Train of Thought: Creativity & ADD

This is an photo of my aura, using a method known as \”Kirlian Photography.\” I was told that this shows the creative energy around me.

I’m on a train right now as I write this, gliding along from Manhattan to Rhinecliff in a state of pure joy. I’ve pulled out my laptop and, as the lake and trees go blurring by out of the corner of my eye, I find my center. I wasn\’t sure what I was going to write about for my second newsletter until just this moment. Ahh…inspiration! It occurs to me that one of the reasons I am in love with being on a train is that it provides my body and soul the rare and delightful experience of getting from point A to point B in a straight line and on time. This is how my husband Bob lives.  In a beautiful world where he plans out his day and steps into it and can pretty much predict almost to the second when he’ll turn the key in the door and walk back in the house, goals reached, done and dusted.

A few years back I (finally) took a test and passed with flying colors, making it official (newsflash)…I have ADD!  I had suspected as much but my tendencies didn’t always fit the classic symptoms. Frequently scattered, oh yes. On a bad day the inside of my head is like twelve TV sets blaring on different channels.

Growing up in the 60’s before ADD became a diagnosable condition, I managed to escape being labeled or prescribed any meds to tone down my high charged flickering noisy pinball-machine brain.

Although not physically hyperactive, between the ears I was usually either bouncing off the walls with continuous thoughts, images, ideas, and options, or lost down some rabbit hole way off the map of whatever my original plan might have been. This could pertain to the plan for the day or the plan for the end of the sentence I started.  It is a wonderful problem to have if you’re a songwriter but not so great if you are just trying to pick up a few things in the grocery store.
My particular version of ADD includes another less mentioned symptom for which I tested super positive:  hyper-focus!  That means it’s not uncommon for my husband to have to come down the aisles looking for me, (having dashed away to ‘grab a package of pasta’) only to find me intently involved in researching the best can of tomato sauce absorbed in a concentration loop so deep I didn’t even hear him calling my name. Understandably he\’s not above offering me cold cash to wait in the car when stopping by the store.

This is vintage teenage angst reaching it\’s peak at around 15 years of age. I\’m a little on the moody side here. Probably trying to juggle plates in my head while avoiding algebra!

Hyper-focus is great for editing vocals and working in the studio but it can be very dangerous. I can get so lost in what I\’m doing that I suddenly look up and see Mr. Sunshine in the window and realize I haven’t eaten, drank, peed or moved in six hours and my butt is numb and my legs don’t work.

Actually, come to think of it I’m not sure why they call it “Attention Deficit Disorder” because I don’t feel a lack of ability to put my attention on things. I have an abundance of attention! It\’s either going all over the place or concentrated like a laser beam on one spot. Whichever is the case, it’s a pain sometimes but I think they should call it “Attention Gone Wild and Occasionally Out Of Order” or AGWOOO!!! Yeah. That sounds much more fitting.

Though definitely challenging, especially for the ways it challenges those I love, but I’m not sure I\’d trade.  It’s a glorious thing to be able to set my mind off in five directions to search for the perfect word when I’m writing a song. Most of the coolest things that have creatively plopped into my consciousness were unplanned and spontaneous.

Now that I’ve been “diagnosed” I do have some medication I can take when I have a list of errands or the need to stay on a bit of a schedule.  Luckily I can opt out of taking it with no repercussions on the days when I am writing and I want my wild mind out of the cage.

But because of my slip-n-slide attention span I thrive on flexibility whenever possible. Ha. No matter how much I plan not to, in almost every endeavor I inevitably succumb to unexpected detours and the lure of new sparkly things just off the path where all those rabbit holes lurk.

My grandson Atreyu looking very focused on his first airplane ride!

But you know what? I think I’m changing. (Don’t tell Bob cause I don’t want him to get his hopes up)  I may not ever escape my brain’s way of functioning but my soul is being pulled more and more towards simplifying and streamlining. My sense is that this is related to becoming a Grandma. What an incredible thrill it’s been for me to spend time with my grandson Trey, who’s turning one this month. When I’m with that baby boy all the TV sets in my head go quiet and I’m completely Alice-in-wonderland-gonzo-down the rabbit hole of playtime with him. Unlike getting caught up in comparing spaghetti sauces, the best use of time known to humans is playing with the child of your child. That is as good as life gets.

Well, that, and being able to sit still in my center writing on a train that’s barreling through the cranberry farms, trajectory not up to me, destination covered. On course.


  • Simon Arnold says:

    I love your wild mind and the beautiful song that come out of it. Have a wonderful time with your grandson and I look forward to hearing you next album x

  • Cheryl Johnstone Oxford England says:

    Such great memories of Newbury Corn Exchange concert five years ago, and so good to hear of you again. I missed the bit about a new man in your life, and that, too, is wonderful news! When are you returning to these shores?

