Anton’s Syndrome For Creative Writers

Anton’s Syndrome is a form of brain damage in the occipital lobe, wherein someone suffers blindness but does not know it. They believe they can see, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are blind. 

Say your uncle Willie suffered this condition, and you take him into a field, and in the middle of the field, there is an adult elephant, African, with big ears, eating leaves off a tree. You could ask Willie what he sees, and to cover his blindness, he might say, Not much. Just the road.

And even if you tell him that you’re in a field looking at an elephant, he would find someway to cover the truth about his blindness, say something like, Well obviously the elephant’s there. I didn’t think it was worth mentioning.

Of course this is a gross simplification, but there is evidence that the person who suffers from Anton’s Syndrome may not be lying to you about what they see. They may really be convinced that is what they see, convinced that they are not blind.

What a metaphor for bad writing!

Let’s apply this to fiction writers, someone like me, for example, although it would equally apply to poets. 

Let’s say I write a story, and I think it’s good, best story ever written. I submit it to journals and cannot believe I get rejections. What is wrong with these editors?

(When we were new writers, every time I got a rejection for a story, Andrés Montoya would say, They’re stupid!)

After about a year of sending the story out and receiving only rejections, and as I’m working on other stories, I forget about it, and then one day I’m wandering through the document graveyard on my computer and see the forgotten story. I open it, read it and think, What a shitty story! The worst story ever written.

This has happened to me from the time that I was a beginning writer and would crank out story after story thinking each one belonged in The New Yorker to me as a writer today. 

I’ve written stories that give me chills for their brilliance, only to read them later and get chills of how blind I was to think it was worth something.

If you’re a writer, sometimes the stories are going to come easy, sometimes a little harder, but often, when you’re in the “zone” and you’re writing, nothing else exists but that which you create, a reality bubble in an imaginary world. 

Everything is new and exciting, so of course you’re going to think it’s great.

What I’m saying is we can have a version of Anton’s Syndrome as writers, not seeing reality as it is, because we are only seeing from the inside of the creative process, not from the outside, and when we’re in there, things are sacred. Everything is brilliant.

But eventually we have to step outside of the reality of language and imagination and see what the story might be saying or how it might be read by others.  That’s where the craft comes in.

This isn’t an exact parallel. I mean, I’m using Anton’s Syndrome as metaphor, but I think it translates. 

But here’s the thing, unlike someone who unfortunately suffers from that disorder, writers who are committed to their work eventually see the truth of the piece they once thought was perfect, or they see more aspects of the truth, because the brilliance they saw before really was there.

Even if only one image from the entire story lasts, even if nothing from the story lasts, the glow of having been in that landscape is permanent and positive.

But it may not make good writing.

It’s possible that later on, in a week or month or year, I may see this post and ask myself, Why did I include this in my blog? It’s shit!

Sorry. The idea sounded good when it first occurred to me.

And frankly I just followed the language, and this is where it ended up.

That Song You Can’t Get Out of Your Head Wants to Kill You.

We don’t choose the songs and tunes that loop around and around in our heads, ad nauseam, over and over again, sometimes a song so random we don’t even know why we thought of it. 

If we could choose, I certainly wouldn’t walk around the house hoping to be an Oscar Meyer wiener.

I wouldn’t have a Britney Spears tune in my head claiming, Oops! I did it again! nor would I have those children’s songs I play for my baby about an elephant balancing on a spider web.

There’s obviously a neurological explanation for why these tunes loop in our brain, a phenomenon that has been called Earworms, and it is a fact that we have no power to stop these worms from boring the same song over and over into our brains. 

We don’t choose the loops, but they have an effect on our behavior.  Yes, that is what I’m saying, the tunes that get stuck or looped in our brains influence our choices and behavior, definitely our thoughts.

If I’m going around the house all day wishing to be an Oscar Meyer wiener, that loop is going to influence my perceptions and ultimately some of the nuances involved with my decisions. In deciding what I want to eat that day, I might very well crave a hotdog, but because I’m an intelligent being and will not allow that song to influence me, I will choose instead tacos, not realizing that the taco choice has been determined by the loop in my head as well.  

Hot dog lead me to choose tacos, because in some unconscious neural connection, hotdogs is to Americana as tacos are to Mexicanidad, so in rejecting one my mind goes directly to what is coded in my network as the opposite.

If that Oscar Myer song hadn’t been in my head all day, I might very well have eaten a salad.

This is a form of priming,  a concept in psychology that shows how people can be made to act a particular way by giving them unconscious signals.  For example, if you give people a word test, and on that test the psychologists embed words that seem to be random but that have a pessimistic view of life, sadness, depression, and you give another group the same test but with words that were more positive, hopeful, happy, after the test is over, those who were given positive words behaved differently from those who had been given negative words. 

The participants are influenced in their thoughts and choices, even when they don’t know it.

These song loops that play in our mind over and over again have the ability to prime our cognitive experience for that day.

I know this may sound crazy, and that’s OK, but priming is a fact –if you consider facts to be evidence, overwhelming evidence.

Say it was the Britney Spears song looping back over and over again in my head all throughout the morning and the afternoon and even into the evening, Oops, I did it again! 

I am statistically more likely to make daring choices that day than I otherwise would, because my brain keeps telling me, Oops! I did it again! 

What the heck, I might say to myself, Do it again! 

Maybe this is a good reason to avoid too many drinking songs, like Thurgood’s One bourbon, One scotch and One Beer.

With drinking songs looping around in my head over and over again all day long, you could guess what I am likely to do after a hard day work on my drive home, stop at the pub, a decision that I am not really making but that is programmed into me by this loop. 

