How Does Writing Affect Your Brain?

writing perks title

“Girls with long legs. Summer evenings. Two fingers of rum. All three at once? That’s the dream dear boy, that’s the dream.”

That’s what my uncle Jimmy used to say whenever anyone asked him what he liked. He never had kids, and died a single man. But a happy man, if you judge the amount of his favourite things he enjoyed on a daily basis.

Can you sum up your greatest likes with such a short sentence? How would it sound?

See for me there’d have to be something about reading. And invariably from that stems a love of writing. They’re not mutually exclusive, yet they can’t be divided. Not cleanly. One makes me want to do the other. Sure, I’m not saying I don’t like summer evenings too, but for me it’s getting lost in a great story then trying to create your own that brings me greatest happines.

When it works out, anyway. When it doesn’t work, it’s pure agony. But I digress, more often than not I’m touching success, if not actually tasting it.

So what does writing do to your brain?

Well, it’s funny you should ask…

Amazing Facts on Writing and How it Affects Our Brain [Infographic] - An Infographic from BestInfographics.co

Embedded from BestInfographics.co

Thanks to Ian Arnison-Phillips for taking the time to put the above together, and for making it available for all bloggers here.


© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

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Defining Gender for an Androgynous Future I; The Expectations

gender title

I recently read an article in Time magazine titled Meet the New Generation of Gender-Creative Kids. It explores what life is like for a child in a summer camp designed only for children who are growing up in a household that encourages them to find their gender for themselves. I can’t help but think, how can you ‘find’ gender?

I must admit, my view of gender is itself a little skewed. I was raised in a house of women, one woman (my mother) filled the role of a classic matriarchal figure, teaching me love, compassion, care and sensitivity. The other was my older sister, a much more aggressive, dominant, overbearing and yet emotional, delicate and insecure person. Through their eyes, I saw the world around me, and they helped me define a niche of my own.

The classic ‘father’ roles of provider and protector both fell to my mother, and it was with her that I learned hiking, football and writing and countless other hobbies and skills. She encouraged my studies and yet gave me the freedom to be myself and grow on my own too. My sister taught me to shave, badly. But the point is, I was learning how to be a man from two women who had had their fair share of shitty men. They had an opportunity to craft a new man from their own experiences, without the worry of society’s moulds there to constrict me or damage me. I still played army, I still wanted to be a spy and travel, and I still wanted to be a hero. Are they masculine traits? I learned how to be sensitive to other’s emotions, how to talk to anyone for any period of time about anything (especially on the phone), and I was able to show compassion. Are these feminine traits? If I’m honest, I didn’t really notice the difference as a kid, as I was too busy just running around in the mud and trying to be a mad scientist or an astronaut. As an adult, years after I’ve left the company of my mother and sister, I’m in the world and I’ve had to learn certain traits so as to ‘fit in’. I’ve adapted, often unconsciously, only aware of it afterwards when I look back on things and think ‘man, I’ve changed’.

For survival and protection, I assume

For survival and protection, I assume

So, what is a man? After watching the recent Avengers film, The Age of Ultron, it’s tempting to want to say that a real man should be big and strong, and capable of protecting the world from invasion should such a reality take place. Perhaps a man is more than this though. To be honest, maybe the labels themselves are the issue. Let’s zoom out and look down on masculinity from above. Is it a construct or an innate character? Is it an assumed identity taught from birth, or is it the by-product of natural thirsts and impulses that drive most men toward a similar set of priorities?

Ok, so before we get bogged down thinking about the etymology of the words, allow me to define what we are talking about here. Sex is biological, and we are defined ‘biologically’ as boys or girls by the type of body we own. I am not here to discuss this, most often it is straight forward. As an adult, can you cross your legs comfortably? Yes, OK, you’re probably not a bloke.

Gender is how societies expectations of behaviour and action from boys and girls defines what we are able to do. For example, is it a social norm for young men to play with Barbie and not Action Man? No, on the most part this is still seen as a feminine behaviour, and so to play with a Barbie as a girl is adhering to your gender role, but to play with one as a boy is to flout your gender role.

Gender identity is how we feel inside about our role, and how that manifests in our appearance and actions. This is our reaction to gender roles, and often in teenage years you find a chance to experiment with your gender and your place within society. David Bowie was famous for utilising his naturally androgynous look to break down classic gender conformity expectations, especially in his Ziggie Stardust phase. Sometimes, when people feel their gender identity doesn’t fit with their biological sex, they identify as transgender.

