Wednesday 29 May 2013

Use it or lose it (your brain that is...)

Resting on my laurels, it’s been so insidious that I’ve barely noticed it happening, because it’s so lovely to be comfortable. After so long of not feeling comfortable, in my work, in my thought processes, I have indulged in the brilliance of laziness. I don’t mean physical laziness, in fact coincidentally I’ve been doing more exercise than usual recently, I mean metal laziness. It’s not that my new job is mindless, far from it, it’s quite cerebral at points, all logical thinking and problem solving. But I’m not being pushed to my limits anymore, the limits of my patience, limits of my temper, limits of my tiredness. The pressure is off. The pressure is finally off. I’m getting more sleep, more money, and whilst I wouldn’t change it for the world because the benefits of this change far outweigh the losses, I didn’t realise how much I was able to let those experiences fuel me, challenge me, make me think and re-appropriate. If this was reconciled by a challenging and interesting mental life outside of work then it would be balanced out, I would be being challenged and influenced in different and considerably less ulcer causing ways. But I’ve drawn myself into a trap. Because I can sleep more, I am sleeping more. Because I’m no longer faced with the boredom of commuting anymore, I’m not reading like I used to (despite a groaning pile of books waiting to be read next to my bedside.) I’m curling up in the evenings and watching programs that are comfortable and familiar (despite being awesome) and reality TV that does nothing to improve me and only makes me feel weirdly superior about my own life and choices (considerably less awesome viewing notably.) In short, in a mere six months, I’ve gone a bit soft. I’ve lost my edge.

It’s not drama I want, although I do imagine that I am bit institutionalised into dealing with it given my personal history, and please don’t think for a moment that I’m not grateful for and appreciative of every moment of calm and contentment. I know that you need to enjoy these windows whilst you can because the wheel keeps turning. But laziness of mind is a death sentence for a writer I’ve come to realise. You need the challenge and the change to fuel the fire.

Take the story I’m writing at the moment. I know my characters inside out and backwards, where they’ve been, what’s going to happen to them and I’ve written large parts of the story, but more of it remains in my head than on paper. I thought this procrastination was down to fear of failure, but it’s not that. I’m not writing this story for anyone but me, I’m excited by it and stand to lose nothing by completing it. No, this is a continuation of the comfy-sofa state of mind. There is no pressure there. There is no deadline for me to work towards so the task is stretching out onwards and into forever. This is where I get frustrated with myself. I have more time and opportunity to do what I want to do than I’ve had for the last five years and I’m not taking advantage of it. What am I doing? More to the point, what am I not doing?

I believe many people of my generation to suffer from this general malaise. It’s not that we’re not smart, or capable, it’s because we’re unfocused. With every thing to do we end up choosing nothing to do because we are not being galvanised one way or the other. Necessity is the mother of invention as they say, and without the necessity to strive for anything we carry on down the same well-trodden roads of experience. We’re letting short-term gain override the long-term goals. We’re so used to having everything now, at the click of button or the swipe of a card. We have a world of information at our fingertips and we don’t know what to Google. We don’t have to struggle to put a roof over our heads or food on the table so we don’t know what to buy. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done the struggling for food and the roof, for a long time, and whilst I wouldn’t want the anxiety of that ever again in my life (coppering up for a loaf of bread has no positives aspects to it) I didn’t realise at the time how clear it made my thinking, how strong it made my resolve to find creative outlets to detract from the stresses of that struggle. Once the pressure is off, the drive goes with it, or at least that seems to be the case for me. So what’s the solution here?

Like I said, I would never wish to be in a stressful situation to force that sort of pressure and ignition. I’m sure that life will continue to create new horribleness along the way and I have no desire to go looking for trouble. But I need to do two things. The first thing being that I need to seek out new ideas and challenges to my own ideas and world view. I need to read and watch and experience things that frighten me, excite me, anger me, repulse me, inspire me, upset me, move me and beguile me. This alone, however, is not enough, the second thing is that I need to, gulp, demonstrate some discipline. I need to motivate myself to achieve my goals, finish my story, stay in the moment and follow it through to completion rather than skipping around in my head to the next thing. Because I know that once I do it will enable me to do it more, it will build the synaptic connections in my head. I need to improve myself and keep doing so, not just keep wolfing down this popcorn for the soul, even though it’s sweet and salty in all the right places. Too much of a good thing saps the joy out of it anyway, that’s overexposure for you. So I need to expose myself to new things, not by taking silly risks or making daft decisions but by seeking out the subtle influences and differences that surround us all, all of the time, if you just choose to look for them. In doing that, I hope to work out who I really am, now that the pressure is off and I have room to breathe. I owe it to the breathless, far more anxious Chrissy of six months ago, to make the most of my opportunities and not waste them.

It’s okay to assume the crash position after a period of prolonged worry or discomfort, you just need to remember to get up again. We human beings are built in a manner whereby we learn and grow through experience, I just need to make sure that my experiences keep changing and my brain keeps being challenged and unsettled, and I keep growing. It’s the only way I’ll become the writer I want to be and the person I could be.

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