Tag Archives: write

About Boredom

Believe it or not, from time to time, I cite Kurt Cobain’s incisive assessment of his generation: “Here we are. Now, entertain us.” It’s an expectation that I see growing ever more pervasive, and many university students think it’s a professor’s job to entertain them. It isn’t. And anyway, the issue isn’t strictly attached to generation. Everybody can be bored. But fewer and fewer children are learning how to respond to boredom. The problem isn’t that we should never be bored. The problem is that many don’t know what to do when bored.

In the last few months, I’ve seen in the news a story about a trio of young men who were bored so they killed a passing jogger. I’ve seen in the news a story about a bored young man building pipe bombs. My mother must have dealt early with any suggestion that there was nothing to do. There was plenty to do, and we had to go outside and do it. Or go upstairs and read. How can a person be fully bored when there are books?

There are parents who hand out chores when the kids say they’re bored. Not a bad idea. It’s a way of showing that there is something to do. Show the way, but don’t do it for them. If we are bored, it isn’t because there’s nothing to do. It’s because we enjoy inertia. It has something to do with physics. Once we start doing something–even daydreaming–we can keep doing something. We can read a treasured book or a brand new one. We can write one. We can do word puzzles. If I’m stuck in a fit of inertia, I often will snap out of it or pass the interminable five minutes doing Free Rice. It makes me ashamed of myself that I’m bored at the same time that it makes me feel good to be using my boredom to make a difference.

I should spend more time thinking about getting off my ass and doing the dishes or dusting. My mother always called to us as we headed up the stairs, “Don’t go empty handed.” There was always something sitting on the bottom stairs, folded laundry maybe, that needed to go up. I think more of us could use lessons in how to deal with boredom on our own. Like most other things in life, nobody’s going to do it for us.

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Filed under On Reading, On Thinking, On Writing

Location, Location, Location

For the past while, I’ve been thinking about writing spaces, about a writer’s optimal writing space. I don’t know that every writer has one, but I’m willing to bet we all do. It behooves us to take the time to sort out what physical space we need in order to produce. We have to sort out what is the poser in us, that might list all sorts of esoteric eclectic elite requirements and situations, all to make us seem like writers, while the real writers around know it’s all a scam, an avoidance technique. They know it because they’ve tried it themselves, many times.

Arthur Rimbaud needed light and a desk. Period. William and Dorothy Wordsworth needed to walk. Jane Austen seemingly needed a pen and paper, since she wrote surrounded by people in the living areas of her house. What solitude? The Bronte sisters (all three: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) needed each other as audience and wrote novels as part of their conversation. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg employed a smorgasbord of barbiturates and alcohol and marijuana. I don’t recommend it.

What I’m wondering is this: when we say we need to go sit on a mountaintop or at the seaside in order to write, are we stalling? Deceiving ourselves? We might all agree that it would be nice to go to the mountains or the seaside, and these surely can be inspirational places. But as I sit here on a mountaintop, I know that I could accomplish at home what I’m accomplishing here. It’s a discipline issue. I know that what I need in order to work in a sustained way is solitude and a block of time, and unless I announce in a loud voice that I am off-line for X number of weeks, the day-to-day keeps coming at me, and I am unable to ignore it. I need the world to co-operate, and it doesn’t. Being here in the studio is a blessed thing, and I know it’s a privilege.

Here, I don’t have to make my bed and clean my bathroom. There are no meetings–sorry, I’m out of town–and no little errands. If I could learn to lie (say I’m out of town, but not go) and live in a mess, I could stay home, sleep in my own bed, have every shred of research in reach. What I need, in terms of optimal writing space, is solitude and separateness. I accept it. I am not going to think that if Austen could write during family hours, I should, too. I can’t. I am not going to think to myself that a little squalor wouldn’t be so bad. It would. So, I take myself away to the mountain or the midlands or the islands. If the prophets needed the desert, the mountains, the wilderness, who am I to argue?

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Filed under On Thinking, On Writing

Plotting Time

Maybe if I were a novelist, I would be better at plotting and pacing. I also would make more money. But no. At their distribution meeting, the very whimsical muses handed me poetry, and I am very grateful. I love my present. It’s just a little bit of a problem when it comes to the practicalities of life. How to set aside time for writing when I need to pay more than a little attention to making a living. I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week. What provoked me was an article about a pianist whose ambitions had been foiled repeatedly, so she and her husband pulled together $250,000 and hired the London Philharmonic Orchestra to make a recording.

If I had $250,000, I could get a thing or two done. At least I don’t need an orchestra. But I do think I have to take a bit of a gamble because, really, all I have ever wanted to do is write and teach. I have found it very hard to make enough of a living so that I could set aside time and space to write. Time passes. The problem isn’t going away, and apparently, it isn’t going to resolve itself. I am plotting the next six months. And there are some risks, but I’m just going to take them. The first stage is to get two major projects finished, and I have realized that I need to get away to focus solely on one of those. Two years ago, I went to the Banff Centre and made real progress on a project, so I’m going to do that again, if they’ll have me. Application sent: box ticked.

Then, I’ll have a clearer path to getting the other project finished. Having two big tasks concurrently has paralyzed me. The time away for one of them will snap that stalled cycle. No matter what, they both have to be finished, one by the end of March, and the other by the end of April. May will be occupied by my annual field school in Ireland. Teaching and making a living at the same time. And then, for the first time with no clear project in mind, I am setting aside some time to write, and I have no idea what will happen. I have set aside three weeks in June, secluded weeks, away. With no obligation attached. My very own time.

I do know that it’s time to apply for some grants and residencies and to send work out for publication, and I’ll do that when I get back. Who knows if any of it will be successful. But I think I’ve arrived at a shift of some kind. I have booked accommodation for those three weeks, so I really mean it. And my mind spontaneously started casting around for a topic, wondering what the next poems will be about.

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Filed under On Writing

Stave off Creeping Dementia

I have embraced the term “creeping dementia,” which I discovered in an Irish novel a few years ago. I embrace many things I discover in books. “Creeping dementia” functions for me as many things do in my family. We like to be flippant about dire things, the blacker the humour the better. My sister and I once sat in a hospital emergency room at 3:00 a.m. entertaining ourselves with comments on the general clientele one finds in a hospital emergency room at 3:00 a.m. Creeping dementia, as a term, seems to me to be a gentle reminder that things go missing in the brain with greater regularity as said brain ages. But even as I acknowledge that it happens, I resist that it happens. I also have embraced activities to stave off creeping dementia.

My mother was devoted to crossword puzzles and very late in her life still beat me at Scrabble. I have taken to crosswords as part of my morning, just to shake my brain awake. I never thought I’d enjoy them, partly because, as a perfectionist, I didn’t like the erasing and writing over and smudges on the page, the unfinished evidence. But online puzzles, free online puzzles, spare me those aggravations. Once I click away, there is no proof of my groping for a correct answer, and in some cases, puzzles with scores and timers, I can enjoy those measures of success. It isn’t easy being a determined perfectionist.

There’s also freerice.com. I can exercise my vocabulary, encounter words I have never seen before, identify geographical locations, match flags with nations, and so on, staving off creeping dementia for free. And, while I do it, a rice bowl is filling with ten grains of free rice for every correct answer. This rice costs me nothing because the ads on the site pay for the rice. ¬†After years of being a casual user, I created an account (free) and discovered more variety in the questions. I solve, companies advertise, people eat–it’s a beautiful thing.

Every day, I use words devotedly. I read, I write, I organize, I communicate, I puzzle. I love words. Love what they can do. Words are powerful things. They are among my greatest friends. They understand me. I don’t want to lose them.

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