Last Wednesday I embarked on a week-long creative break. Quite suddenly, I realized the whelms were getting stronger than me and that my mind was no longer doing the things I wanted.
So I drew a picture of the orange forest, announced I was going there and withdrew from the mass social media and most personal communications.
The pandemic is still here, and the dog still needs walking, so it wasn’t a retreat into some tranquil woods away from the commuting crowds. It was a retreat from the bustling digital crowds into privacy, home, and twice-daily the local park to pick up the offerings my dog made to show how much she loves us who feed her.
It also wasn’t a break from creativity but a break for creativity. I wasn’t tired from work; I was tired from … something that was keeping my mind from work.
There’s a Slovenian saying, “po jutru se dan pozna” which translates as something like “by the morning is the day known”. I could try to hew it into something more pithy, perhaps:
“As the morn, so the day.”
That has a pleasing symmetry. Six syllables, three for the morrow, three for the rest.
Let’s cave food this post right now: varied strokes for varied folks, no one path to creativity, matters of tastes shall not dispute.
As this creative break week showed me, that pleasing symmetric proverb applies to me very, very much.
In the morning I have a certain chronology. There is a first hour, when I wake into the world, have a coffee, and my brain realizes that I am alive and this is a new day. Then there are one or two hours when my brain decides what kind of day this new day is.
For this past week I changed my habits quite a bit. While on my creative retreat I withdrew from interacting with the media, mass and social both. I also cut my digital communications: emails, discords, chats, and calls were out. The most egregious apps were shown the door of my phone.
Now, I wasn’t a zealous warrior monk about this. I did stay in touch with family and friends, but mostly with quite a delay and certainly not during my mornings.
I found that I got some more writing and quite a lot more art done. I also read some more books. But I was a lot more satisfied and content with what I did each day.
Learnings from mornings for more glorious tomorrows days.
I don’t pretend to have found a golden productivity bullet. What I have come to understand is more ways that I can sabotage my work days—more items for my list of errors to avoid.
Alcohol, and I suppose other substances, the night before are obviously stupid. If I drink enough to feel a headache the next morning, my brain decides it’s going to be a sick day, not a work day. If I drink less, I feel depressed for 12–18 hours after drinking, enough for my brain to decide it’s going to be a blue day, not a work day. Both situations are bad for getting words on pages.
Mass and social media are interesting. They’re attention engines built on selling my attention to advertisers, and my human brain responds more quickly to negative stimuli: scary, dangerous, worrisome things grab attention more than fluffy penguins. So, to keep me glued to a screen, they flood me with fights and hot takes. The result is I feel anxious, afraid, and angry all in one frustrated ball, while also having no way to react in any useful way. I can post an emotional comment that achieves nothing except spread the negative emotions. Or I can rail and scoff about the news to my wife or friends. Again, achieving nothing except sharing the negativity. Now, if I immerse myself in the hot anxious bath of media in the morning, my brain decides it’s going to be a fighting day, a stressful day, not a work day. Again, a terrible state of affairs if I want to do creative writing rather than derivative ranting.
Finally, there is the pernicious challenge of personal communications. I like my friends. I like chatting. I like spending times with them. A nice chat, a bit of discord banter, a friendly email. All those feel great. They put me into a good mood. I need those comms to feel human. The problem is, if I do them in those crucial hours “as the morn”, my brain decides it’s going to be a holiday not a work day. This is a very pleasant state of affairs, but not particularly great for actual writing.
Thus, what I need is to preserve my mundane mornings for my brain to believe the day will be a normal work day.
On a normal day I wake up feeling normal. Which is to say, a pleasing contentment with being alive, a mild enjoyment of my instant coffee, and a satisfaction in the expectation of learning or seeing something new while walking the dog: perhaps a pretty caterpillar or an unusually shaped vegetable.
That common start turns into a creative work day quite naturally. From a mildly boring but satisfactory morning my daydreaming brain mixes and remixes things to amuse itself and viola [sic]: ideas. The only thing left is to keep it deluded that it wants to work and not pursue some fluttering butterfly, a cat video, or any sudden bleep or bloop of a notification.
Ok, I jest. I haven’t used notifications for at least two years now.
Now, back to the drawing board and the writing desk.
—LR, Thu Jun 18, Anno Domini 2021