By PJ Parrish
I’ve been having a bad time of late trying to get in a writing mood. It was really getting me down and I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why. I’m up in my Michigan home now, far from the heat waves. It’s 70 degrees and the only thing I can hear is birdsong and the sweet wheeze of my dog Archie snoring at my side.
So what is wrong? I should be rolling on the WIP. But no. I am trolling Marketplace looking for a bookcase. I am researching air fares to Italy. I am doing Wordle and old crosswords. I’m hanging out on Spelling Bee, hellbent to get to Queen Bee status. And spending way too much time on Facebook salvating over people’s dinners, watching three German Shepherds tasting hooman food, and being jealous of other writers’ success.
There I said it. Yeah, I’m hooman.
The other day, I saw a Facebook post from my friend Joseph Finder. I like Joe a lot. We’ve been on panels together. He writes good books that sell really well. He’s a really nice guy. But this photo at left that he posted the other day made me want to…heck, I don’t know what. This is Joe’s writing office. It’s perfect. How would someone NOT get inspired sitting in a place like that? Why can’t I have a writing house like that? Maybe I’ll go up to Cape Cod and TP his…
But then I realized that even if I had a cool writer’s shed like his, it wouldn’t make any differennce. Because my problem is not where I AM when I try to write. It is where MY HEAD IS when I try to write.
And that led me to realize something important: The world is too much with me. (Apologies to William Wordsworth). I need to find what Joe has — but within myself. I need to re-find quietude and solitude. I need my hurly-burly brain to calm down before something creative can start growing there again.
There’s a lot of talk these days about how many of us are trying to find a way to wean ourselves off our phones and social media. Here in my small northern Michigan town, the school board bucked high schoolers and some parents and banned phones from the classrooms. (Guess who didn’t object? Teachers, grade-school kids and middle-schoolers). We know we have to turn off the TV, ignore the cable Babel, stay away from Facebook, Instagram and whatever Musk is calling his enterprise these days.
Sometimes things come your way in weird ways just when you need them. When I was rummaging around Facebook the other day, wasting precious time, I ran across an old article called The Bliss Station. In it, writer Auston Kelon advocates for making “a daily appointment to disconnect from the world so that we can connect with ourselves.”
He quotes Josoeph Campbell in The Power of Myth:
You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.
I really love this idea. Sure, a fine Finder office is nice. Yeah, a she-shed with a mini-fridge stocked with fume blanc would be nice. But as Kleon points out, this isn’t about having the right PHYSICAL space. It’s about creating the right MENTAL space. From his article:
The deluxe package would be having both a special room and a special hour that you go to it, but we started wondering whether one would make up for not having the other.
For example, say you have a tiny apartment that you share with small children. There’s no room for your bliss station, there’s only time: When the kids are asleep or at school or day care, even a kitchen table can be turned into a bliss station.
Or, say your schedule is totally unpredictable, and a certain time of day can’t be relied upon — that’s when a dedicated space that’s ready for you at any time will come in handy.
Kleon himself admits that his “time vampire” is turning on his phone first thing every morning. “The easiest way I get my feelings hurt is by turning on my phone first thing in the morning. And even on the rare occasion I don’t get my feelings hurt, my time is gone and my brains are scrambled.”
Again, to repeat: What’s needed is that we make a daily appointment to disconnect from the world so that we can connect with ourselves.
Back to “The World Is Too Much With Us.” Wordsworth’s words are worth heeding. He wrote the poem during the First Industrial Revolution, when technological innovation was transforming 18th century life. He was saddened by the mad rush from one new thing to the next, and said we had lost our ability to find tranquility in nature.
So, no advice tacked on here today. I haven’t got any. And I don’t think any of you need it. In your hearts, you know what you need to do to find your own Bliss Station. It’s a stunning morning up here in Michigan. I am going to go talk a long walk in the woods (no ear-bud music, please) then come back and try again.