Rise Against

Building Better Bridges

Today I want to try something different for the blog, format-wise. Topically speaking, I think it’s great for our ongoing discussions on the creative process. The weird thing is that told in a sort of “story-essay”, which surfaced as the result of a stream-of-consciousness writing session that grew too long, too verbose, and too close to my deadline before I could try to rework it. It is also pretty long compared to our other posts. Like I said, no time to chop it down and no self-control when it came to how I started writing. Thanks for trying something somewhat dense and new. I hope it’s worth your time all the same!

I keep trying to use this phrase, “brain bridges”, though no one knows what it means. It’s something I suddenly started saying recently, though perhaps a professor slipped it into my vocabulary at some point. I often tell my artistic peers how, through my foray into becoming an English major, I’ve been introduced to the art of specificity in communication, but when I start dropping “brain bridges” into the conversation they are confused every single time.

In creative writing, particularly in fiction, fledgling writers are often guilty of creating descriptions or utilizing imagery that make an impassioned statement and is interpreted easily to them when they read it back, but when given over to the intended audience the imagery is confusing or falls flat. The issue at hand here is typically due to the portion of writing either being too vague in its use of language or tied too heavily to a speaker or perspective (which henceforth will be referred to as an “identity”) that has not been well established.

This is my biggest problem as a writer. It’s the same problem with throwing “brain bridges” into a conversation and expecting people to understand my meaning. Sure, you might get what I would mean if you picked it up from the context of a conversation, but that’s provided I have constructed a lingual path for you to gather that context up from. Anything less cohesive leaves you guessing, which is likely where you are still at with the phrase. I promise this is intentional!

I grew up madly in love with lyric booklets and songmeanings.com (now in obsolescence thanks to Genius), and because of this I started my creative writing journey aiming to convey my music and poetry in the honest, hard-hitting, heartfelt ways inspired by my favorite lyricists (anecdote: I was particularly obsessed with the lyrics written by Tim McIlrath from Rise Against, who, coincidentally, was an English major). I wrote lyrics, “abstract” poetry, and creative journal-essays all the way through high school, gaining a greater intuitive sense of my creative process and voice over the years. Because I became so comfortable and prolific in my ability to write in my own style, I always figured I was really good at writing and I just didn’t have the opportunity to share my work with the right people who’d care enough to see my abilities.

Now that I am regularly sharing my creative work in an academic, craft-oriented environment with studied experts and incredible minds all their own, I’ve come to realize just how limited my communication really is. I began to regularly receive “red ink” feedback all over the imagery I was so proud of. I was purely shocked to find there was something wrong with the voice I had spent years crafting in deliberation, without receiving almost any negative response (though I never cared to scrutinize the positive stuff either; there is definitely something to be said about knowing your audience).

“Brain bridges” is a phrase I use to describe a phenomenon that occurs when you see, hear, read, taste, or smell something and make a connection or association with it that is entirely unique to your understanding of that perception. This manifests in the form of triggering of a memory or emotion, or constructing a personal codex for an idea (like an allegory or symbol, but of your own personal association beyond that of what is explicit in the “text” of the stimulus, be it art, a quote, the 2AM drive home from a friend’s house). An example: a person at a bar starts crying out of nowhere hearing the song “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan because it reminds them of those genuinely sad pet abuse commercials; the person doesn’t know the lyrics, but once the melody is recognized and their focus recalls the helpless empathy they feel for neglected animals, the tears flow. The keyword here is “projection”; the person is projecting their experience onto the source of their emotional stimulus. This is different from a person crying at a bar while listening to the same song, only this time they cry because they heard the lyrics clearly and were moved by the song’s textual theme of longing for rescue out of a despairing situation. They are having an emotional response to something as the result of a text that is understood at face value, which is an important aspect of “close reading,” or textual analysis.

I believe it is natural and inevitable to form brain bridges. We live in a world rife with nuance, much of which we carry within ourselves; we often build attachments and relationships with those. Brain bridges give us snapshots of the world that inform what we find important. As a purely baseless speculation, I’d go as far as to say they inform us of our own identity, to some extent.

Brain bridges, however, become problematic when we are attempting to communicate with one another and we use them as a means of establishing a point of tangible or universal truth. The issue is that brain bridges are inherently subjective interpretations of something, almost totally removed from their purpose or origin of their source. We’ve talked about how review scores can be controversial due to how subjective material is often conveyed in an objective manner. Even simpler, some people never use emojis unless they’re flirting because that is how they were first introduced to emojis and therefore created a singular association they project onto the entirety of how they communicate (via text message or whatever). This is, more or less, why interpretation or communication from the basis of projection can be confusing or problematic.

As artists, we never shut up. It is of equal importance that we both say what we mean and say it well. In doing this, we give people space to have a personal connection with what is being said, which coexists with a personal relationship that is formed with that same information.

As patrons, in addition to also never shutting up, we never cease to listen. Not only do we share the same responsibility as artists in terms of how we talk about the things we love, but we also greatly benefit from refining our close reading skills to grow our appreciation for the numerous and powerful messages conveyed through art.

The power of what we say and how we interpret what is being said is only increased when our understanding grows alongside our capacity for personal connection, not only for ourselves but for those around us.

"Real revolution starts with learning. If you're not angry, then you're not paying attention." -Tim McIlrath.