Just because you're tall, doesn't mean you're a basketball player

Just because you’re tall, doesn’t mean you’re a basketball player

Gender Tags

So what is feminine, and what is masculine? These are the labels given to certain sets of behaviour that are identified with either being a woman or being a man. It’s important to note here that ItchQuill is not trying to tell you what is masculine and what is feminine, but instead explore what we as societies around the world are told is masculine and feminine.

To help with identifying what is seen as male and female, a quick Google search brings up a list of adjectives on PlannedParenthood.com’s article Gender & Gender Identity. They say that words often ascribed to femininity would be ‘passive, weak, emotional, dependent and nurturing’ to name but a few. For masculinity, some of the words were ‘aggressive, rebellious, hard, competitive and self-confident’. The list goes on, and it is not meant to act as a list of things to look for to describe the next woman or man you see, but more as a reflection of attributes that are often associated, rightly or wrongly, with either gender. Few could argue that these words are used in such a way, however.

“Man stuff”

Let’s look again at that masculinity list. Is it seen as ideal that men behave in these ways, or is it just expected? Let’s not forget, as masculinity and femininity is not defined by our biology but by our mentality, it has the potential to adapt and transform within different nations and cultures. These often get lost in stereotypes and can be part of a confusing and contradictory fabric of identity much larger than gender itself (such as the emotional Irish male stereotype, the dominant Latina female stereotype or the well-groomed and orderly British gent stereotype).

The question is; do we have an innate sense of masculinity, or is it learned? It is inescapable, the gender roles pumped at us from the news, our education, the media, advertising and such. We are constantly bombarded with messages on what we need to be, and how we need to behave to be seen as conforming to our gender roles and therefore ‘fitting in’. This stays with us for our whole lives, often influencing us in ways we are unaware of at the time.

“Lady things”

As Faulkner states in his book Doing Gender in Engineering Workplace Cultures,Cultural notions of “feminine” and “masculine” behavior are shaped in part by observations about what women and men do. This kind of “gender marking” tends to discourage women or men from entering “gender-inauthentic” occupations” (Faulkner, 2009).

In the next instalment, we will be looking further at the roles of gender in society, and how this is changing with our younger generations.

Work Cited: Faulkner, W. (2009). Doing Gender in Engineering Workplace Cultures: Part II—Gender In/Authenticity and the In/Visibility Paradox. Engineering Studies, 1 (3), 169-189.

Special thanks to hin255, marin, Praisaeng and stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Napping is our Nature; Reasons Why You Should Take Time to Nap

napping logo copy

Do you remember your first job? I worked in a fish and chip shop in Southern England. I was 14 years old, and my responsibilities consisted of peeling potatoes, chipping them and then blanching them ready to be deep fried by the owner Mr Fukiyama later. He was a Japanese immigrant who had lived in the UK and owned his fish and chip shop for nearly twenty years. I have never tasted fish and chips as good as he made them since.

I worked six days a week, 1.5 hours Monday to Friday, then 2 hours on Saturday morning; they were the cruellest. I would be so tired, dragging myself out of bed at the crack of dawn to make sure there was someone there with the owner to collect the fish delivery that would be shipped fresh in a freezer van from the South Coast.

There was one particular morning where I was particularly tired; shattered in fact, probably from some tryst the night before. Mr Fukiyama informed me he was going to the wholesalers and would be back in an hour. As I heard the door click behind him, and the lock catch, I ducked under a pile of potato bags and began to nap.

I woke no more than ten minutes later to a rather red faced Mr Fukiyama standing over me. He stared down and asked “why are you asleep?”

Not sure what to say, I lied through the tiredness in my lips.

“I’m sorry sir, I’m just so tired from all my school work.”

He looked down at me and smiled.

“In Japan it is seen as a sign of hard work to sleep on the job. For this reason, I will let you off this time,” he said, and then he walked away chuckling to himself.

That’s right. In Japan there is something called Inemuri, which is essentially ‘sleeping while present’. It is the practice of sleeping on the job, demonstrating to your boss that you are working so hard that you haven’t had time to sleep at home. In fact, it is so desirable to do this, some people actually fake Inemuri! People are faking taking naps! Can you Adam and Eve it!?

It raises a good point though. With such a fast paced world, we rarely get a chance to take the time we need to really rest. For those that need reminding, or for those that just need justification, we’ve got you covered! Here are some of the best reasons to take a nap!

Inemuri doesn't apply to schools. Kids are just lazy...

Kids though, kids are just lazy

It’s in our nature!

