Mind wandering, solitude and NOT texting you

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 fall.

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.

Second: Solitude.

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.

Rachel Carson

and this:

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.

Rachel Carson

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!

(interlude)

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.

xoxo

“Jane”

Days of the Week

I.

Yesterday was the day I wanted to brush Ender’s hair. (I do brush their hair, sometimes.)

Jane: Where the hell is the hairbrush? … OK, so I last brushed your hair, right here, in the middle of the living room. Um… what are the odds that I would have taken it back upstairs to the bathroom?

Cinder: Pretty much zero.

Flora: That doesn’t sounds like something you’d do.

Ender: Didn’t you throw it across the room because you got so mad at me?

We find it. In the Lego tub.

Jane: I definitely did not put it there.

Flora: Don’t look at me.

Cinder: It was probably Ender.

Ender: Sounds like something I would do. So Mom couldn’t find it.

II.

Today is the day that I explain to the children that reading a 700 page book of poetry backwards-and-at-random while listening to Leonard Cohen is something I NEED to do for WORK. IT’s WORK, dammit.

Flora: It. So. Is. Not.

Jane: Pretend it’s the Government of Canada’s Technical Guidance on Reporting Greenhouse Gas Emissions and LEAVE ME ALONE!

III.

Monday was the day I locked myself in my office (it’s a metaphor; I don’t actually have a door) (I don’t exactly have an office either) (but whatever, I make it work) (it works) (I work) (I write) with Philip Larkin, Mary Oliver, Anne Lamott and The Edge Foundation’s favourite maverick scientists* and then, for a while, abandoned them all for Sufi poets and philosophers. I sucked on the end of a fountain pen I was not using and threw chocolate wrappers at my computer screen, and called it work.

Intermittently, Sean brought me down food, coffee and chocolate.

He didn’t once ask—“Did you finish?”

Nor, “Did you start?”

IV.

Tomorrow is the day Stella’s mom looks after my children in the morning and afternoon and Baby M’s mom will look after Stella in the evening because that’s the way the web of a community works.

V.

Sunday is never a day of rest. But I stop moving, for a while. I have a bath in the dark, with Leonard Cohen.

Ender: Mom? Where are you? Mom? Come outside with me?

Jane: I’m in the bath. Not wearing any clothes. So, um… no.

Ender: Are you crying? Why are you crying?

Fact: You can’t listen to Leonard Cohen in the dark and not cry.

Fact: You can’t cry in front of your children FOR WHATEVER REASON and not freak them out.

Ender: Daaaaddddyyy! Mommy’s crying in the bathroom!

Sean: Um… Jane?

Jane: I’m fine. I’m listening to Leonard Cohen.

Sean: Wouldn’t you rather listen to some happier music?

Jane: No!

I turn on the lights, dry off, get dressed, and take Ender outside. I’m not done NOT moving yet. I lie on the brown, damp grass, soak up the sun.

VI.

Saturday was the day on which Flora slept over at Frederica’s house and Stella had a sleep-over with Ender, and we played Cards Against Humanity and laughed and when the night ended my lungs hurt and maybe, possibly I had broken a rib.

VII.

Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Saturday. Sunday. They blur and knock into each other and I try to find their rhythm and sometimes I do, but too often it eludes me. An email, phone call in the morning sabotages everything.

You: But you thrive on chaos, right?

Me: That story is running out of juice…

VIII.

Today or tomorrow or maybe yesterday, I will go for a walk with Rumi in my pocket and try to photograph the wind.

IX.

Cinder: What are we having for supper today?

Jane: Oh, fuck. Probably… food. What’s in the fridge?

Flora: Food. An assortment of food.

Jane: Good. Food. We’re having food for supper.

Flora: Some of it’s slimy.

Cinder: Don’t worry. If it’s gross, I’ll bake cookies after.

X.

Today’s the day everything happens, and tomorrow’s the day it all begins again. And I can’t quite remember what happened yesterday. Right. I wanted to brush Ender’s hair, and couldn’t find the hairbrush. But then did.

I have to go now. Leonard Cohen wants me to take another bath with him.

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-days of the week

PS I now desire a Blue Raincoat.

*This Idea Must Die, edited by John Brockman (Harper Perennial 2015)

Solitude and the creative mother

NBTB-Inside My Head

(That, btw, is a brilliant title for a book, and one of you should write it. Me? No, I’ve got another passion I’m chasing right now. Go on, it’s a gift. Just dedicate it to me, and we’ll be square.)

I.

I’m careening down Bow Trail, engaged in a complicated kid-care-drop-off (morning at a friend’s while I work; afternoon at my mom’s while I run errands). Transitions suck, and the kinder are unimpressed.

“Why can’t I go to the stores with you?” Flora whines. “You’re going to all my favourite places.” True. I’m hitting a book store (books!), and London Drugs (shiny things!), and Winners (more shiny things!). And Flora could, theoretically, go with me. She’s near-10. She won’t “slow” me down with a tantrum, a toilet-training regression, a refusal to leave the toy aisle. I can accomplish everything I need to with her in tow in about the same amount of time… And she’s smart enough to know this. She knows why I don’t want to take Ender. But surely—she could go?