    • BNC says:

      Hi Cheryl~

      I’ll be across the pond for a tour of Ireland this fall and a quick trip to the UK for a Mighty Sky event on Oct. 9th in Daventry. Then off to Italy! Check my tour page on the site for all details! Hope to be back touring the UK next year! ~BNC

  • RickSimpson says:

    Great read Beth. I meet you a few years back in Montgomery at a Songwriters deal. I wrote Sinners Prayer which won your competition.

  • Risa Hall says:

    Beth – All creative people have quirks and now they’ve been labelled. All the things you are describing I do on a regular basis. Growing up in angst, we just……grew up! Now everyone has a definition for a disorder and we can read about it worldwide or Google it. I am just interested in the end product. Your end product is always beautiful music with an honesty that can’t be labelled. Throughout your trials and tribulations you are a survivor and musical genius. I only wish I can do one of your workshops one day. Enjoy your husband, son and grandson and come back to Manchester and play for this American who loves you as you are, x

  • lunasea art says:

    Love this post (and your music of course), Having finally being diagnosed with high functioning autism at the ripe old age of 47, I totally related to it. My brain does exactly the same thing…it gets so hyper-focused that it completely ignores any cries of hunger/pain etc that my poor body tries to send it…. luckily my body has learnt to survive on a low maintenance regime lol.
    Thanks for sharing your experience with ADD
    Lunasea Art

    • BNC says:

      Such a good point Lunasea~ how we don’t “listen” to our bodies. I think that’s a big one for everyone with and without ADD!


  • Dear lovely Beth…now I have an excuse! I am a singer and songwriter too and omgoodnessdoIeverhaveabrainjustsimilartoyours! I LOVED your article! It’s a song! A Hit…a wonderful explanation of one’s soul and self! Thank you.
    I’m not on meds, have not been diagnosed…since, I know I have this about me…and yes, I too am changing.
    I saw you in concert at Fernandina Beach, FL in some Episcopal church parish center a few years back. Your honestly, your skilled performance and your ardent heart was and remains to be…a delight. Thanks for sharing your life with all of us. I am trying to do the same with my listening audience.
    LOVED your article, will forwards to my siblings, as well all seem to have symptoms of AGWOOD!

  • Michelle Gardner says:

    Wow. How amazing to read your words. Having recently figured myself out, I cannot begin to tell you how you describe me to a T. No wonder I have been a fan for twenty years (or more) It’s funny how great it feels to not be alone. Just yesterday I spent way too long choosing peanut butter! Thanks for making my day.

  • Phil Frejiszyn says:

    Hi Beth we (my wife & me) have seen you perform for the last 10 years and have enjoyed every minute of every concert we have seen !
    Your comments about your grand son are so true, we waited years for our first grand child and he came along almost 5 years ago, a beautiful little boy Finlay Thomas. We now have a grand daughter Emerline Elizabeth 16 months, so we now have twice the joy !
    Its so wonderful to loose you time playing silly games being part of their lives, because when you are a new parent life is so full on it all passes by so quick and is lost in time !
    ENJOY every minute & treasure every moment that you have with him, its a beautiful time for you and your little one !
    Phil & Sue xxx

  • Rebecca says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. Most creative genius is based (or basked) in ADD, in my experience. I’m thankful for it and love that you’ve focused on the great things about ADD because NOBODY does that, as a rule. thanks a mill. from the crying girl in the workshop in Nashville from May 2013.

  • Craig says:

    Beth, as usual, I stumbled on your site, but don’t remember how. ADD has been my constant companion for almost 59 years now. I have learned one important thing in that time. It was misnamed! Its not a “deficit”or a “disorder!” We change people when we label them. I think a far less negative and far more accurate label would be “Attention Design Difference.” Hyper focus is anything but an attention deficit. Also, if my attention can bounce around using free association, and assemble creativity from diverse resources, how can that be seen as a “disorder?” I embrace my design difference, in spite of my difficulty fitting into other’s notions of what “normal” is. I enjoy your post here.

  • Beth Tatum says:

    My friend called it ADOS…attention deficit, oh shiny! Yes, if I’m reading a book my husband says I’m ignoring him, but I didn’t hear a thing. But boy, I can read for hours.

  • Adam Perkowski says:

    SIRI and a customizable suite of aps to suite your particular set of “ADD challenges” seems to be an obvious solution that will arrive any day now. I hope someone is working on it “Luminosity” style. Has your smartphone helped any?
    Apropos of nothing “Lullabies for Trey” would be an awesomely Epic project to rival “Prism & The Mighty Sky.” I enjoy my two grandkids so much when we sing “shine all your light” and the songs I’ve written for them using what I’ve learned from you over the years. It would be wonderful to hear what you’ve composed for your grand-baby. Sorry this was so long, all the best!

    • BNC says:

      Hi Adam!

      Haaa! Yes…I’ve got a few fun tunes arriving thanks to playing with my grandson! Stay tuned! I personally can’t stand Siri! She never gets it right on my iphone! I think it may have more to do with my skills at delegating….but honestly I spend more time repeating myself with Siri I’ve been trying to get her turned off! 🙂

  • Eric Thompson says:

    Love the song and the video so creative. Thank God for ADD long may it continue as long as it can be channelled in the right direction. Have been listening to your music for a while now and saw you for the first time in Cheltenham earlier this year. What a great show despite the odd tuning error! Looking forward to your return next year.

