Adventures in Bothmind

I grew up both.

Both Catholic and Jewish.
Both an only child and the youngest of four.
Both middle and working class.
Both a child of the 70s and 80s and, by accidents of birth and history, a very late Baby Boomer.

None of that was my doing.

Later, I experimented with a lot of different ideas, particularly religious ideas. I have been, at various times after leaving the Catholic Church, an evangelical Christian, a mainline Protestant, a Pagan, and a Quaker. I have found my home, for now, in a tiny Reconstructionist Jewish synagogue that takes me as I am and lets me sing in the choir. Each tradition signed its name on my soul.

I was a vegetarian for 18 years, including two pregnancies. Now, an omnivore.

My children weren’t vaccinated for 12 years. I used to receive Barbara Loe Fisher’s newsletter and write religious-exemption letters to my children’s school. I believed in herbs, homeopathy, vitamins. Now, the kids are completely up-to-date with their shots, and I’ve forgotten more than I remember about what herbs are supposed to help with what. Peppermint and chamomile are still good for a stomach-ache, though. I don’t care what anyone says.

I am a K-12-graduate school product of public schools and universities, a public school educator, and a private school parent.

I am a leader on educational technology professionally, and an enthusiastic proponent of Waldorf education, which prohibits most technology in the classroom until high school. In my public school role, I encourage my colleagues to move carefully and thoughtfully when adopting new pedagogical technologies. In the Waldorf world, I’m the rebel urging teachers and parents to experiment with new technologies. I’ve often done both on the same day.

I can argue in favor of positions I’ve since rejected, and have often found myself defending a view I no longer hold, if I felt it was being unfairly maligned.  Maybe my head should hurt, but it doesn’t. I’m used to it. In many ways, I was born to it.

Bothmind is my birthright.

*

In his 1936 account of his nervous breakdown, The Crack-up, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote:

Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation – the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

Nonsense, Scott. It’s not evidence of particular kind of genius. It’s merely the side effect of having no choice. With practice–and coercion–anyone can achieve Bothmind.

*

In a graduate course on multicultural education at Rutgers many years ago, Professor Joyce Penfield taught us that a child of two or more cultures, such as an immigrant or biracial child, is never 50% of each culture, but 100% of both. The moment she said it, lightness and relief washed over me. I thought about it for days afterward, smiling at random moments. I didn’t have to choose! I didn’t have to decide what parts of me belonged to which parts of my identity. And neither did anyone else. I didn’t owe anyone an explanation for my bothness. 100% of both minds, both identities, both ways of looking at the world. It made perfect sense.

*

I can’t define Bothmind for you, for how can one give anyone else a tour of her consciousness? I can tell you a little, though, about how it works, how it endows those who possess it with both marketable skills and serious handicaps.

  • When Bothmind hears a new idea that appeals to it, it will simply try it on for a few days. It pretends to believe it, walks around in it like a new pair of shoes and observes how the world looks from that vantage point. If I like the new idea, I keep it. If not, I return it for a full refund, but retain the memory of what the world looks like through that lens.
  • Although Bothmind has strong opinions, it always sees a controversial issue from a variety of perspectives. I can barely talk to myself about Israel, for example, let alone anyone else. “Four Jews, five opinions” yields a monkish silence compared to what goes on in my own head.
  • Seeking common ground isn’t a virtue, but a reflex. Situations in which absolutely no common ground exists between my beliefs and someone else’s confuse and frustrate me. Sometimes, Bothmind finds common ground where there really isn’t any. It can’t help itself.
  • Bothmind is skilled at synthesizing other people’s opinions. This is useful in meetings where everyone appears to be saying something completely different. Bothmind usually suspects that they are all saying more or less the same thing, underneath the verbiage. Bothmind can be wrong about that.
  • Bothmind is fascinated and bemused by, and sometimes envious of, people who grew up firmly rooted in one identity, one community, one way of looking at the world with which they feel no cognitive dissonance.
  • On the other hand, Bothmind is suspicious of people who are overidentified with their own opinions, even opinions with which it agrees. Bothmind does not believe that opinions equal identity.
  • Bothmind loves to ask “What if?” and “Is it possible?” It is adventurous and flexible in proposing, cautious in drawing conclusions. This is not, of course, an unmitigated blessing.

Perhaps Bothmind is more common than I think, and many people have some version of it. I don’t know. It’s difficult enough to understand the workings of one’s own mind; it’s probably impossible to understand the intricacies, or even the rough outlines, of anyone else’s. I suspect that people with Bothmind share a few proclivities, but we have not yet found each other to compare notes. We don’t even have a hashtag, much less an organization. We are a yet-undiscovered tribe, secret even to ourselves.

If you’re blessed or cursed with Bothmind, too, I hope you’ll leave a comment explaining how yours works.

Great thanks to Neil Fein of the Magnificent Nose for editorial wizardry. The flaws that remain are mine alone.

