Chronic Creativity

Yes, one of the most annoying symptoms to those around us infected with Chronic Creativity — scatterbrain.

You forget where you put your keys. You forget how old you are. You forget to pay bills on time. You forget deadlines and instructions. You forget people's names. You forget what people tell you and you ask the same questions over and over again. You write emails telling about an attachment that you are sending. You write a few more paragraphs and send the letter. Afterward, you think, "I forgot to attach my attachment!" You drive and miss your turns because you are daydreaming. No, you don't have Alzheimer's. You have Chronic Creativity!

Let me assure you, if you have scatterbrain you are definitely infected with Chronic Creativity! But I would also like to encourage you. You are not stupid. No, you are a genius in disguise. I know that you are thinking about "deeper" things. Yes, you are so in tune to the beat of creativity in your life that you forget important details. You condemn yourself. Please don't do that. You were created to think about higher things. You were created to ponder solutions to problems and to imagine the world in a different light. Stop beating yourself up. And when others accuse you of being a scatterbrain, just tell them, "It's a symptom of this condition that I have called Chronic Creativity! My mind is pondering deeper thoughts. I am so captivated by new and pressing ideas that I forget the menial things in life."

However, I do know what it's like to be a friend or loved one of someone with the scatterbrain symptom. One of my sons is terribly haunted with this symptom. I tell him to brush his teeth. On the way up the stairs, he gets distracted and starts to think about a pressing project that is due in a few weeks. Then, he goes to his room and thinks about how he needs to practice his instrument. An entire morning can go on and I can ask several times, "Did you brush your teeth yet? Did you brush your teeth yet?" Of course, the answer is, "no." This is the son that I have learned cannot be sent into the grocery store for a simple item. Like me, he will become attracted to the most colorful and artistic label and buy that product instead. He has no clue that it is the wrong item or the most expensive item. He just likes how it looks and grabs it. I can't tell you how many times I've sent him back into the store to return the item that he picked up. Guess what? After returning the wrong item, he's even been known to pick up another wrong item! I've learned to keep my cool. It's not him... it's the Chronic Creativity!

I had an annoying friend once who asked me the same questions over and over again each time I was with her. To be honest, I was furious with her. I thought, "Haven't you heard a single word I've said?" I've come to accept her scatterbrain symptom. I've recognized her genius and when she asks me a question for the 3rd and 4th time, I just answer it again and laugh to myself, "Bless her heart... she must be thinking about something extremely important!"

When I was a child, I remember my mom handing me a $5 bill to go to the candy store to buy some candy. To this day, I can't remember the original instructions she gave. I just know that I was a kid with a $5 bill in an old-fashioned candy store. There were all sorts of candy behind the glass shelf that were appealing to my eye. (For some reason, the red and chewy penny candy really sticks out in my mind.) As I requested more and more candy, the clerk behind the glass counter kept saying, "Are you sure? Are you sure?" I assured her that it was OK that I was buying so much candy. After my little adventure at the candy store, I purchased hundreds of penny candy. Pleased with my carefully thought out choices, I got home only to be yelled at by my mother. I had to return most of the candy. Apparently, I wasn't supposed to spend all of the money.

A person with the symptom of scatterbrain doesn't really think in the time frame and normal measurements as most humans do. Minutes, hours, days, months, and even years aren't comprehended. Rather, events and ideas and dreams for the future outline their time frame.

I once had a dear boyfriend break up with me because of my scatterbrain. He'd come over to my house and see clothes strewn everywhere. He thought I was lazy. No, on the contrary, I was composing on the piano all afternoon and didn't get around to it! He made lists for me. They would say things like, #1) go grocery shopping #2) go to the bank and pay the car payment #3) look for a new apartment #4) go to the Laundromat #5) pay the electric bill at the bank. The lists did help me, I must admit. And even though he broke up with me partly because of my scatterbrain, to this day I have learned to make lists for myself.

Making lists is a good idea. I have learned that, as a person infected with Chronic Creativity, I must make checklists for myself. I must write everything down. When I get gifts for Christmas, I have disciplined myself to write down the gifts and the person who gave them to me. Otherwise, I would surely forget. When I have essential errands to run, I make a list and bring it with me in the car. If I don't, I will get distracted. I will see a pretty park or a store that I haven't been in and get side tracked.

Being a scatterbrain isn't easy. It makes it difficult to function in the everyday world. But it must be overcome. If you have scatterbrain, make lists. Have people help you be accountable. Do the best you can to pay your bills on time and write thank you notes to the right people. When you meet someone, write down their name. Oh, and my favorite….when you have to remember something extremely important, write it on your hand. Don't be shy. I do it all of the time. Even though I'm an adult, I still write on my hand. In fact, as I am writing this chapter, I have the word, "Prize" on my hand. Why? Well, just the other day, I promised my students that if they could spell "Tchaikovsky" correctly, I would give them a prize. My writing on my hand reminds me to go to the store and buy a prize. In the past, I would have totally forgotten and made a lot of enemies. But because I don't want to annoy everyone in my life, I have learned little strategies of keeping myself in line. Writing on my hand is a little more effective than notes on paper. Notes on paper often get thrown away. But writing on my hand seems to be a little more permanent unless, of course, I wash my hands!

I had a relative who my mom used to call the "absent minded professor." (I think his name was Dennis? I don't remember. His name is trivial to me.) But he was a dentist. Mom used to talk about him forgetting simple things yet being extremely smart. (Oops… as I'm writing, I don't think his name is Dennis. For the life of me, I can't remember his name!) She talked about him being a genius. At the time, I thought that was extremely cool. After all, as a child who often forgot things, I could definitely relate!

One of my favorite Sesame Street clips growing up was when a girl was sent to the store to get #1) a loaf of bread #2) a container of milk and #3) a stick of butter. The little cartoon girl skipped to the store as happy as could be. She spoke all of the way there, "A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter, a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter." But guess what? When she got to the store, she forgot it all for whatever reason and got the order all wrong. I remember relating to her so well as a child.

It can be scary being a scatterbrain. While driving, I get so "into" the music on the radio or the scenery or my creative thoughts that I frequently get lost. Once, I am ashamed to say that I landed myself in another state because of my scatterbrain!

If you already have scatterbrain, I empathize. So do I. Make lists for yourself. However, if you want to become infected with Chronic Creativity, adhere to this advice:

Don't be so consumed and obsessed with schedules. Deviate once in awhile. Take a little side trip to anywhere that looks interesting to you. Buy the pretty items while grocery shopping. Don't waste your days away enslaved to your day planner. Learn to live without it. •

This excerpt is from Chronic Creativity: A Diagnostic Look at the Condition and How to Become Infected ©2001 Angela K. Mack. All rights reserved.

Angela K. MackAngie Mack Reilly is a musical director, performing artist, blues educator and writer who has a wealth of experience and connections in the arts and entertainment industry. More