    • BNC says:

      Gosh Eric….I’ve had so many interesting tuning moments I’m not even sure which show! But thanks to my new Planet Waves tuner stuck on to the end of my guitar I’m in better tune these days! 😉

  • Brittany says:

    Beth, thank you for writing this! I have the same problem with pretty much everything. (Your mom has probably heard about some of my randomness during her hair appointments. Haha) I have had ADHD for years but wasn’t officially diagnosed until 6 years ago. I fully believe that it has driven my creativity for years. It’s challenging at times but it is always so nice to find other people who have the same things happening. I always just tell people “I’m just wired different.” 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  • Tondra says:

    I am so happy to see that there are others who understand what goes on in my head! LOL. I am 63 and just recently began taking Concerta to slow down the tornado of thoughts and ideas that swirl around in my mind. I am grateful for the creativity I possess and now with meds I have the ability to complete projects I have started.

    • BNC says:

      Hi Tondra…

      I actually tried Concerta once. Didn’t really end up working for me but lots of folks have had good results with it! Thanks for writing!


  • Joe Lewis says:

    Beth, until yesterday I thought you were “just another singer”. Several years ago I bought the CD with All I Have is All I Need and I Keep Coming Back to You, and then bought the digital download sheet music for them. Beautiful, emotional, and musical. Then driving this past Sunday afternoon with that CD in the car CD player I heard Like a Child Again for the first time, and that blew me away. Simple, musically “subtly complex”, if that’s possible, and SO profound all at the same time. I’m a church music director/pianist/organist and part of a group that plays and sings at a nursing home weekly, and that song just nailed me to the wall. I played it for my wife tonight and she was in tears too. It just brought to mind so many of those nursing home residents, most of them not nearly so lucky as the one in the song – too many just being warehoused by family waiting for them to die, with few if any visits. Thank you so much for that song. We’ve been fighting my wife’s breast cancer since 2004; she’s been on chemo for the past 8+ years. Reading your bio I see you’ve been there too. I haven’t been tested, but I’m probably ADD too – near failing through high school, flunked out of jr college in the late 60’s, spent 2 years on navy active duty then went on to get two B.A.s, and a J.D. Got disgusted with Law, and quit that. I write piano arrangements for church. I’ve been doing piano forever and organ since high school. You are such an incredible talent and inspiration. THANK YOU and God Bless. Joe

  • Greg Reitz says:

    In your article you mention you have a medication you can take if you need to get certain chores done. I have recently been diagnosed with ADD and I see the potential benefits of medication but I really like the way my mind works most of the time. Do you still take something occasionally and if so what is it and what is it like coming off it? Thanks!

    • BNC says:

      Hi Greg!
      The only med I’ve taken is the smallest possible dose of Adderal. And I only take it occasionally. I don’t have any reaction when I don’t take it. Have no problem switching back and forth. Hope that helps! :)BNC

  • Kat says:

    Thank you for your openness! I recently started taking a lose dose of adderall for ADHD and it’s helping me a lot! However I notice it’s drying my voice and it’s harder to sing even with drinking lots of water. Can you sing with you medication? Does Adderral affect your voice and how do work with it is so you still sound good?

    • BNC says:

      Hi Kat! I’ve not had too much trouble with dryness of my vocal chords. I’ve also stopped taking Adderal for the most part as I’ve switched to a diet that limits all grains and increases good fats like coconut oil. You may find that to be helpful. Organic raw coconut oil is a GREAT thing to eat and you can try a half tsp. of it straight to soothe and lubricate vocal chords! :)BNC

  • Tim Keim says:

    Dear Beth,
    Thank you for your relationship with the muse. It blesses all of us.
    I took Beyond the Blue with me on a recent road trip to Indiana from North Carolina. It helped me sail through the miles and stay connected with my own center. Is the foreign language interlude Hindi or Sanskrit? Love the tabla, too.
    I was introduced to you while working on air at KRNO in Reno, Nv. in 1992, I believe and have been a fan ever since.
    Love seeing your soul in every song. Your music is a great refuge. There are few artists who can reach my soul like you do.
    Thank you!
    Hope you’ll come to Raleigh or Durham soon.
    May you always be health and happy.
    I recognize and affirm your goodness.

  • Thank you for your honesty, Beth.

    This is SO helpful. I’ve known for years that I have ADD but didn’t know about hyper-focus.

    I’m a musician and am able to focus beautifully on guitar parts and singing but every day it is a fight to get to my music room since I must wade through the many sparkly objects that block my path. If I get started cleaning or stretching or even walking before music, good luck getting me to stop.

    My husband mentioned that he thought I had OCD, in addition to the ADD.
    But hyper-focus much better describes my traits.

    I just shared this article with him so he could better understand, too.
    THANK YOU!!!

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