Cats are great, aren’t they? Little bundles of fluffy joy, always there to cuddle up and keep you warm and comforted. But they are kind of… lazy, aren’t they? I mean, they don’t really do anything, do they? You feed them, you buy them nice things, you keep them groomed and a roof over their head. They just, kind of, sleep really. In fact cats sleep, on average, for 70% of their lives!

The scientific reason is cats, like many animals, have a polyphasic sleep pattern, which basically means they have different periods of being awake and sleeping throughout a 24 hour cycle. In fact, it’s estimated that around 85% of animals sleep in this way! We are in the minority as monophasic sleepers now, but it is assumed humans would once have had a similar sleeping pattern in times of cavemen so that there would always be someone awake to watch for predators.

Recent studies have shown that the most useful sleep pattern for the modern human would be a biphasic sleep cycle, with a longer sleep at night and a shorter one during the day. This was once popular in countries such as Spain, and finds its origins in Ancient Rome.

So by not napping, you are essentially fighting against nature. Do you hate nature?

All this talking is making me tired

sleeeeeepppyyyyy

Productivity

This seems like a no-brainer to some, but napping actually helps to improve your productivity. That said, there are still those that view sleeping on the job as a sign of laziness. You don’t have to take our word for it though. Arianna Huffington, President of The Huffington Post, is a vocal advocate of work based naps, and even went as far as installing two nap rooms in the Huffpost offices! Employees sign up in advance, and the rooms are always full.

Her justification was simple; “Ultimately, at work, the most important thing is our energy. It’s not exactly how many hours we are sitting at our desks, but how present are we when we’re there.” Arianna Huffington, Business Insider.

In fact, there are studies that show that sleeping in the middle of the day increases productivity in the second half of the day to levels similar to those seen in the first half. You are essentially hitting reset.

As the old saying goes; work smart, not harder. Napping at work is a healthy step toward that goal.

"So Sheila, we need to improve productivity this quarter. How about a nap... later... after dinner... at my house"

“So Sheila, we need to improve productivity this quarter. How about a nap… later… after dinner… at my house…naked”

It improves your men…mom…mam… I’m sure I know this

One of the greatest advantages of sleep is it aids the brain in turning short-term memories into long-term ones. This is due to the fact that during sleep, the brain is much better at avoiding distractions that have the potential to corrupt a memory. When a memory is new it is often stored in the hippocampus, and during wakefulness this can leave the memories fragile and vulnerable. By napping during your learning, you are effectively giving your brain more of a chance to download these memories into it’s hard drive (the neocortex) and make them permanent. Distraction kills memories.

Ooooh, bubbles!

Ooooh, bubbles!

Red Alert

NASA has spent a great deal of time looking into sleep. It is not unusual for astronauts to sleep 0.5 to 2.5 hours less in space than they do on Earth, due to many factors such as environment, physical stress and a jumbled circadian rhythm. To compensate for this loss of sleep, NASA has spent a lot of time and energy researching the benefits of napping.

In tests they performed on sleepy military pilots, it was shown that after a 20-30 minute kip their performance increased by 34% and their alertness by 100%. When you are hurtling through space in a rocket, alertness is kind of a big deal.

'Derik, let go, it's my turn!'

‘Derik, let go, it’s my turn!’

Good Mood Dude

There is a little neurotransmitter called Serotonin that helps our bodies regulate our appetites, sleep and mood. Having a good amount of it is what gives you a feeling of peace and happiness. A lack of sleep, and its associated problems, can lead to blocking of our bodies serotonin, and therefore our ability to regulate our mood. This can lead to irritability, anxiety, stress and depression. According to Dr Mednik, a leading expert on naps (read, napologist), napping “bathes your brain in serotonin, reversing those effects and creating a more positive outlook”. You’ll be happier, which will rub off on those around you until the world is one, giant, happy ball of joyful happiness.

"Freeze Frame"

“Freeze Frame”

You Won’t Be Alone

Napping is nothing new, and there have been many famous people who have been staunch advocates of napping; Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Napoleon Bonaparte, and John F. Kennedy to name but a few.

In fact, some have even claimed that certain napping rituals are in fact partly responsible for what makes them great. Savador Dali was a big fan of the ‘napping with a key‘ technique. Essentially, you fall asleep with a key in your hand, which is attached by a string to a plate. As your hand relaxes, you drop the key which crashes the plate into the floor and you wake up. This is supposed to increase creativity, and has in fact got some backing from scientists, who call it a hypnogogic nap. It works by waking you before you reach stage 2 sleep, unlocking your creative thoughts that would have otherwise aided dreaming. Dali claimed he learned it from Capuchin monks, and that it was popular among other painters of his generation. Einstein and Aristotle, among others, were also a fans of this kind of napping.