No.

“Why not?” she whines-pleads.

And I sigh, and I look at her, and decide this is not a moment for evasion.

“Because, beloved, we are about to go on a family vacation, and this is my last chance to be alone for 12 days, and if I don’t take it, I will go insane. I might go insane anyway.”

She looks at me with giant, giant eyes. And ponders.

I worry I’ve hurt her, because, in this culture, when you say “I want to be alone,” most people (husbands, friends, lovers) hear “I don’t want to be with you”—and what will a child hear? But this is a very special child. This is a child who also needs to be alone, a lot. And she’s lucky enough to have a mother who has that same need and recognizes it… and goes to considerable lengths to ensure that, in a family of five crammed into a <1000 square foot house, Flora gets as much solitude as she needs.

I will do this for her during the holiday too, and for her brother. Of my three children, two need swaths of time away from other humans—including each other. The third, alas, does not. So—I take him, away from them. They get what they need. Me? No matter how self-aware I try to be, my solitude is the first thing I give up.

But. I have a Flora.

“Oh, Mom,” she sighs. “Listen. Every day, when we’re on the beach, and then we decide it’s time to go to the pool—you just stay on the beach for 15, 20 minutes. An hour, maybe, even? By yourself. OK? And then come join us.”

Oh, my love. My little insightful fairy.

(Is it enough, 15, 20 minutes? No. Not even close. But it’s better than zero minutes, right?)

II.

I need to be alone to think. To be able to think, really think, I need to NOT pay attention to the needs, the very existence of others. I need to be alone for drafts to drift into their proper form in my head. For things to settle. Not for long. Not for months or weeks—I’d get lonely, so lonely. But, you know. A couple of hours? A day, here or there? A 5-minute runaway, a 15-minute moment to be separate. An evening, a night.

A weekend.

And when I don’t get it, yes, I go a little mad.

Sometimes, I confuse this need with the need for adult company: I think I’m feeling frustrated and overwhelmed by little people, and that I need the company and stimulation of big people. And I call you, and we go out, and I stare at you resentfully. I love you, but you’re not what I need right now. Right now, I need to walk the beach, the hill, the riverbank all by myself. I have a thought to think, an idea to chase, tumult to experience. Demons to taunt.

When I fill my “alone” quota sufficiently… then I love and need and want people.

When it’s wrested away from me, when I don’t get it? I hate you all.

Sorry.

III.

As Ender, who has spent part of the night squished up against me, entwined, whispering stories into my ear, begins the day in my lap, squished up against me, entwined, whispering stories into my ear, I suddenly have a blinding flash of insight as to why he’s been so much more challenging for me to parent. You’d think, really, the third—you’d have it down, right? You’d have enough tips and tricks, strategies and distractions, to dial it in at least some of the time? I mean, sure, every kid is different, but there’s enough “the same” that the third time around should not be the most difficult…

I have thought, often, that it’s me. I am different now: he has had the bad fortune to still be small-and-demanding at a time when I am demanding-of-and-for-myself, and so his need for me to be his 24/7 and my need to be me and write and do all the things I really NEED to do clash more than Cinder and Flora’s needs ever clashed with mine.

Some of that is true. I need more now. But also, this child, this third child of mine? He’s the first one of my threesome who doesn’t need great swaths of solitude. He needs people. A person. He needs an audience, a companion. His alone fixes are very short—and he needs to check in with others while he engages in them. As a result: he never gives me respite. He never gives me enough time alone… that I recharge sufficiently that I want to be with him, focused, happy, unresentful.

I stare at him and at myself in shock as I realize this. Because no wonder neither one of us ever feels we’re getting enough! He never gets enough mom. I never get enough solitude. With his siblings, breaks and respite occurred pretty naturally. They’d become immersed in their thing… I could float away, be alone while nominally present with them. Ender does not let me do this, ever. He grabs my hand, my face. Forces my attention into him…

IV.

The solution, of course, is obvious. It’s not that he needs ME. He needs people while I need solitude. And so, yes. I “outsource” this child more than I did/do the others. But I also need to work with him, to teach him something that his siblings just learned and shared with me intuitively.

I need to teach him that “I want to be alone” does not mean “I don’t want to be with you.” It doesn’t mean, “I don’t love you, I don’t want you.”

It just means… “I want to be alone. I need to be alone. I need to be just with me, right now. And then, when I have enough of that, I will come be with you.”

It’ll happen. (And what a gift to his future friends and lovers that will be, if he learns that now…)

I get to do my morning #meditationforwriters unmolested most mornings now. In fact, the other day, that’s how he got me out of bed at 5 a.m.

“Mom! It’s time to do your morning pages!”

Kee-rist. Be careful what you ask for.

xoxo

“Jane”