Training Jack

At the writing workshop last week one of the things that really stuck with me was that my critical brain needed something to do. Just telling it to go away, not letting those critical voices into the room when I was writing, wasn’t enough. Kris suggested that the job we give that critical brain is learning.

There was much talk about that critical brain, who one of my classmates named Fido for reasons specific to him.

Me — I’ve decided to give it the very unimaginative name of Jack. He isn’t a random mutt. No, he’s a Jack Russell Terrier. This type of dog can be hyper. They’re really smart. And they’ll go crazy if they don’t have a job. The best way to keep a Jack Russell Terrier happy is to give them work.

One of the afternoons during the workshop I had had a killer migraine. I’d taken migraine medicine, which left me kind of spacey, and had laid down in a darkened room with my ice pack over my eyes. I couldn’t write, couldn’t really think. So I started talking with my critical brain, as one does.

I explained that I wanted it to learn, to pay attention to the stuff I was reading, not to critique it, but to learn from it.

I sensed a mulish, uncooperative silence coming from that part of my head, so I finally caught a clue and said, okay, that’s what I’d like for you to do. What would you like for me to do?

The answer was astonishingly loud in my head.


(I’m aware that I don’t have actual voices in my head, or two brains, or what have you. I was also drugged out and half asleep during this. But I can still hear that voice.)

I haven’t been reading a lot of fiction for a while–partly because I couldn’t shut off that critical voice, and I had a lot of difficulty enjoying what I was reading. So I switched to reading a lot of non-fiction, history, blogs and other things.

Now I’ve started reading fiction again. And the arrangement has worked out well so far. Jack lets me read and enjoy, and he only stops me when something interesting happens, that he doesn’t really get–like the time the author used two colons in a single sentence.

An unexpected side effect of this arrangement showed up last night. I’ve still been recovering from the workshop — somewhere between sick and just exhausted — so I’ve been watching DVDs of TV shows.

I do not have good visual literacy. Never have. It’s all, “Oh, pretty!” and that’s about it.

But in one of the shows I was watching, one of the characters was always eating. 3 out of 5 scenes started with him eating.

When I noticed, “Oh, Oz is eating again,” Jack piped up with, “That’s a character tag.”

Before yesterday, I would have sworn that I’d never be able to do something even as simple as that in film.

Jack is absorbing story telling in all media.

Whole new levels of learning to be had, right here.

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