It has been 12 days since the last post, but it is not for lack of effort. There are several half-finished drafts of entries ranging from the illusion of U.S. oil independence to the inadequacy of the Hatch Act (restrictions on political activity by federal officials) to loss of another close friend. The one thing I have made no effort to write about is the current health crisis. Why? Because I do not want to waste your time pontificating about something about which I know little or cannot add value to the conversation. (Donald Trump, are you listening?) Perhaps it is a corollary to Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer.”
Dr. ESP’s Brevity Prayer
Grant me the time and clarity to opine on topics about which I actually know something,
the humility to step aside to make room when there are others who know more than I do,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Useful, but it did not explain my inability, for almost two weeks, to replicate the routine by which I could previously wake up, grab a mug of coffee, check the news, then sit down at the keyboard and knock out a new post in a couple of hours. The topics were there. What I was missing were the metaphors and connections between seemingly unrelated information that provided lucidity and insight or a different perspective on the subject du jour.
The answer came yesterday during a “just checking in” phone call to a cousin. During the conversation, he mentioned how he had not been able to do crossword puzzles, something he would enjoy while practicing social distancing. There it was. Not only was the health crisis depriving us all of things we liked to do in groups, e.g. go to dinner with friends or go to concerts, it also had the capacity to rob us of the things we enjoy doing alone. My problem was not writer’s block, it was total mental block.
In my book ImagineIt!, I start the chapter about the physiology of creativity, titled “Your Creative Hardware,” with a quote from the late Erma Bombeck.
I have a theory about the human mind. A brain is a lot like a computer. It will only take so many facts, and then it will go on overload and blow up.
In hindsight, that was the case with my most recent blogging sessions. Previously, when I was focused on the topic at hand, every keyboard stroke created an untraveled road map with many paths. Each word or phrase was not an end, but a beginning of the next leg of a journey of discovery. If I follow that thought, where might it take me? What if I abide by Robert Frost’s recommendation and take the “road less traveled,” eschewing conventional wisdom for the counter-intuitive option?
It was now clear that even if the coronavirus had not infected my body, it had invaded my mind. To pick up on the road map metaphor, before I had a chance to get back on the highway, I had the urge to pull over and make sure everything else was okay. Was there enough food in the house? Had I contacted everyone who needed an update on a postponed activity? Was my slight cough just the usual pollen allergy or something more serious? As my brain overloaded, per Erma Bombeck, I stepped away from the car and never completed my quest.
But as we are more than aware from our experience with COVID-19, making the potential victims aware of the danger and expecting them to do everything they can to avoid contamination are two different things. And compared to what it takes to inoculate oneself from the mental effects of this pandemic, physical distancing is a six-feet-apart walk in the park.
On occasion in my Imagination and Entrepreneurship class at Miami University, I would ask my students to close their eyes and think about nothing for five minutes. The goal was to get the class to leave everything else outside the room. And as they practiced and became more proficient at the art of not thinking, the realized it was about personal control. While they could not determine every aspect of their life, the could regulate the extent to which certain responsibilities or obligations invaded their personal time.
So, when you find yourself unable to focus on a task, even if it as inconsequential as reading a trashy novel, finishing a jigsaw puzzle or enjoying a movie, take a few minutes to check the mental distance between yourself and what’s happening around you. Unlike social (aka physical) distancing, you are not dependent on anyone else’s cooperation. It is solely between you and your own mind.
For what it’s worth.