how you can re-frame those boring tasks that you resent as gifts of empty space

As I lie in bed next to my daughter, I am pondering my recent writer’s block.

I don’t have anything worth saying. I overthink it. I don’t have enough time for it. Why did I ever think I should do this? I have zero imagination.

Etcetera, etcetera.

I am reminded of Anne Lamott’s description of the mental diatribe she has to quieten every time she sits down to write.

…You try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind. The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. Also, severe hypochondria. There may be a Nurse Ratched-like listing of things that must be done right this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be cancelled or made, hairs that must be tweezed. ‘Bird By Bird’, p 6-7

It is pitch black and I am trying not to fall asleep. I think I am succeeding when my daughter’s voice permeates the darkness;

“Can you turn your snoring quiet?”

I HAVE A COLD! I’m not even asleep!

Anyway, I lie there and I begin to reflect on the many times I have been forced into a moment of empty space by parenting and simply running a household. Countless times I have lain beside one of them, I have breastfed on oh, several million occasions, hung out washing 26,000 times (I don’t iron by the way), I have cooked so many meals, spent many hours cleaning a bathroom that seems to be covered in fluff and skid marks half an hour later.

I have read many children’s stories. Has anyone else noticed it is possible to read a children’s book and have a lucid and fruitful train of thought going on at the same time? Especially if it’s a book you’ve read many times and it rhymes (I recommend Duck in a Truck and Room on the Broom for some good thinking time). 

In a TED talk titled How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas, Manoush Zomorodi says that when we are bored our brains make new connections and solve problems.

So going from one app to another on my phone all day long is depleting my brain of the energy it needs to create. I have written about phone use before and its detriment is no news to many of us. But this revelation about boring tasks means I can appreciate the household jobs I resent because I can’t possibly hold my phone whilst cleaning the kitchen floor. Dusting is now a gift. Cleaning the oven; a delight!

Ok, now I’ve gone too far. But when doing those things, I can definitely think. And not only that, I can rest my brain. For so long I have persuaded myself that these tasks are a good use of my time and that doing six things at once on my laptop and phone is simply getting stuff done. Yet why do I feel so tired and ineffective sometimes? Why do I sit down to write and feel like my brain has nothing left to give?

BoredAndBrilliant_WeGotBored

Zomorodi set up a challenge called Bored and Brilliant, which encouraged the participants to cut down their phone use. An app on their phones told them how much time they were spending on their phone per day. Here’s what she says about some of the results:

Researchers at USC have found — they’re studying teenagers who are on social media while they’re talking to their friends or they’re doing homework, and two years down the road, they are less creative and imaginative about their own personal futures and about solving societal problems, like violence in their neighbourhoods. And we really need this next generation to be able to focus on some big problems: climate change, economic disparity, massive cultural differences. No wonder CEOs in an IBM survey identified creativity as the number one leadership competency.

This has challenged me to think about how I teach my kids to self-regulate when it comes to technology. Because digital media platforms will all be working to get as much of their attention as possible. Just like they’re working for mine. Now and in the future, my best method for teaching them this is to model it. To not have my phone with me at all times. To not run to it as soon as it pings. To read actual books. To sit and think.

Instead of doing a writing goal throughout November, I decided I would aim for more boredom. I would pick up my phone less, perhaps turn it off for an evening, and read or write and allow empty space for my mind to re-energise and wander. I will let you know how it goes.

I am feeling optimistic because as I lay next to my daughter, I had the idea for this post…

PS. I’m no longer on Facebook, so if you know of anyone who reads my blog via that platform please let them know to subscribe on my homepage and get posts straight to their inbox. 

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scarcity culture and finding a sense of worthiness

The beauty of having moved to a new town and only having one friend, is that when I take my kids to soft play I am completely and utterly alone without the distraction of pleasant, refreshing conversation and may as well do more reading. Yay.

So I have cracked on with reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. It’s taking me a while, not because I’m not enjoying it but because it’s not a story. You may have noticed that I like narratives. It’s part of being human I reckon.

