It’s Sunday morning of a weekend that I am trying to “take off”—the last long weekend of the summer—the last weekend of the summer, really, because are we not really in fall by Labour Day? There may be two weeks until the Equinox still, but September is fall. This year, the grass on the Common has been brown all of August. The leaves of our parched trees are already dotted with yellow and brown.
It’s also Pride weekend in Calgary, and I was trying to finish a piece this morning that I’ve called, “It’s just a fucking pronoun—use it,” but it doesn’t seem to be gelling, so I set it aside. Because I’m trying to take today “off.”
So instead, I’m sitting on my balcony—a cup of coffee I can’t bring myself to drink beside me… I really wanted it… why, why, why does it not taste good anymore?—watching Ender waste water—er, play with the hose—down below—burning incense instead of smoking a cigar, because it’s 9 in the morning, and hell, even my vices have their shame—and I’m letting my thoughts wander.
NB: Today’s post is illustrated with Prisma selfies.Because I feel vain. And pretty. 😉 Call it self-indulgent. I do; I do it anyway.
They are wandering/wondering about three things:
First: The idea that “mind wanderers” are unhappy.
There is a swatch of research about this apparently. You can check out this Psychology Today blog post (” Killingsworth and Gilbert found that people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer”); this Ted Talk on Day Dreaming; or this Smithsonian mag article for a smattering of insight on why mind wandering / daydreaming makes people miserable.
But I like it when my mind wanders. I can’t imagine it not. (Ha, see what I did there?) What is the point of having no thoughts?
You: So it’s been what, eight months now, and you still don’t get the point of meditation, eh?
Jane: I like thinking. I don’t think not-thinking is the solution to anything. Nor is thinking my… problem.
I’ve had a hectic week. Month. Full of work and play. Also, people. In-flesh people and cyber-people—the biggest hunk of my work over the last month of so has involved finding people, researching people and emailing them. And I’m fatigued.
On Sunday mornings, I usually read BrainPickings.org, because, brilliant, and today, Maria Popova is teasing out wisdom from Rachel Carson:
I read this:
Writing is a lonely occupation at best. Of course there are stimulating and even happy associations with friends and colleagues, but during the actual work of creation the writer cuts himself off from all others and confronts his subject alone. He* moves into a realm where he has never been before — perhaps where no one has ever been. It is a lonely place, even a little frightening.
You are wise enough to understand that being “a little lonely” is not a bad thing. A writer’s occupation is one of the loneliest in the world, even if the loneliness is only an inner solitude and isolation, for that he must have at times if he is to be truly creative. And so I believe only the person who knows and is not afraid of loneliness should aspire to be a writer. But there are also rewards that are rich and peculiarly satisfying.
And I have this very strange thought that I want to be… lonely.
And yet… also…
Third: I’m thinking about texting you.
It’s ridiculous, really. I have nothing to say to you. I don’t even particularly miss you. I’m sorry, my love—I don’t. I’ve seen you not that long ago, and even if I hadn’t—I’ve seen, emailed so many other people. I am fatigued, did I not say? I want to sit still, alone, smell the incense, drink the coffee—ugh, it tastes like poison on my tongue, I shove the cup farther away—and let my mind wander.
And I also want to text you.
No. I don’t want to text you.
I feel this sick compulsion to pick up my telephone and scroll down this newsfeed, that, ascertain nothing interesting is happening… and then send you a, “Hi. How’s it going?”
Except… honestly, my love? I don’t care. I don’t care what’s happening with you at all.
I don’t miss you.
I have nothing to say to you.
What I want… is to be alone with my mind wanderings. And I have these precious few minutes in which that can happen.
And yet… the phone. The fingers. The thought of contact with you…
I let my mind wander in this direction. Why do I crave, in this moment, something that I don’t actually even really want? I see the text in a similar light as I see the cup of coffee—a habit that doesn’t serve me, the craving of which is more pleasurable than its execution.
You: You fucking bitch, thank you very much for penning an essay about how you hate texting me!
Jane: A) In this case, you are a metaphor. B) I don’t hate texting you. I’m just questioning-examining the motivation behind my desire to text you. When life offers a moment of solitude… that I know I need… and yet… I move to sabotage it by grabbing the damn crack-Phone and saying, “Hi. How are you doing?”