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About Julie Goldberg

Julie Goldberg has lived a life entirely too entangled with books. She is a school librarian, former English teacher, compulsive reader, occasional jazz singer and the author of Lily in the Light of Halfmoon. You can email her at perfectwhole@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter @juliegoldberg.
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15 Responses to Adventures in Bothmind

  1. fransiweinstein says:

    I was born to 2 non-religious Jewish parents, who let me decide how far I wanted to take it. Not very far, as it turned out — until my mother died and I really connected to the rabbi who officiated at her funeral. It shocked me, to be honest. I’m still non practicing, but he did awaken a spiritual side in me; and I still keep in touch with him, 5 years later. What I like most about him is that he’s never forced religion on me. That’s never what we talk about. I’m an only child but my closest friends, all my life, are part of large families who have always ‘adopted’ me — so in a way I, too, have been both an only child and one of 5. I also come from a very tight knit family, have cousins close in age and we always spent so much time together it never felt like I had no brothers or sisters. Reading your list of Bothmind characteristics, I find I share many of them. But I’m wondering …

    I’m a writer. Creative people are usually considered to be ‘right brain’ people. And I definitely am. But I am also capable of being practical, rational, even analytical — very ‘left brain’. I often tell colleagues and clients that I am probably the most anal creative person they’ll ever meet. And I have to say that I never feel like these 2 sides of me are in conflict with each other. We never seem to butt heads. I think my left brain qualities make me a better writer — less self-indulgent, more relevant for example. And I think my right brain makes the analytical, no-nonsense me more empathetic and more willing to consider both sides of the story.

    So here’s my question: If my right and left brains can co-exist so peacefully and productively does that qualify as being sometimes cursed and sometimes blessed with Bothmind?

  2. treegestalt says:

    So, it’s nice you can switch models & see which fits better in different contexts.
    But is there a state of affairs that could be called: “How things actually is!”?
    If not, how do we manage to communicate at all?

  3. Hi, Treegestalt,

    I really like your phrase “One Referent, imperfectly portrayed in various ways.” I think that accurately describes my religious views, although I am not interested in an unconventional Bible study at the moment. I have attended, however, many delightfully unconventional Bible studies (and studies of other religious works) in the past, and may do so again in the future. Thanks for the invitation, though!

  4. DM says:

    You said, “I was a vegetarian for 18 years, including two pregnancies. Now, an omnivore.” I’m hooked! going to sign up for your blog, I’m sure I have some bothmind as well, but the temperature is pushing 100 right now here in the Midwest, and my brain is operating kind of slow this afternoon. I’ll be back. DM

  5. I appreciate your thoughts, Julie. I’m curious as to why you consider yourself a very late baby boomer.

    I have spent the majority of my life as an evangelical Christian living in, but not fully of, that subculture — since my father and schooling raised me to be a liberal humanist, and I still carry that with me. It’s helpful to look at my experiences and perceptions through this lens of “bothmind.”

    • Hello, Sean.
      My late father, although he did not begin serving in the Navy until 1947, when he was 17, was considered a WWII veteran, since much of the work involved the post-war cleanup of the world, so to speak. He married my mother in 1952, and they began the post-war project of having children and moving from the city into the suburbs (after an interval of several years in Spain, when my father worked for IT&T, but I digress). I have three siblings born in the 1950s, then I came along in 1970, but my parents did not change their parenting practices or philosophy. I grew up listening to my parents’ big band music and going to bed hours before the children with hip, young parents did. In short, I was raised very much the way Baby Boomers were. Even when I began my period of fairly mild teenage rebellion, I identified more with the music, styles, and politics of the 60s (before I was even born!) than with the punk or other underground movements of my own time period. So, that’s why I consider myself a late Baby Boomer, although I realize that demographers might certainly disagree.

      I think many of us, from many different walks of life, are blessed and cursed with Bothmind.

      Thanks for reading!

      • Leslie says:

        Heh! Well by that definition I’m technically a baby-boomer too…. LOL. I’m technically on the edge between Generation X and Y, but most stats put me in Gen X and I relate more to that generation than I do Y; but my dad was also in the Navy in WWII and my mom was a teenager of the 50’s. I was a surprise.

        I found your blog last night regarding The Container Store and laughed myself silly because it was the second time yesterday that someone mentioned the 2nd law of thermodynamics in regard to clutter and house cleaning in a day. I had to share it with my female engineering friends who were complaining about the mess their kids were making.

  6. Rebecca says:

    I loved this essay and it so wonderfully resonates with me. For my entire life I have felt like my interests and interactions straddle often contradictory groups and schools of thoughts. I am now a former Protestant, sort of quaker, maybe an atheist but not quite – married to a Pakistani Muslim who migrated to the US 20+ years ago. We have two daughters and I always wonder if they will feel somehow split or not entirely the same as either of us. It was lovely to read your quote of Professor Joyce Penfield’s lecture, I hope that my girls will always feel that they are never “50% of each culture, but 100% of both!” We are also considering Waldorf education…

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