my responses, my level of emotional sluttiness, hopefully retaining a level of intrigue, etc. I’m cool and collected on the outside but I’m a pinball machine of wild hares on the inside. This is true, in all social settings: with family, friends, best friends, spouse, dogs, at grocery stores, traffic lights, hair dressers, gas stations, libraries, book clubs, restaurants, classes, you name it. I will look relaxed and engaged, but every tendon and ligament in my body is strung tight ready to launch myself away from any danger.

When I finally make it home, I ain’t worth shit. I don’t wanna be worth shit. I wanna watch trash TV, eat grape leaves from a can, and be a bed for my dogs and cat to sleep on, really let my tortoise brain kick in. When I do finally close my eyes, I’m in the locker room with the team goin’ over replays.

Okay, you could have probably handled that social interaction better. Why didn’t you tell them that funny story, they would have loved that. Wear different shoes next time, actually just throw those away or buy insoles. Maybe being cold threw you off your game. Next time, take an extra hoodie. You’re never warm enough. And why didn’t you just take the damn food when they offered it. You practically passed out before you finally got that taco bell on the way home. And what the hell do you have against drinking water?

I’m assuming at this point I am not alone, and we all suffer from some version of Hare Brain and Social Anxiety. We all underestimate the power of slowing down, and letting life move slow. Letting life be long. I think it was Seinfeld who said, life is not short. Think about all the time you spend asking someone what do they want to do? And they go, idk, what do you wanna do? Life is long. Life is filled with nothing going on and boredom and waiting and finding something to do or wishing the next thing would come along already. Of course phones make this easy to forget. Endless scrolling tries to kill boredom, but you still feel it don’t you? That lingering feeling of uselessness? Scrolling until the next thing comes along?

Life is fucking long and somehow we’ve all been tricked into thinking we must race through it as fast as we can. Like there is some trophy at the end for all your trouble. There’s not. Life ends in death. If you do manage to collect some trophies, they will be sold on eBay or dropped off at the Salvation Army after your remains are dealt with. So you might as well slow tf down and smell some roses with Jonathan the turtle. Maybe have a beer, smoke a cigarette, and ask him which president he and his boyfriend liked best over the last two centuries.


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