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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.


Just over a week ago, my mom had a stress test that indicated she might have a few minor blockages. She went in for an angiogram anticipating she might need an angioplasty or perhaps a stint.

When I checked in that afternoon, my brother told me our mom needed bypass surgery for three significant blockages.

The cardiac surgeon would have scheduled surgery that day if he could. I talked to Mom and she wanted me to get there before she went into surgery tomorrow morning.

In emergencies like this, you need your limbic system to take over, and mind did just that.

My first reaction was the most basic mammal instinct: I froze. Then the adrenaline hit and I started running. If my mom had needed me to fight off a wild animal or pull her from a burning building, I could have done it.

In just over two hours, I cancelled all my appointments for the week, booked a flight, packed and was on my way to the airport. The limbic system is speedy.

Fast But No Finesse

There’s no doubt that a deadline – in this case, my mom’s surgery schedule and the airline’s limited options – created urgency. When you’re in an emergency, that is, when the situation is both urgent and important, the limbic system is at it’s best.

Our instinctual, lightening fast limbic system evolved to keep us safe from physical danger. Even though I’ve never seen one, I’d know to run from a charging rhinoceros. My body would automatically make all the physiological changes needed to do that without waiting for my cortex to figure out what to do.

But the limbic system has no subtlety. It has not evolved to respond to the more nuanced and complex situations we often face. You need your cortex online to be able to analyze the situation, predict possible future outcomes, and think logically or creatively.

This is why I arrived at the extremely well air-conditioned (i.e. frigid) Kenosha Hospital with 9 pairs of socks and no pants. I also forgot to pack my medication and a few other necessitates.

Urgent or Important?

To the limbic system, urgent is important and the only thing that’s important is what’s urgent.

But, aside from emergencies, there is a difference between urgent and important. Some things are urgent, but not important. Some things are important but not urgent.

If you’re in the habit of moving from one urgency to the next, if you rely on deadlines or drama to give you enough urgency and energy to get moving, you can easily lose sight of what’s important.

What was important last week was that I saw my mom before she went into surgery and that the surgery went well. What’s important this week is that she’s recovering well.

Next week, I hope to shake the lingering effects of adrenaline and broaden my focus. Supporting my mom’s recovery will continue to be important and so will clarifying why it’s vital for writers to distinguish between urgency and importance.

The ability to make this distinction impacts your writing life a lot more than being underdressed or inconvenienced. Failure to make the distinction can create another kind of emergency.

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8 Comments on “Emergency!”

  1. ellen king-rodgers September 14, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    glad mom is okay


  2. Joel D Canfield September 3, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    So glad to hear she’s recovering.

    Despite being a right trudging read, Covey’s “7 Habits” gave us the urgent/important matrix which is one of the best decision-making and planning tools ever created.

    They say Einstein forgot pants, too, so you’re in good company.


    • rosannebane September 10, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

      Thanks Joel! Yes, Covey’s 4 quadrants is illuminating and will come up in the next post…


  3. Eileen Peterson September 3, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    yes, prayers for your mom. And also, living from emergency to emergency is VERY bad for the writer’s health, as well–we’re just not designed to function “limbically” (is that a word?) ALL the time, right? 🙂


    • rosannebane September 10, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

      So true! I’m not sure limbically was a word before now, but let’s make it one!


  4. Angela Foster September 2, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    Prayers for healing.



  1. Is Your Writing the Victim of the Urgency Bully? « The Bane of Your Resistance - September 12, 2012

    […] the previous post, I defined an emergency as something that is both urgent and important; the immediate is neither […]


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