“Anan!” Ms. Aaliyah, my teacher back in 2nd grade, roared, interrupting me while I was in the middle of building castles in the sky.
I jumped, “Yes, miss.” I whispered, barely hearing my own voice.
“Where were you?” She asked.
“No, you weren’t with me.” She retorted, “What was the last thing I said?”
Back then, I didn’t know what I was doing was called “daydreaming”. I wished I’d disappear, so I imagined the White Rabbit appear under my desk and ask me to drink a potion which will shrink me so I’d travel through his burrow… away from that dreadful classroom. I pitied the rest of the kids who were stuck in class while I traveled to Wonderland.
“You are a spoiled child! Your parents sent you to a good school so you can get smarter, but alas, you don’t listen to your teacher. I am standing all day—” She went on, and so I decided to drift away until that ugly, mean adult was done chewing me out.
On another day, she asked us to solve some math problems. I was done before the rest of the class and had her correct my paper. I did well, so I thought maybe she’d let me go out till the rest of the kids were done.
“What should I do now?” I asked, imagining how boring it’ll be to sit and wait till my classmates were done solving.
“Go back to your seat and wait till your friends are done.” It felt like she was sentencing me to a lifetime of boredom.
I went back to my seat, pulled out my sketchbook and began drawing. A girl with a long orange braid and a set of teeth that matched her hair color began chanting, “Meeeeeess… Anaaaaaan is draaaawiiiing!”
Ms. Aaliyah got up and slowly walked towards me. I did nothing, anticipating what was about to unfold. She stared down at my sketch. I could see the orange-haired girl behind the teacher’s butt sticking her tongue out at me. All of a sudden and very briskly, Ms. Aaliyah tore that page out of my sketchbook and continued to slowly tear the sheet into smaller pieces. “You are hopeless! I am calling your mother.”
In 9th grade, I couldn’t stand most classes, so I hid Shakespeare’s plays—which I was passionate about at that time—in my desk’s drawer and read the lecture away. Despite that, I scored high at almost all exams, and did great in assignment and projects as well… and, mind you, I was loser at cheating.
However, a teacher once caught me, but she looked the other way. At the end of her class, she asked to see me at the teachers’ room. She said to me, “These novels will get you nowhere, but my lesson will turn you into a successful woman in the future. I looked the other way because failure is a choice, and apparently that is what you’ve chosen.”
“These are not novels. These are plays.” I replied, wondering how people gave themselves the right to predict my future.
These were three of the many times I was called stupid—whether directly or indirectly—for using the right hemisphere of my brain, and till I turned 14, I was mostly convinced I was stupid and clueless.
Nevertheless, I continued to read, draw, dance and do whatever satisfied me. In ninth grade as well, Mrs. Dawn Tucker, my English Literature and Social Studies teacher back then—may she rest in peace—caught me writing in my journal during another teacher’s class, but she looked the other way. Later on, she asked to speak to me in her office, so I mentally and emotionally prepared myself for a lecture about what a failure I am. She invited me to take a seat and poured me a cup of tea.
“I am so sure you will make it big one day.” She said.
I was speechless; back then, I seldom got told anything like that for using my Right Brain.
We are bruised with words and healed by them. Every word we listen to, utter, read and/or write has the power to shape not only our personalities, but our lives, and since words are associated with the Right Brain, many underestimate their power.
In a culture obsessed with the left hemisphere of the brain—especially where I live in the Middle East, I witness people each and every day underestimate literature, journalism, music, dancing, painting and simply everything associated with the right hemisphere of the brain. To those people, a pianist, for instance, is considered a failure just for being a pianist, while a physician is considered successful just for being so.
I have majored in Computer Science at college not because it was my passion—although it might have seemed like it because I was good at it—but because my parents thought sciences came first, and if you were good at science then that is what you must major in—it is more ‘prestigious’. What I really wanted to major in was in Arts or Humanities. In this part of the world, one must be either a ‘mohandis’—an engineer or an architect—or a ‘doctor’—a physician—to be regarded intelligent.
At school, if a kid isn’t good at mathematics, biology, chemistry or physics, he is called dumb and deemed a failure. It doesn’t count if he were remarkably talented at music, drama or literature… he would still be regarded a fool and a total waste of time.
Imagine the world without writers, musicians, dancers, artists and actors. If writers quit writing, what would you read when feeling lost, desperate or in need for something to rev your imagination? Imagine life without music. Dry, gloomy, dull and miserable. Imagine having to wear the same, ugly clothes every day. Imagine the world without cinema or theater. I personally cannot imagine a world that is more ugly and dull.