Team napping is scientifically proven to be twice as effective (citation needed)

Team napping is scientifically proven to be twice as effective (citation needed)

It’s Good for Your Health!

Napping has been linked with helping to reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular problems, according to Dr Mednik.

There are also studies that show you burn more calories sleeping than you do watching TV!

It’s not just what it does do, but what it doesn’t do too. Good rest suppresses the production of cortisol, whereas sleep deprivation often leads to an abundance of the cortisol hormone which can lead to health defects. These can be anything from constipation to lowered immunity, weight gain to osteoporosis. You’ll feel so good, you’ll want to shout about it!

naaaaaaaaps!

naaaaaaaaps!

You’ll (probably) Live Longer

There is a crisis in the EU at the moment, and as will often happen, the media are resorting to stereotypes to make their point. In the case of Europe, there are two stereotypes that many associate with the current crisis; the hard working German and the lazy Greek. Not only is this downright racist, it’s also not totally fair. See, there is little evidence to demonstrate that Greeks are any lazier than the rest of the world, but there is evidence to show that they live longer. For example, a 2007 study identified Greek adults who napped regularly as having a 37% lower chance of suffering from coronary mortality, and the risk of death at work being reduced by 64% .

Similar research of some of the longest living communities on Earth has demonstrated similar correlations. Sardinia, which has an average life expectancy of 81 (one of the highest in the world), is famous for embracing the afternoon siesta, and also has the record for producing the most centenarians. A similar story can be found in Okinawa, Japan and also amongst Californian Adventists, both communities that embrace naps in daily life.

"Whhhyyyyy!" "If only he'd napped more!"

“Whhhyyyyy!”
“If only he’d napped more!”

Whatever your opinion, I think we can all agree that napping is definitely something worth doing. Aside from the above advantages, it is also fun! Is it lifestyle that prevents us from napping more? Probably. I am sure that if most of us could find the time, we would nap regularly.

Hopefully, this post has inspired you to take a little more time to nap in your day. If not for pleasure, then perhaps for some of the reasons listed above. Maybe you even have your own reason, and I’d love it if you’d share it with me!

At the very least, I hope that this post has gone some way to challenging the stigma associated by some with naps. We all deserve the opportunity to catch forty winks. Not convinced? Need more time? It’s ok, go ahead and sleep on it.

'Atta boy

‘Atta boy

Special thanks to ambro, arztsamui, marin, olovedog, stay2gether, stockimages, Stuart Miles and  vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Non-non-fiction – Absolute lies you’ve believed for years!

title

Children are just terrible, aren’t they? Ok, so maybe they are actually lovely little bundles of joy that just happen to also slip into patterns of annoying behaviour, but still, we can all agree they have the potential to be a nightmare at times.

So, how do you go about addressing their behaviour but also making it seem like you are on their side, and therefore it’s not you punishing them, but the world? You lie, of course!

When I was a small boy, my grandmother used to love telling me ridiculous lies in her effort to try and curb my naughty behaviour. For this reason, I used to have a fear of eating chewing gum as I didn’t want to be digesting it into my teens. When I wouldn’t finish my carrots, she convinced me that James Bond ate all of his and that was the reason he could see so well in the dark. And date beautiful women. And always survive. She even showed me scientific studies… studies!!!

This all reminded me of some of the other factual errors we have been fed as gospel, or statements we have taken as truths. They aren’t all told for children, but I just cannot take the lies any more! So here you are people, an Itchy Quill knowledge bomb coming your way.

Sugar is natures turbo booster

Ok, so we all know about this one, right? This has to be true, I mean, I saw Kelsey’s boy Jeremy eat a bag of skittles at his birthday party last week and he was just crazy! It can’t be the parents fault, because they are such wonderful people. It must be all the sugar!

WRONG.

Sugar does not, as commonly believed, lead to hyperactivity in children. The way the body breaks down sugar just doesn’t work like that. Some kids are just innately hyperactive, lest we forget. If they do seem extra hyper, it could be from eating chocolate, and therefore by extension caffeine. Kids on caffeine; now that would be hyperactive.

lamalamalamalamalamalamalama

lamalamalamalamalamalamalama

Swimming after eating can kill you

I might be exaggerating a little on the lie here, but we all know this one don’t we; give yourself thirty minutes to digest your food before you get in the pool, otherwise you could get a cramp and drown. This isn’t true, simply because the human body is more than capable of both digesting and swimming at the same time. It’s had plenty of practice in multi-tasking, after all. Of course, if you eat a big meal and then jump in the pool and vigorously paddle, you run the risk of discomfort. But that could happen during other activities such as working out or running. If you get into the pool and take it easy, you’ll live to eat another day!

