I write best when I think.
But if life crowds out anything, it’s time to just think. I find myself holding all these gadgets that offer so many things to do and ways to lose track of time with mind-numbing simplicity that my brain often goes hours a day without doing much of anything I consider important.
Digital drugs, I call them. Like most of the world I see, they can quickly shift from useful tool to crack-like addiction.
So what’s all this have to do with writing? Because I haven’t been writing as well as I can. More importantly I haven’t been writing as well as I need to in order to accomplish my two writing goals: 1) pay the rent each month, and 2) write books that people actually read.
I was having coffee recently with a mentor where I languished over what I was supposed to do with my life. I had spent so little time thinking, I was mostly in knots. I felt out of sorts, out of kilter, off target … like one of those map gadgets that says “location can’t be determined.”
She reminded me of a Frederick Buechner quote from a book I read decades ago: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
I’m not sure my writing is exactly what the world’s deep hunger yearns for, but it’s about as close as I ever get. I started thinking why I wasn’t writing about these things, because writing is my deepest gladness. I recognized I wasn’t writing enough about what I wanted to write. Paying the rent had dominated and my deep gladness had suffered.
But to write what I wanted requires thinking, another thing lost in the shuffle of time. Like a cat chasing my tail I circled around and around these thoughts aware that I wasn’t really getting anywhere. Not thinking is like that. It’s full of motion that accomplishes little. Thinking, I have found, is more stillness with far more recognizable results.
So thank goodness into the cacophony of my mindlessness I agreed to help my daughter and future son-in-law fix up their yard. I arrived to great piles of debris and the change to do some real hoof-to-head wellness work that had been lacking in my life.
For four days I hardly held a gadget. For four days I worked. I hauled logs, raked dirt, burnt slash and cleaned trash.
In the midst of all that labor I took a bunch of dirt and rocks and made them a pond, which I have found is about the most alluring little place to do nothing but stop and think.
As I worked, I thought. My mind was not hyper like the cat/tail, but calm and focused in contrast to growing physical fatigue.
One thought that kept returning: balance. We live on a spinning sphere both figuratively and literally, so it makes sense that a great and ever-present challenge is to stay in balance. A cell phone is handy, but excessively it can erode your ability to connect with others. A computer is necessary for work, but excessively it can replace healthy activity. Working to the pay rent is responsible, but working too much can become an ego-building obsession.
Four days with dirt and rocks reminded me of other talents I have, artistic expression that is not just time at a computer banging keys much like I’m doing right now. It reminded me of muscles I like to use and brainpower that demands attention to stay oiled and creativity that results in something pretty.
Ironically, my daughter’s family is having the same struggle with imbalance. Theirs is the opposite. They have a new home and with it a fierce desire to make it perfect. The project list is long and all-consuming. They are wearing out with work, badly in need of some down time that may well be doing little more than looking at gadgets for a while.
What we do is often amoral. It’s purpose and value comes from how we do it and what its results are and how it all stitches together in a balanced fabric of our selfhood.
I’d just been too busy to think about such things until I got busy doing things that gave me time to think. Infused with thoughts, I look forward to writing and reconnected to that deep gladness of my life with a faint hope that such words might also skitter across the lake of the world’s great need.