Here is what I have found about texting—with which I have had a love-hate relationship ever since I finally buckled and allowed the iPhone into my life in 2013—which is also my experience with Facebook and all forms of social media:
It fucks up my connection receptors.
Does that make sense?
When I feel lonely for people—when I need, want people—and I reach for them in the cyberworld—when I feel lonely for you, and I text you—while we’re engaging, I think I’m with people. And then, when we get off the phone… I’m still lonely. Unfulfilled. I haven’t filled my very real need for connection.
Worse—when I feel the need for solitude—when I need to be lonely (Maria Popova and others go on at lengthy about the difference between solitude and loneliness—I don’t know… I think they’re a little related, but we can talk about that another time)—and you text me or I text you… because I’m alone and you’re alone, and we can’t be together and one or the other of us has forgotten how to be lonely and satisfied with that feeling, for a while—I don’t get my solitude. I haven’t seen you. I haven’t seen, touched anyone. But I haven’t been alone either—I haven’t gotten my alone fix.
Texting/social media contact has the potential to make me feel never alone… and never connected.
And I need, very desperately, both.
This is the point at which Aunt Augusta may, self-righteously, tell me to stop whinging about it and just… unplug. Not text. (Not blog, lol.) Live like it’s 1999 again.
And I do that intermittently—I did it in Cuba. I loved it.
But it’s 2017, and 24/7 connectivity is part of my life, and my task—I direct my mind to wander there—is to make that connectivity work for me, fuel me, empower me—free me.
Not fetter me and damage me.
So I whinge. Reflect.
Take my Sunday morning “off” to be with myself. My—not silence, I suppose, because my Self is very rarely silent—but my thoughts. My self.
You: So you know your thoughts are not your self, and…
Jane: You know what? I get that kind of thinking helps other people. And you can think your thoughts are not your self. And you can think that my thoughts are not my Self, too—your thinking that does me no harm. Really, I don’t even care that much if my thoughts are or are not my self. I just like having them. Even the fucked up, hard ones. I like spending time with them. I like parsing them and dissecting them and feeling them and chasing them. I like thinking!
When I pontificate about writing, I have this line I like to use:
Writing is easy. Thinking is hard.
(end of interlude)
So. I didn’t text you.
I thought about you, though.
You: I thought I was a metaphor.
Jane: Metaphors are grounded in reality. That’s what makes them so powerful.
Wasn’t it better this way? I thought about you and experienced you… and had my solitude too.
I feel better. I am better.
You: I feel neglected and lonely.
Jane: Your problem, not mine.
The morning is about to turn into early afternoon—the sun has climbed over the rooftops and trees and is now flooding the Common with light—definitely autumn light. Ender and his friend are drowning toys in a tub of water, and soaking themselves in the process—I will need to change his clothes before we go to Pride. Flora and her friend are covering themselves with glitter. Cinder is still sleeping, the heavy sleep of the metamorphosing teenager. Sean, fighting nasty cold-it-is-not-the-flu!, is back in bed. The house is a strange mixture of quiet and noise—a metaphor, in this moment, for my mind.
You: Maybe you should meditate.
Jane: I might. Or, you know, I’ll just sit here a while longer… and think.
I will text you, perhaps, tomorrow. I will maybe have some things to say… about mind wandering. Solitude. Texting.
If you don’t hear from me—it’s because I decided I want to, need to be alone. And I managed to overcome the craving for the fake contact in favour of real solitude.
But if you miss me… come by. Not for coffee—we’ll make something else to drink. I found this recipe for ginger tea with pepper and cinnamon that has a most satisfying smell. Or maybe tea with cardamom?
Come by. I’ll make tea. We’ll go for a walk.
I’ll tell you things.
And when you leave, I’ll settle into solitude—if the kids let me—deliciously.
Great post! This really resonated with me – my mind wanders all the time (especially when I’m in class) and I find solitude peaceful (in the right amount). Wish you all the best – speak766
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing is a good read.
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You are not alone with most of those thoughts!! 🙂