Anyway, she writes about a cultural phenomenon called ‘scarcity’ that currently pervades western culture. It can be epitomised by the phrase:

“Not enough.”

It’s potent when you ponder your own scarcity perspective. Here are my ‘not enough’s’ throughout an average day…

I wake up at 4am, sandwiched between my two children.

I’ve not enough room

I’ve not had enough sleep

-I’ve not enough patience

-I’ve not enough energy to be creative with breakfast (weetabix it is)

-I’ve not enough time

-I’m not thin enough to wear that

-I’m not kind enough

-I’m not conscientious enough

-I’m not tidy enough

-I don’t pray enough

-I’m not confident enough

-I don’t like cooking enough

-I don’t have enough company

-I don’t have enough alone time

-I don’t have enough energy to make the most of my alone time

-I don’t have enough integrity (I ate ice cream)

Go to bed (already knowing I won’t have had enough sleep tomorrow because I’m going to bed too late).

Start over.

I feel pretty melancholy after writing that! Man, I give myself and my life a bad rep. I’m my own joy-thief.

“The greatest casualties of a scarcity culture are our willingness to own our vulnerabilities and our ability to engage with the world from a place of worthiness.” p. 29

How do you gain a sense of worthiness? Well, whether you believe in a divine being that has put worthiness into your DNA simply because He created you, or not, it still requires an application of faith. You have to believe in something or hope for something that you cannot see.

Life doesn’t present us with a context in which we can easily look in the mirror and say to our reflection, “I am worthy”.

The problem with a scarcity culture is that our own shame wants us to bring others down to our level of unworthiness. We perpetuate unworthiness as easily as we spread the common cold.

Then we blame. When we can find our own sense of worthiness, we can more easily help others find theirs. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we perpetuated worthiness?

worthy quote

 

book review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything. 

It’s been a while since I’ve written a book review. Since I became unwell back in December I put my book club to one side to alleviate any pressure, perhaps I’ll start it up again, perhaps not. I’m still reading though, of course – why wouldn’t you? It’s exercise for the brain, don’t you know? To be honest, finding time to read has been tricky of late but I’m hoping now that we are settling into a routine I’ll pick up books more.

Yet despite being sans book club, some books are so potent that I want to write about them. This is one of those. Not only is it superbly written, it is poignantly hilarious. What does that even you, you ask? Well, see for yourself.

Best bit

The humour is fabulous. Eleanor’s assessments of people and experiences are completely hilarious. They are so left-field in a way that is also touching as you recognise her dysfunctional upbringing as being the cause of it.

She develops a crush on a singer in a bar, who very quickly is revealed to be a complete loser to the reader, but it takes a while for Eleanor’s bubble to burst. Even though she wears the same clothes every day and never makes much fuss over her appearance, Eleanor decides to go and have a wax. When asked if she wants french, brazilian, or hollywood, Eleanor’s choice is dictated by what she feels to be an amusing play on words. “Hollywood – because Holly would!”.

I was in tears!

Worst bit

It was a painfully real depiction of chronic loneliness; the existence of many human beings. It is a psychological affliction that can cause a lot of damage over time. I couldn’t stop thinking about the epigraph at the start of the novel, which quotes The Lonely City by Olivia Laing…

…the lonelier a person gets, the less adept they become at navigating social currents. Loneliness grows around them, like mould or fur, a prophylactic that inhibits contact, no matter how badly contact is desired. Loneliness is accretive, extending and perpetuating itself. Once it becomes impacted, it is by no means easy to dislodge.

Eleanor is one of the most judgmental and critical characters I have come across. But there is a genuine confusion about social norms that stems from her upbringing and this can be perceived as snobby criticism. I do agree with her confusion over the appeal of MacDonald’s though. There are so many layers to her loneliness and it takes someone who is willing persevere with kindness to dig through it.

What impacted me most

It made me think about how easily I might be put off by someone’s behaviour rather than giving second chances… and third chances… and fourth chances. We all desperately need connection and I know I can take my relationships for granted. I hope the next time I meet someone who is intensely lonely I won’t be easily rebuffed.

EO is fine.jpg