My mother has always described me as “right brain” dominant. This language comes from the idea that each side, or hemisphere, of the human brain controls different types of thinking — the left being more logical, and the right being more creative. A person who is “left-brained” is often said to be more logical, analytical, and objective, while a person who is “right-brained” is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective. Though scientists have debunked this theory, I think it’s absolutely true that people learn and think in different ways. I bring this up because I’ve always struggled with and often been in denial about my strengths and abilities.
From a young age, I realized that Math and Science were not my fortés. Despite bringing home C’s in biology and geometry, I remained a voracious reader, and my English teachers would praise me for my creative and thoughtful writing.
Other children may have been motivated or encouraged by such praise to pursue careers in the arts, law, or journalism (as my parents pushed me to do, despite their profession as engineers) but I was stubborn and simply wouldn’t hear it. Even though my parents were nothing but supportive and open-minded, my high school — located in the heart of the Silicon Valley — has always been known for its emphasis on STEM education, aimed at sending students into engineering and medical fields at brand-name schools like UC Berkeley and Carnegie Melon, which can create and foster a toxic stigma towards the Liberal Arts.
My dream since before I could walk was to be an architect (this followed my short-lived dream of being a garbage truck driver) was perfectly aligned with my community’s high
value for STEM, so I saw no reason to explore other avenues. I decided I had no time to dedicate to “soft skills” like reading comprehension or writing, regardless of whether or not those were really my strengths. I buckled down, slowly raising those C’s in science to B’s (and a few A’s), all the while ignoring and neglecting my English and Writing classes. Bullshitting essays the night before they were due and reducing timeless epics like Homer’s The Iliad to page-long SparkNotes summaries became common practice (sidenote: I did go back and read The Iliad in its entirety).
As time went on, what began as a small nagging voice in the back of my head grew into an overwhelming cloud of dread that perhaps I wasn’t being true to myself or my talents. Feeling lost and guilty, I made a conscious effort to return to my roots as a writer. This proved to be more difficult than I had expected. No matter how much time I spent poring over essays, I was met with nothing but frustration and writer’s block. I felt like I had lost my creative spark. I struggled with reading and writing more than ever, and wasn’t faring much better in my Physics or Calculus classes — all of this mere weeks before I had to choose a University and a major.
Flash forward to Fall of 2016: still confused as ever, I’m attending Santa Clara University, not more than a stone’s throw from my hometown. I’m majoring in Computer Science, but the University’s Jesuit philosophy of “educating the whole person,” obligates me to take a burdensome mess of CORE requirements — ranging from ethics, to diversity, to creative writing. This last one gave me a great deal of grief, as I knew I would have to confront some of my innermost demons, exposing my shortcomings and inabilities. Now, I bet you’re expecting me to say that taking Creative Writing with Nicholas Leither led me to some sort of epiphany — an “aha” moment that brought me clarity, helping me figure everything. Well, yes and no.
I have to say that from Nick’s bohemian chic, to the circular arrangement of desks in the classroom (probably part of an attempt to replicate some unconventional, new-age style of teaching or some bullshit like that), to his insistence that we call him “Nick,” I was skeptical. Great, another pseudo-hippie English teacher who thinks he can change the world.
And as soon as he turned on Meet Your Meat — some PETA propaganda documenting abuse in factory farming, my suspicions was confirmed. Dear God, this man is the embodiment of the stereotype. Or so I thought.
Creative Writing was a humbling experience for me. Nicholas Leither remains to be one of the most educated, well-spoken, and enthusiastic individuals I’ve ever met. He’s deeply invested in each and every one of his students (he somehow had all our names down by the second day of class), and he has a strong personal connection to the material he teaches. He facilitated some awesome, engaging discussions and got me thinking about very very uncomfortable issues — issues pertinent to my life that I had previously opted to ignore — even outside of class.
Most importantly though, he was able to help me confront and (at least partially) overcome my tremendous aversion to writing. There have been agonizing moments over the past two quarters, where I believed myself to have hit a wall, unable to produce anything of quality or substance, but after just one ten-minute conversation with Nick, I often found myself re-energized, excited, and bursting with ideas. I’d often come into his office dejected and unmotivated and leave with a reinvigorated drive, desperately rushing to the nearest keyboard or notebook so I could jot down my flurry of thoughts.
I feel like I’ve begun to truly find and solidify a distinct writing style, which is more than I could have ever hoped to gain from a Creative Writing class. I have produced work that I’m proud to call my own, often sharing them with my friends and family.
Nick always emphasizes the importance of approaching a problem from many different angles, which has pushed me to draw upon and synthesize ideas from philosophy, ethics, history, biology, and even quantum mechanics (as absurd as it sounds) to strengthen and solidify the arguments in my papers. There have been times where when writing about topics like the aestheticization of guns in the media, or the human cost of globalization in the case of exploitative corporations like Monsanto, where I would get so caught up in my writing, that I had to take a step back and ask myself: do I sound like a crazy person? Nick would always assuage my doubts and encourage me to delve deeper still.
I could talk about the ways that Nick shook up and challeneged some of my core beliefs, or how the ideas we discussed and debated in Creative Writing have shaped my life decisions in unimaginable ways — affecting everything from the way I shop for groceries, to my dietary habits, to curbing my tendencies to cheat — but that would require pages upon pages which this blog post doesn’t allow me.
This class, along with the values of the institution I’m fortunate to be attending, have taught me that maybe these distinctions of “left brained” and “right brained” people are purely illusory. As ridiculously difficult and punishing as classes like Data Structures and Multivariable Calculus are, I’m enjoying the shit out of them. And despite how tedious and time consuming Creative Writing can be, I’ve enjoyed the shit out of it as well. Who says you can’t be both? It feels incredibly liberating to be freed from this limiting dichotomy. Nick has helped me identify and blend my strengths and interests and to utilize both sides of my brain, while also pushing me to venture into uncharted territory. A quote by David Bowie comes to mind:
“If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”
So I thank you, Nick, for convincing me that I can always go deeper. Thank you for instilling me with the enthralling and exhilarating joy of creating something exciting. I’ll see you in Advanced Writing.