I think I’ll leave it to the neuroscientists to figure out how the brain works it’s mechanism, but what I’m concerned with is one important question:

Who’s choosing the songs that get stuck in my head? 

It ain’t me.

The Geometry of Meditation

When you try box breathing, your feet firmly planted on the floor, sitting up with good posture, your eyes closed, you breathe in and hold it for as long as you just breathed in; and then you breathe out and hold it for as long as you just breathed out; and repeat. . . breathe like a box. 

If your eyes are closed and you are consciously practicing box breathing you are going to imagine a box, so in the center of your imagination, which is like a circle in the middle of your body, there is a square.  

The square doesn’t exist. You can’t pick it up or smell it, unless of course your imagination is greater than most, so the square that you have inside of you, the one that you imagine, is not significant for its material properties, but for its encoded meaning. What does the square mean?

Whatever it is, underlining all meanings are energies, and you now have the energy of that symbol within you.

I think the military uses this breathing technique not only for the mindfullness it encourages, but also because a square is like protective walls, four walls that keep whatever is inside, which is you or your team, safe.

There are four walls surrounding you, inhale, silence, exhale, silence.  

There are other more powerful meanings to a Square as well. 

I’m sure I could Google them and find many, structure, balance, law and order, the body. The point is in that in your imagination you hold a square and it has properties, particular meanings embedded into the image, whether or not the observer is conscious of them.

So if you could do box breaking as square in your imagination, can you practice the same technique with other geometry, like a diamond?

Breathe in at the bottom point, hold, breathe out, hold. Or can you imagine the breaths making a triangle?

 And what are the possible meaning of the diamond and the triangle? 

If you become really disciplined at this breathing technique, you could even make a star, a pentagram and a hexagram, or however many sides you want, and now that energy is also within you. Or if you are rooted in Christian tradition you could breathe a cross, and in imagining that cross built by your own breaths, you hold it within you, the power of it. You are the temple.

How many of these geometric shapes can you have spinning around in your imagination at once? Are they useful?

It may not be easy to access the power of geometry, because box breathing is a meditation practice, and unless you meditate often, it is difficult to not think, and so easy to leave the moment to think about the past or the future. 

But if you could get good at focusing on the Now and tweak the practice to include other shapes, you could have a whole range of geometry inside of you, not to rule you, not to tell you what to do, but to be part of your connection to All.

The Forer Effect on Books

You’re the kind of person who really tries, more so than most people even realize. You’re diligent, intelligent, and when you need to focus you can be incredibly effective at doing so.  Sure, you like to take time to decompress, and the way you choose to do so may not always be the most healthy option for you, but you never go too far and always pull yourself back where you need to be.

Does this describe you? 

It probably does.

Maybe not all of you, but most of you can relate to this. In psychology it’s called the Forer Effect, which suggests that our brains process vague personality descriptions (especially if flattering) that could apply to anyone, but we think that they exclusively apply to us and are written for us.

This is why we can read a horoscope and be amazed at how accurate it is. That’s me! This is why we believe psychics and mentalists when they tell us things about ourselves. You’re sensitive and care about others, but you have your limits!

I’m not saying there are no such thing as psychics ( that’s a conversation we can have later), but I am saying that if somebody wanted to deceive you in believing they know you, the descriptions they use can be nothing more than general statements that apply to pretty much everybody.

I think the Forer Effect could equally apply to book reviews, especially lately. If you’re a published writer, then you are aware that you can have a service wherein someone will write 50 book reviews, for a price, so you can post them all over social media and the web, and it seems like the book is getting a lot of attention.

It makes sense that it’s available today in publishing.

Your book comes out at the same time as thousands of other books, the same day, and the next day there are thousands of other books released into the world. Unless your book is published by one of the big New York companies, it will most likely struggle to get attention among the other books.

Writers post everything that they can that mentions their book, because they have to promote their own work if they want someone to read it, and that’s what mostly every writer wants, for people to read their work.

I imagine in the future, as literary publishing continues to transform to a model that fits the times and technology, the book-review-for-hire industry is only going to become more profitable. Literary writers will have a veritable smogsboarq of companies to hire, and they will pay good money.

If somebody is willing to self publish, they are paying for that service, so it seems the investment in reviews would help sell books.

But beware of the Forer Effect. Some of the services you hire may be run by the literary equivalent of false psychics and mentalists in that they can use vague descriptions that you hope describes your work. The language twists and swirls like magic throughout the pages.

It may seem difficult to write 50 book reviews, but it could be pretty easy, and the reviewer wouldn’t even have to read the book except to scan the pages for the characters name and a general plot line.

Let’s say you just published a novel, and you’re eager to get people to read it, so you hire a company to write reviews, and this is the first one they send you.

A tour de force! (Enter you name here) new novel (enter title) is excellent story about a determined (man, woman, detective, etc) named (insert character’s name here) with a lot of surprises and beautiful detail. At times (he/she/they) seems to be unwilling to make what they know are the right choices but there is definitely a conflict between what (character’s name) wants and what they need. All is rendered effortlessly in (enter name of writer)’s newest book, with a compelling story and elegant prose, which, although, at times may draw too much attention to itself, is an authentic narrative voice.

This could be a useful review for writer, and you could even quote it, so-and-so says Daniel Chacón is “an authentic narrative voice.”

Instead of calling it the Forer Effect, for book-review mountebanks, who can simply scan the pages of your book, not even read it in its entirety and write a review that you will love and that you will believe was written exclusively to describe your work, we can use a different term.

Maybe The Tour-de-Force Effect?

Throughout the years I’ve received some reviews about my books, but nobody has ever called what I have written a tour de force.

I’d pay for that shit!

I wonder how much that would cost. . .