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Pete Beidler Reviews "The Heartbeat of Creativity"

Friday May 25, 2018

 

The Heartbeat of Creativity: The Inspiring Life Journey of a Creativity Consultant Diagnosed with Parkinson’s, by Margaret Blackwell and Andra Kins. Cardiff, CA: Waterfront Digital, 2017. x + 234 pp.

 

            Margaret Blackwell has two stories to tell in her book. The first is the story of her life as a creative artist and a teacher of creativity. The second is the story of her struggles with Parkinson’s disease. She tries to connect the two stories together. She speaks, for example, of seeking creative solutions to the many problems that Parkinson’s presents her with. In the end, however, the two stories remain mostly separate.

            Margaret Blackwell has some interesting experiences to tell about: raising young children after her marriage ends, leaving the Catholic church, getting a master’s degree in the philosophy of creativity at a university in Great Britain, teaching male prisoners to do needlepoint, teaching creativity in a hospital, deciding to emigrate to the United States, teaching creativity as an adjunct professor at John Fitzgerald Kennedy University in California, teaching creativity in various business and governmental settings, describing her psychological challenges and her bouts of depression. Such experiences, though interesting in themselves, will be of no particular interest to readers of the website of the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation.

            For such readers, Margaret Blackwell’s important story begins in December, 1996: “I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The diagnosis left me shaken and very angry. I was fifty years old. My first response, which lasted for quite a long time, was to deny that I had Parkinson’s. I hoped very much that I had been wrongly diagnosed” (48). As her symptoms get worse, her denial gives way to confidence that she can cure herself: “I decided to use everything I knew about creativity to try and find a cure for Parkinson’s for myself and others” (48).

            Not surprisingly, despite all that she tries—nutritional supplements, faith-healing, and so on—her symptoms get steadily worse. Finally she takes the advice of her movement disorder specialist and, seven years after diagnosis, begins taking Sinemet. The pills help, but have, for her, bad side effects. She now begins to try creative ways to reduce those side effects: through “further creative experimentation, I was able to find a number of ways to reduce the side effects of the medication” (53). Some of her efforts—such as her “insistent demand that I not succumb to self-pity and hopelessness” (56)—seem to help, but her symptoms continue to grow worse. One of her most frustrating symptoms is the gradual loss of her ability to speak loudly enough to continue teaching. She also finds that her growing inability to take care of her daily living needs requires that she hire paid caregivers.

            Then Margaret Blackwell learns about a promising new surgery known as deep brain stimulation: “My first reaction to DBS surgery for Parkinson’s disease was one of horror at the prospect of having electrodes inserted into my brain and a pulse generator implanted in my chest. The surgery seemed so invasive and the thought of five hours of brain surgery while conscious terrified me” (97). She eventually takes the leap, however, and becomes a “bionic woman.” During surgery, she develops blood cots in her leg and one of the clots travels to her lung, causing a pulmonary embolism. In addition, “after DBS surgery, I experienced anxiety, depression, and even dread for no apparent reason” (109). But in the end, after she gets her new electronic equipment adjusted she is helped a great deal by the surgery, and she sings the praises of DBS.

             Readers who want to know about Parkinson’s disease may well be disappointed in The Heartbeat of Creativity. After all, considerably less than half of the book deals with Margaret Blackwell’s experiences with the disease. The author seems to be more interested in creativity than she is in Parkinson’s, and she does not show that a more creative approach to the disease can do her or others much good. She defines creativity as the expression of “aliveness, responsiveness, or engagement with life that is an inherent and unlimited potential in all human beings” (130). How that definition connects to Parkinson’s disease she never quite makes clear. In the end, this attempt to join two short books into one longer one, despite the efforts of Margaret Blackwell’s co-writer Andra Kins, leaves us with two short books.

Peter G. BeidlerPeter G. Beidler
Peter G. Beidler

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