O Angelina

A Girl and Her Dog: Living, Loving, & Enjoying the Little Things

The Benefits of Spacing Out

For My Students, WritingAngelina OberdanComment

Or Mental Downtime is a Real Thing 

Sometimes, I think of my brain as a collection drawer like the one that I had when I was seven in my pop's house and that I filled with micah and cicada husks and anything beautiful. Fortunately, my collection drawer is subconscious, and when I write, I use my treasures from this collection and then I trust the writing and the poem (like Frost recommends in his "The Figure a Poem Makes.") 

This means I'm not good at sitting down in my kitchen office to write with a purpose. Don't get me wrong; I write as often as possible. I have train my brain to remember the woman riding her horse and walking her Irish Wolfhound, and I have to practice being precise, finding a sentence's rhythm, and making a line. But also, in the moment of writing, I think of nothing outside of the poem. (And maybe that's why both being a writer and an athlete make sense to me and why I enjoy them: they both are most successful in moments of singular concentration.) 

I'm not just making an excuse for my inability to write timely poetry--don't worry, ya'll, "fusty" will be in a poem sooner or later--, but I'm fascinated by the idea of allowing ourselves some time to not think; we are so busy, and we want to check things off our lists, but according to Ferris Jabr's recent article in Scientific American,  "Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime" (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=mental-downtime), we need to forgive ourselves for spacing out before (or while) we accomplish everything we've prioritized. Apparently, studies have tested how much work our brains are doing during mental downtime or while we're "mind-wandering." According to Jabr:

  • While mind-wandering, we replay conversations we had earlier that day, rewriting our verbal blunders as a way of learning to avoid them in the future. We craft fictional dialogue to practice standing up to someone who intimidates us or to reap the satisfaction of an imaginary harangue against someone who wronged us. We shuffle through all those neglected mental post-it notes listing half-finished projects and we mull over the aspects of our lives with which we are most dissatisfied, searching for solutions. We sink into scenes from childhood and catapult ourselves into different hypothetical futures. And we subject ourselves to a kind of moral performance review, questioning how we have treated others lately. These moments of introspection are also one way we form a sense of self, which is essentially a story we continually tell ourselves.

So just as it makes sense for us to rest our muscles so that they can rebuild, we should rest our brains so that they can understand. This means, my friends, that when you're tired from teaching all day, or grading a million papers, or staring at your computer at work, or drawing buildings with AutoCAD, or reading great literature, you have a good excuse to be worn out.

Trust your inner collection drawer, and space out for a little while.