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Train of Thought: Creativity & ADD

By Beth Nielsen Chapman I’m on a train right now as I write this, gliding along from Manhattan to Rhinecliff in a state of pure joy. I’ve pulled out my laptop and, as the lake and trees go blurring by out of the corner of my eye, I find my center. I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about for my second newsletter until just this moment. Ahh…inspiration! It occurs to me that one of the reasons I am in love with being on a train is that it provides my body and soul the rare and delightful experience of getting from point A to point B in a straight line and on time. This is how my husband Bob lives.  In a beautiful world where he plans out his day and steps into it and can pretty much predict almost to the second when he’ll turn the key in the door and walk back in the house, goals reached, done and dusted. A few years back I (finally) took a test and passed with flying colors, making it official (newsflash)…I have ADD!  I had suspected as much but my tendencies didn’t always fit the classic symptoms. Frequently scattered, oh yes. On a bad day the inside of my head is like twelve TV sets blaring on different channels.
Growing up in the 60’s before ADD became a diagnosable condition, I managed to escape being labeled or prescribed any meds to tone down my high charged flickering noisy pinball-machine brain. Although not physically hyperactive, between the ears I was usually either bouncing off the walls with continuous thoughts, images, ideas, and options, or lost down some rabbit hole way off the map of whatever my original plan might have been. This could pertain to the plan for the day or the plan for the end of the sentence I started.  It is a wonderful problem to have if you’re a songwriter but not so great if you are just trying to pick up a few things in the grocery store. My particular version of ADD includes another less mentioned symptom for which I tested super positive:  hyper-focus!  That means it’s not uncommon for my husband to have to come down the aisles looking for me, (having dashed away to ‘grab a package of pasta’) only to find me intently involved in researching the best can of tomato sauce absorbed in a concentration loop so deep I didn’t even hear him calling my name. Understandably he’s not above offering me cold cash to wait in the car when stopping by the store.
This is vintage teenage angst reaching it's peak at around 15 years of age. I'm a little on the moody side here. Probably trying to juggle plates in my head while avoiding algebra!

This is vintage teenage angst reaching it’s peak at around 15 years of age. I’m a little on the moody side here. Probably trying to juggle plates in my head while avoiding algebra!

Hyper-focus is great for editing vocals and working in the studio but it can be very dangerous. I can get so lost in what I’m doing that I suddenly look up and see Mr. Sunshine in the window and realize I haven’t eaten, drank, peed or moved in six hours and my butt is numb and my legs don’t work. Actually, come to think of it I’m not sure why they call it “Attention Deficit Disorder” because I don’t feel a lack of ability to put my attention on things. I have an abundance of attention! It’s either going all over the place or concentrated like a laser beam on one spot. Whichever is the case, it’s a pain sometimes but I think they should call it “Attention Gone Wild and Occasionally Out Of Order” or AGWOOO!!! Yeah. That sounds much more fitting. Though definitely challenging, especially for the ways it challenges those I love, but I’m not sure I’d trade.  It’s a glorious thing to be able to set my mind off in five directions to search for the perfect word when I’m writing a song. Most of the coolest things that have creatively plopped into my consciousness were unplanned and spontaneous. Now that I’ve been “diagnosed” I do have some medication I can take when I have a list of errands or the need to stay on a bit of a schedule.  Luckily I can opt out of taking it with no repercussions on the days when I am writing and I want my wild mind out of the cage.
My grandson Atreyu looking very focused on his first airplane ride!

My grandson Atreyu looking very focused on his first airplane ride!

But because of my slip-n-slide attention span I thrive on flexibility whenever possible. Ha. No matter how much I plan not to, in almost every endeavor I inevitably succumb to unexpected detours and the lure of new sparkly things just off the path where all those rabbit holes lurk. But you know what? I think I’m changing. (Don’t tell Bob cause I don’t want him to get his hopes up)  I may not ever escape my brain’s way of functioning but my soul is being pulled more and more towards simplifying and streamlining. My sense is that this is related to becoming a Grandma. What an incredible thrill it’s been for me to spend time with my grandson Trey, who’s turning one this month. When I’m with that baby boy all the TV sets in my head go quiet and I’m completely Alice-in-wonderland-gonzo-down the rabbit hole of playtime with him. Unlike getting caught up in comparing spaghetti sauces, the best use of time known to humans is playing with the child of your child. That is as good as life gets. Well, that, and being able to sit still in my center writing on a train that’s barreling through the cranberry farms, trajectory not up to me, destination covered. On course.
About the Author: From writing hits for other artists to recording her own, twice Grammy-nominated Beth Nielsen Chapman, Nashville based singer-songwriter has truly embraced musical diversity. A breast cancer survivor, environmental activist, teacher of workshops and lecturer on the magic of creativity, she’s penned numerous hits and written songs for many top artists including Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Bette Midler, Elton John, Neil Diamond, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, Michael McDonald, Amy Grant, Keb Mo’, Roberta Flack, Waylon Jennings, Faith Hill, Willie Nelson, Bette Lavette and many more. Her music has been heard on ER, Dawson’s Creek, Providence, Felicity and in movie soundtracks, including The Prince of Egypt, Message In A Bottle, The Rookie, Where The Heart Is and Practical Magic. Mega-hit “This Kiss,” sung by Faith Hill , was ASCAP’S 1999 Song Of The Year, garnered a Grammy nomination and Nashville NAMMY’S 1999 Songwriter of the Year. (Originally posted on Beth Nielsen Chapman’s website, bethnielsenchapman.com)
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  1. MarcB1 February 7, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Loved this. Thanks for writing this and sharing.

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