How writing can improve your mood and keep your brain moving forward…

In the process of writing my last post about AI and writing, I learned quite a bit about exactly how good writing is for our brains. First of all I learned that writing by hand is better for the brain than typing. Although a slower task, research indicates that physically writing things down appears to make the writer become more selective in what they write. What’s more, when you pen words on paper, the neurons in your brain fire signals at rapid speed, enabling you to make more neural connections.

Writing is a stimulating yet strenuous activity for the brain. When you write, all parts of your brain are actively engaged. Thanks to the brain’s neuroplasticity, it can grow and change over time. Just as athletes train their bodies, writers can do the same with their brains.

The process of recalling something, writing it down, and reading it back on paper boosts memory and comprehension, leading to improved cognitive processing. Given that many areas of the brain are engaged, the more you write, the more neural connections are formed within your brain.

Writing every day can benefit everyone, not only professional writers. It improves your memory, builds vocabulary, and refines your communication skills. Writing can also be very relaxing, especially if you lead a busy or stressful life.

When it comes to emotional stability and development, writing can be quite therapeutic. Writing gives some structure and organization to anxious thoughts and feelings. It can help the writer feel more in control of their negative moods, thus helping them get past suppressed difficult or traumatic events.

I have always been a avid writer since I first learned how. Writing is my way to have someone to talk to about difficult thoughts or feelings, a way to process my feelings to make me feel better. These days I find writing to be essential to both my mental health and brain health. Although I sometimes find it quite challenging for my brain, I do need this challenge to keep moving forward after a few serious head injuries.

5 Surprising Benefits of Writing by Hand

Will new AI programs replace the art of writing?

OpenAI’s artificial intelligence writing program ChatGPT can compose poetry, prose, song lyrics, essays, even news articles. That has ethicists and educators worried about the program’s ease at replacing human ideas with chatbot-generated words. I can already hear the concerns of educators. What about the process of writing your first term paper? Isn’t that an important part of learning?

In the history of our species there have been a number of reasons to create writing so we could record history. The first hieroglyphics were used by Egyptian priests to record important events like wars or stories about their gods and Pharaohs. These were also used to decorate temples and tombs. Writing has been used to communicate with future generations, entertain others as art (poetry, plays, prose, stories), for history and business. For most of these purposes an AI program would have sufficed to communicate. Most of us may not need to learn how to write a poem, an essay or a term paper if we have no interest and we will never need that skill again. The skill we all need and seems to be sorely lacking in our world today is critical thinking.

For most, writing a term paper may be a useless exercise, but for some of us, writing is a lifeline to sanity. I have made a practice of keeping journals my entire life. This practice of self-analysis has always helped me think through what I am experiencing and process the reasoning behind my choices, my way of delving into something I want to know more about within myself.

Now, after a few serious brain injuries, writing is my lifeline to my former self; how I connect the two worlds, the person I used to be and who I am today. My fine mind has served me well, but now it is exhausting and confusing for me to sit down at my computer and put ideas and feelings together in writing, and yet I believe this is an essential exercise in me still being me. No AI program can do this for me, and it is so worth the effort.

The process of creating is vital to the human brain. Films, music, books, poems, works of art can all be programmed into AI today, but should they be? What about the lived experience of each of us? What about the emotions of living a life?

Writing was created for a purpose, and it has served humanity in so many ways. I feel certain that will continue.

What is great about Spanish Peaks Living?

Nine years ago this month, Mike and I drove down from Fort Collins to choose a few acres in Navajo to buy. We didn’t know much about this area, only that we loved how it felt to our suburban souls. It took us another year to build our passive solar home facing the Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with Mount Mestas to our west.

I was reminded again early this morning why I love living here. I woke up around 6:30 AM to see an unobstructed view of a bright red sunrise to our southeast. This is BIG SKY country to me, where the landscape and the silence are the main characters! Every time I go outside in the morning I stop and feel astounded by the silence. This is what the earth used to be like. Maybe a few bird sounds, but otherwise perfect silence…

Sure there are also unattractive features to this area, but the land is encouraging and haunting all at once, and the summers are glorious!

Our first summer here we had so much fun exploring the back roads and back stories, like this dilapidated adobe schoolhouse slowly sinking back into the earth west of here…

or taking the train up to Fir to hear the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band play in a big mountain meadow.

When I first met Mike he said he wasn’t moving again until he could look at something besides the house across the street.

We found this cartoon in a magazine and laughed together about it. Then we went in search of someplace with truly ‘spectacular views.’

We found those here and so much more…

Create Your Own “Lifetime Achievement Award”

While watching the Golden Globes last night, I decided it was time for me to create my own lifetime achievement award. While watching so many ‘stars’ in their fancy outfits, it becomes too easy to undervalue our own achievements, but only we know how difficult it may have been for us to choose a certain life path and achieve what we have in our own chosen endeavors.

Only we know what struggles we have endured to overcome major obstacles to be where we are today.

To identify our own achievements we must first ignore any outside opinions and judgments, because no one knows like we do how hard we may have fought to overcome major fears just to become our best selves today. I know for myself I often wonder why I could not have been more fearless in the choices I have made, and yet I’m sure there are plenty of good reasons for that.

For now just focus on your achievements instead of what you may perceive as your failures. For example, instead of only seeing the failures you have had in your past, focus on the fact that you now enjoy a few wonderful, genuine love relationships.

