December 09, 2019

Five Questions with Jenara Nerenberg: Founder of the Neurodiversity Project

As we get ready to “Go Beyond” the expected perspectives, guardrails, materials, and thinking of the creative process at our third annual In/Visible Talks conference, we are incredibly inspired by Jenara Nerenberg. A journalist, author, and founder of the Neurodiversity Project, Jenara is “neurodivergent”, someone who lives with ADHD, autism, synesthesia, high sensitivity, or a sensory processing disorder. When she discovered her own experience of sensitivity—labeled as “anxiety”—was actually considered autistic and ADHD, she dove into research and shared her findings in her soon-to-be released book, Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World That Wasn’t Designed for You.

Among the questions she asks: What is “normal” and “abnormal”? Why are women so frequently undiagnosed or misdiagnosed? How can we go beyond the labeling to allow a wide variety of brain makeups to flourish, resulting in a richer, better world for all?

We’re looking forward to hearing Jenara’s thoughts when she joins us on the main stage on January 16 to talk about “Design, Empathy, and Neurodiversity”. Meanwhile, here are some insights into her creative life.

What is your relationship to the creative process?

“I’m neurodivergent—like many creatives, whether they know it or not—so my creative process looks different each day. I need lots of time alone every day. I often write from my car, because I can take it anywhere and there’s absolute silence.”

How or where do you find inspiration?

“I think the disconnect I feel with the way societal structures are set up causes me to stay at a distance, so I have a lot of time in my head to think, reflect, observe, and analyze. A lot of the inspiration I get is from that cognitive dissonance—my own internal space where there is sometimes awe and wonder, but also intense questioning and occasional turmoil.”

When did you first realize you needed to be in a creative field?

“I was a circus artist as a child and enrolled in the theater program at the San Francisco School of the Arts (SOTA) for high school. From a young age, I was always moving, dancing, and standing on my hands. At the same time, I was deeply curious about people’s minds. I watched people and asked constant questions about their behavior. And I loved media and film. This combination led me to psychology and journalism.”

What was one of your biggest creative challenges?

“Everyday life is honestly a creative challenge. I wake up and think, ‘How do I structure my day today?’ How do I manage the fatigue, the headaches, trying to eat healthy, being a present parent and spouse, and my writing deadlines?”

Who is one of your heroes and why?

“Anyone who is actively and intentionally generating new, healthy, unbiased, and objective narratives—especially on a massive scale—is my hero. Ava DuVernay is one such example. She is reframing race narratives in mass media and Hollywood’s pop culture.”

Bonus Question: What is your favorite digital or nondigital tool?

“My car charger.”