Early in my senior year in high school, I took an uncharacteristic risk in writing a structured composition for my English class. The exercise, as I recall, was to write a short essay which involved what I would now call the exposition of a hierarchy, or a description of a classification. Old folkie that I was, I chose ballads as my topic.
As I recall, there were two kinds of ballads that we had studied: the epic ballad, a narrative describing an historical event, and the lyrical ballad, more of a poetic expression of an emotion around some type of narrative. I had been a good French student, and I knew, as we all did in those days, that “La Gaule est divisee en trois parties;” that is, that any good essay had not two examples, but three. Ah, what to do? I wanted to write about ballads, but I knew of only two kinds.
So I made one up. I drew on another tradition – my erstwhile recollection of one of my favorite Yiddish words from my Brooklyn childhood: fablunged (pronounced fa-blun-jed), meaning totally, hopelessly lost. I listed the three types of ballads, and described each. When I got to the third type, I fabricated the utterly whimsical notion of a ballad that had no known origin, an unclear message, and a text that was partially obscured – in other words, a song that was totally fablunged.
My recollection was that, amazingly, I got an A on the essay, and my content was unquestioned by a teacher who normally had the probative power of an all-star district attorney. But what I remember best was that nobody laughed. No one got my joke. Even my mom, from whom I had learned most of my broken Yiddish, only chuckled slightly and went on to something else. I wasn’t sure what to do with that revelation – that I could create such an obvious fabrication and others would miss the significant and ingenious humor involved. That may have been the beginning of my tendency toward ever more outrageous jokes, most of which are still highly un- or under-appreciated by those around me.
And what does this have to do, you ask, with Non-Random Thoughts About Thinking? Do you sense another long-way-around-the-barn explanation?
Yes, that’s what’s coming. During the past few days, I have finally begun reading a hardback book I bought on sale a couple of years ago because of its interesting title – A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink. Chances are good that you are familiar with this book if you are reading this blog. I just finished the first few chapters, focusing on the reasons that the R-Directed Mind is, according to Pink, going to be dominating the world shortly.
In my own humble way, I want to take credit for listening to that R-Direction years ago when I let myself create that pseudo-erudite third category of ballads. Up to this point in this blog, my mentions of the analytical skills have emphasized the L-Directed side – the ability to clearly and precisely determine categories based on common characteristics and structures based on part-whole relationships. This brilliant spontaneity from my youth provides an example of how the analytical can become the basis for the synthetic – in this case, by creating a new category out of thin air.
Granted, there must be better examples. But one of the more subtle points that Pink makes is that the right and the left hemisphere capabilities don’t normally act in isolation – they work together. One can start by following the standard categories, and then diverge – just by remaining open to the possibilities of a category that might exist, that might even be credible – if only we can find the right Yiddish name for it.