Arts and Humanities are associated with the Renaissance, sultans, castles, luxury, class and royalty. They are a sign of sophistication and civilization. Most artists tell stories and help us make sense of the world around us. They connect us to the past, the present and the future and allow us to imagine the unimaginable.
According to Dr. Lawrence Katz, an internationally recognized pioneer in neuron regeneration research, creating art — in the sense of making crafts, sketching, painting, sculpting, sewing or even crocheting — encourages creative thinking, which stimulates the brain to grow new neurons. Besides, despite that most people believe creative thinking involves using only the right side of the brain; it actually involves having both hemispheres of the brain communicate with each other.
As for music, which is seldom thought of as an indicator of intelligence, a research conducted at the University of Zurich showed that playing a musical instrument for as little as an hour a week can raise a person’s IQ, be it an adult or a child. It helps preserve the structural integrity of the brain, reduces stress and improves one’s language abilities.
Back at high school, Mrs. Tucker once asked us to write where we saw ourselves in 5 years and why. I remember explaining that I wanted to be a writer, and she, in red ink, she wrote on top of my paper, “You ARE a writer.” And I believed her.
In 2009, when I was getting interviewed at Cisco for my Co-op training, I was asked where I saw myself in 5 years, and I poured my heart out — why lie? I said I wanted to own a magazine. My interviewer first responded with a mocking chuckle then said, “So why did you study Computer Science and why are you here at Cisco?”
On my very first day at Cisco, I was sent to the Marketing Department. A couple of months later, I became in charge of the weekly newsletter of Cisco Saudi Arabia’s General Manager at that time. Back then, I wasn’t aware my Right Brain actually got me somewhere good, but now I do. Contrary to popular belief, writing isn’t only about novels and books, but an integral part of almost each and every industry, and an essential means of day-to-day business communication.
I took the marketing route for nearly 5 years and certainly loved it, and I still do, but I don’t know why I needed to do something different, which made me move to Syria and pursue a career majorly associated with writing. I don’t find myself stupid for being passionate about so many things in which the right hemisphere of the brain is involved, including public speaking. Getting on a stage and speaking to a crowd of people was my cocaine. Once I was on the stage, it was hard to get me off. I loved how adrenaline rushed through every part of my body, and how I succeeded at grabbing my audience’s attention. Seeing their eyes focused on me, and having them interact and laugh with me was a kick! I loved how they came up to me after every speech or presentation and gave me their business cards or expressed how they enjoyed listening to what I had to say. The last time I was on an actual stage was in 2013, but I still remember every speech as if it were yesterday. That was a huge self-esteem booster!
Writing is a totally different story. I feel at peace when I write. When you’re trying to mentally juggle so many thoughts at the same time, it is like having too many voices speak to you at once about different topics. Writing helps quiet these voices in your head and sort things out. It gives form to your ideas and frees up some bandwidth so you wouldn’t crash—literally.
Being a curator of good ideas worth being read encourages deeper thinking and research. The root of the media industry is writing, and one of its strongest weapons is words. The media played a fundamental role in ‘the New World Order’ (which includes the Arab Spring of course). I know this sounds cliché, but believe it or not, the pen is mightier than the sword or just as mighty.
We all know reading keeps our minds sharp, broadens our horizons, teaches us life lessons and staves off Alzheimer’s disease. Sounds cliché, I know, but, hey, what if writers, whom many think of as poor, crazy losers who don’t have real jobs—until they actually make it big like J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Jackie Collins and Deepak Chopra—stopped writing? What would you read? You wouldn’t even have movies or news to watch. There wouldn’t be any more good websites, newspapers, magazines, textbooks or even advertising material. Writers are not just about novels, love poems, self-improvement or blogs… they are almost about everything!
The left hemisphere of the brain is mostly overrated, while the right one is underrated. Scientists are deemed the creators of the future and the saviors of mankind, but have you forgotten that it was a physician who invented the lobotomy and a scientist who created the atomic bomb? No side of the brain is solely associated with making this planet a better place for us to live–they work side by side. Both sides can be used for good and evil. The right side of the brain was not created in vain and cannot be separated from the left side. Using the Right Brain is not a sign of stupidity, irresponsibility or lack of intelligence—it is merely as important as using the Left Brain.
According to Albert Einstein, “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” So, stop scolding and demeaning kids at school for being unable to do math but keen on playing a musical instrument.