What’s your go-to place for untangling mental puzzles?
Our pool closed last week for the season. Although a pool is, as my cousin-in-law memorably termed it, literally “a hole in the ground you throw money into,” I’m going to miss it during the long months ahead. I’m a big fan of swimming and drinking beer by the poolside (or in the pool), but actually my favorite thing to do in the pool is to think.
Last summer, as I was preparing to dredge my story The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley out of the virtual bottom drawer of my writing files and give it another go, I realized I had a lot of plot and character questions left unanswered. Why was a certain knife left in the woods, why was this character being pursued by the bad guys, what was the deal with that graffiti, and so on and so on. I struggled to answer many of these questions. I kept getting tangled up in my own story.
And then, as I floated around on an inner tube in the pool one day, the solutions and new ideas just started to flow. It wasn’t a battle anymore to think. It was easy. And all this untangling led to a pretty damn good finished product.
I used the same trick this summer when thinking of plot points and ideas, and solving potential dilemmas, for my upcoming project City of Ports / The Shadow Over Portsmouth (coming next year . . . sometime). This time I was drifting around on a giant float made to look like an ice cream sandwich, but the principle was the same. Get out in the middle of the water, a safe distance away from computers, smartphones, and even notebooks, and just . . . think.
Of course, you don’t need a pool to get some good thinking done! Pardon my first-worldliness here. The shower did the trick for me for years, and still does. I mean, that’s the cliche, and for good reason. Basically, I think you just need a space where you physically cannot turn to objects that will distract you. Your body must be isolated and/or occupied with a task. In that moment of deprivation, we can be free to explore our own neural networks and see what we can find.
The Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh talks about washing dishes as a form of meditation. He recommends that instead of focusing on the fact that washing dishes is a chore, you focus on the sensations of the act. As a means of bringing yourself into an awareness of the present moment. In a way, that’s the opposite of the creative thinking I’ve been talking about—it’s forcing your mind not to wander.
But I think we can draw a parallel here. Try to look at each episode in your life that involves non-connectivity—i.e., each task or situation that takes you away from the InterWebs—as an opportunity for mastering your own mind. Whether you’d like it to solve some creative problems, or to just become more in tune with the world around it.
I’ll continue to work on that myself. God knows I could use the practice! I’d love to hear about your favorite places to just think.
Event update: Part 1 of The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley has been getting great reviews. But I’ve still got a ways to go to raise awareness of the book. This week I made an appearance at the Portsmouth library Author Fair (NH). On Saturday, I will be at the Authors Booth at Hooksett Old Home Day (also NH). Maybe I’ll see you there!
Let me know your ideas for what else I should do to toot the proverbial horn about Mark Huntley. And Player Choice too, for that matter!