It could be the cheesecake that's drowning me... or it could be the fact I can't swim!

It could be the cheesecake that’s drowning me… or it could be the fact I can’t swim!

George’s Marvellous Molars

As sexy as it would have been, George Washington did not have teeth made of wood. His gnashers were in fact made from a combination of walrus and elephant ivory, lead, gold wire and brass. That’s right, the original president was keeping it real with gold (wired) teeth. It is not clear whether he also had a hip hop deal and 50″ rims, but he was famous for popping a few (British) caps…

What's up b**ches!

What’s up b**ches!

Blind as a…

Narwhale? Giraffe? Monkey? Of course, everyone knows the expression, blind as a bat. But here’s the thing, bats can see fine! It’s not known for sure where the myth comes from, but I believe that it is jealousy from humans at the fact bats developed such excellent echolocation. We chose to accuse them of blindness to give us a feeling of superiority at being able to do something they can’t. Well, they can. So I guess we lose. It’s only a matter of time before the bats come to take us all away and get their revenge (citation needed).

"Oi, I'm watching you"

“Oi, I’m watching you”

The Arthritic Bully

Yes, it’s odd that there aren’t a bunch of old men who used to be bullies walking around with arthritis, is it? Not really. Cracking your knuckles, as popular as it is to believe, does not lead to arthritis. Anything from family genetics, your job, previous injury or even obesity could make it more likely you will contract it in later life.

While not causing arthritis, cracking the knuckles can affect your hand’s flexibility and ability to function.

Other side effects are claws and fur... maybe

Other side effects could include sudden claw onset and possible fur… maybe

Forgetful Fish

Anyone who has ever seen a little goldfish swimming from side to side in a fish tank has every right to think that fish must have a short memory purely for the reason that anyone who was aware they were trapped in such purgatory would probably take their own life. Fish, it seems, are actually much better at remembering than we as humans have realised. In fact, there are fish that have shown they can remember information for up to five months!

Still, Dory from Finding Nemo wouldn’t have been quite so cute without her short memory.

"Sharon, I'm sorry! You know I can't remember our anniversary!"

“Sharon, I’m sorry! You know I can’t remember our anniversary!”

Life after Death

There are many stories of corpses that have kept growing their fingernails and hair, and it makes for nightmare fuel. You can rest easy though as it is all a lie. In truth, as the body starts to decompose the skin tightens and shrinks, causing it to give the appearance of nails and hair getting longer.

So while this has obviously answered the question of whether we continue to grow after we die, it has raised the new question of which is more terrifying; growing hair or shrinking skin?

So this is less scary?

How about no hair or skin?

The Penny Assassin

I went to Paris on a school trip in 1998, and was adamant I wanted to drop a penny from the top of the Eiffel Tower for no other reason than you’re not supposed to. A teacher caught me as I was about to let go, and a slapped wrist stopped me from doing it. I got a scolding about dangerous behaviour, and it’s a good thing too. I spent the rest of my teens believing I had nearly caused a death!

It turns out that in actuality a penny dropped from that height would only reach 50mph, which  would not be fast enough to kill someone. Injure, definitely, but kill… nope. Now, am I saying you should go and drop pennies from high places? No, of course not. I am older and wiser than I was as a young boy, and now know how ridiculously stupid it would be to do something like that. I am just saying that it won’t kill someone if it does happen. Looks like kids will have to find another way to murder…

It's ok, I've got some ideas

It’s ok, I’ve got some ideas

Mars is Red

Turns out the red planet isn’t so red after all. I told my friend this and his response was “you’re wrong Itchy, I can see it’s red. Look, look up in the sky.”

Well, that is just the point; it does look red. But that doesn’t mean it is. See, the reason we all know of Mars as the red planet is because of oxidized iron in the soil. For the layman; Mars is rusty. In reality it is more of a butterscotchy/orange hue. Of course, Hollywood perpetuates the myth as a red planet looks a damn site more menacing than a cute butterscotch one would.

Of course, movies wouldn't be quite as scary on a butterscotch planet, would they?

See – spooky!

This is just a smattering of the ‘facts’ that exist out there. What others do you know? Do you have a favourite myth or fact you want to openly criticise or prove wrong?

As always, comments are appreciated. Come and join the conversation.

Special thanks to arztsamui, farconville, fotographic1980, hinnamsaisuy, panuruangjan, SOMMAI, stockimages, vectorolie and Victor Habbick @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015