My list of lifetime achievements includes the fact that I did finally find love, I have put up a valiant fight to be nothing but myself and celebrate that, I have generally followed my dreams, I’ve seen much of the world, and I’m proud and happy with myself at age 67.

If I continue to focus on that, and not on what I haven’t done, than I am indeed a success in my own mind

1883: “You have the journey – that’s it!”

I have been blown away by watching the Yellowstone prequel “1883” in the past week or so. I did not know a “western” could be so poetic, authentic and full of heart. I loved it so much I watched it again after I got back from Christmas and loved it even more!

First, a little background. I was raised in Kansas near the prairie where my ancestors arrived many decades before me. When I first started reading books, I loved stories about the pioneer West. The first stories I ever wrote were about Native Americans and their ponies. Then I started reading everything by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the personal journals of westward women. I only wanted to play “pioneer woman” as a kid. I guess you could say I have been unconsciously searching for the perfect “western” my whole life. I finally found it in “1883.”

First of all I love that the main character and narrator is a teenage woman. The whole story is told from Elsa’s perspective, with just the right combination of authentic and sensitively-written narrative and dialogue. I felt like I could see into Elsa’s heart, while also understanding the other characters’ inner lives as well. As the writer, Taylor Sheridan, explains in “Behind the Story,” he wanted this story to feel as intimate for the audience as reading a good novel, or even the personal journal of a young woman on a wagon train heading west. He does a masterful job of that, and yet I keep wondering how a man could have such an intimate understanding of a teenage woman’s worldview.

As I think about it now, the ever-changing landscape is the main character in this story, that and the silence. So many of Elsa’s observations remind me of my own after moving to rural Colorado eight years ago. My amazement at the silence and beauty of each sunrise and sunset, the comfort of the wildlife passing by our home each day, the glorious seasons we experience so intimately, this is what I love about living out here. Elsa’s story seems to authentically capture the beauty and the violence of the American West over one hundred years ago around the time the transcontinental railroad began changing everything. There is so much truth in some of her observations like:

“I think cities have weakened us as a species.”

Another profound aspect of Elsa’s story is how living in the West allowed so much more freedom for women. I enjoyed watching her relationship with her mother develop as her Mom tries to remind her of the limitations of being a woman in 1880s America. Elsa rebels every chance she gets. Elsa enjoyed the loss of rules and customs as they moved west. The big transition came when she decided she was a cowboy and got herself some pants to wear instead of dresses.

I loved the writer’s sensitive portrayal of the other characters, especially when it came to ‘race.’ Race is not a word I use, because I do not believe we humans are different ‘races.’ But back in 1880s America, blacks were treated badly as a general rule. Thomas, the old Civil War friend of Shea, played by the wagon train boss Sam Elliott, understood how badly others could treat him for being black, as he stated at one point, “You ain’t never been whipped.” Native Americans play an important role in this saga and mostly as sympathetic characters including members of the Comanche and Crow tribes. The true “bad guys” of this Western are “bandits.”

Suffice to say this is by far the best western story I have ever seen. It shows the beauty and severe violence of the American West in no uncertain terms, and I believe it may be more authentic as a story than any other I have read. I found the very last phrase in this story so vivid and relevant to my state of mind these days –

“There is a moment when your dreams and memories merge together and form a perfect world. That is heaven, and each heaven is unique. It is the world of you…”

Do you ever wonder what you should have been?

I believe our culture or at least our parents teach us that we could all be great at something, and as a mere teenager we were supposed to know what that was. At a time when all we really care about is fitting in and learning about sex, we are supposed to do a in-depth analysis of our innate abilities and determine our path to greatness. That’s just crazy! All I remember about high school was that I loved to read, write and ice skate…

I have always envied those who just seemed to know what they needed to be at an early age. You know, those totally career-oriented nerds who took off on their career path at age twelve and succeeded in their early twenties. How did they do that? Probably mostly from heavy parental support and pressure!

Mike and I had a funny conversation the other day about what unique combination of talents and skills came along with our personalities. You know, the career where we could have made some real contributions.

Well, first of all, how many of us do make any real contributions to human history? Very, very few. And second, there is a reality to all of this dreaming. We do need to take into account where the jobs are when we need them.

Boomer World: “Because our generation was such an unusually large cohort, our very existence greatly increased competition for everything, but especially jobs. This was most true for those born after 1954.” from my book, Find Your Reason To Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife.

Thailand, 1974

I became so frustrated with my lack of career potential after graduating from college with a B.A. in East Asian Studies, I next focused like a laser on a career in academic librarianship for my next degree, and it worked. I immediately got my first professional position at the University of Utah and then told myself that I would be a librarian until I figured out what I really wanted to be. In other words, reality rarely matches your ideal image of career development. It was only much later that I became a writer.

My alternate title…

Mike took a more scientific route. After leaving the Navy in his twenties and trying out a few different jobs, he took an “Inventory of Aptitudes and Knowledge” test to see where his innate talents lay. He found his best areas were electronics and acoustical engineering, so off he went on that career path. I just kept being a librarian to support my private interests and love of international travel. I was naturally drawn to the study of human behavior and it still fascinates me.

Sometimes I wonder how many boomers question the way their lives turned out. I find it’s best to not be too hard on yourself and the choices you made so many years ago. You need to give yourself a break, because you did the best you could with the decisions before you!