Thursday, April 12, 2012

Write or Sleep? It Depends on the Chair

I composed this masterpiece one day a few weeks ago, sitting in a recliner with the laptop on my lap. It afforded me a short walk down memory lane, thinking of my typing teacher at Fairhope High School (Miss Thomas), and the buns-numbingly boring job of calling out individual letters of the alphabet for the class to translate into keystrokes on paper. She was a nice lady and I possess one of my few useful skill thanks to her efforts.

But I couldn't turn it into a blog, or a poem, or anything else useful. Reclining in the La-Z-Boy, with two dogs sharing my lap with the laptop, the old typing exercise didn't cause the juices of creativity to come gushing out. In fact, shortly after composing "asdfjkl;," I think I dozed off.

A few days later I was stationed across the family room in my overstuffed chair, with a dog in my lap, a dog on the ottoman and the laptop perched awkwardly on the edge of the chest next to me. At my feet lay another dog, next to my sewing basket. A pouch containing supplies for a much-needed manicure sat on top of a huge stack of books I'm supposedly reading. Surrounded by so many competing interests, I sat with my blog composition page open for several minutes, before typing this:

"You will not make me do that. There is no way you can make me do that. Under no circumstances will you force me to do that."

For some reason, that paragraph was one I always practiced before typing tests. I don't know where it came from, but after 30 years it just sprung from my fingertips.

It's pleasant to type, but it makes for a pretty dull blog entry. Unsure of what to do next, I think I took a short nap.

Inspiration is a fleeting thing. Some days, I have to open five or six tabs to handle all the writing ideas I have. Other days are just "asdfjkl;" days. Sometimes I'm distracted by my surroundings, other days I'm distracted by my thoughts, and occasionally (but not often), I have something better to do than sit at the computer.

A couple of weeks ago, I was working on an idea for a blog that I submitted to a website. I was very excited at the opportunity to write for a different audience, one full of strangers who aren't already tired of my schtick. I put myself under lots of unnecessary pressure and yelled at people and dogs who tried to talk to me while I "worked." I finally moved upstairs to the big library desk in my bedroom. Sitting on a hard wooden desk chair, I quickly made several pages of hand-written notes, gathered some pictures and began to write the piece, beginning to end, until I was done.

A few days later, I sat down to start selecting blogs for editing to go in a collection for a book. Mary and Camille were both writing on their respective computers in the living room, so I decided to set up shop in a huge, overstuffed chair we have in there. I wanted to chat with the girls while I worked, since we were planning spring break activities. I got a comfy blanket, a cup of decaf , a dog to warm my feet, my laptop and a notebook. Not only did I not get any work done, I don't think I talked much to the girls, and I also fell asleep there and spent the entire night, fully clothed, upright, my laptop keeping me warm in that cushy chair.

While I was in Virginia on spring break, I took my trusty notebook and favorite pen out on the deck of the rental house. The beautiful scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounded me, there was a light breeze, the sun was warm overhead, and I had an Adirondack chair and stool set up to enjoy the vista. I made some notes about our vacation activities up to that point, watched some bird activity through the binoculars, ate a cup of yogurt, and pondered blog topics. The combination of physical relaxation and mental effort made my eyes close, and soon I guessed it...napping.

This pattern has been emerging for months now probably evident if I'd been paying attention. I make a plan to do some writing, get nice and comfortable, and then don't write, because I haven't figured out how to write in my sleep. I think I've figured out the culprit in my occasional writer's block:

Comfortable chairs

The last few days I've been very productive. I've worked on several of my long-term commitment projects, set up my new blog, and cranked out a few pieces I've been working on for weeks. I've done all this writing at my kitchen counter, on a straight-back barstool with a small cushion. The laptop doesn't sit on my lap, but on the counter, and my feet aren't pointing at the ceiling, they are underneath me, perched on rungs and cold from lack of dog heat.

I think it is ironic that it took me this long to realize that what applies to others should apply to me as well. I encourage my kids to do their homework at a table or desk, with minimal distractions, with an attitude of attentiveness and a goal of getting it done. Why did I think I could undertake the "job" of being a writer slumped in a club chair, covered in animals?

My new approach will be to use each of my comfortable chairs for specific activities. The club chair is ideal for reading and sewing. The recliners are nice for watching TV. The overstuffed chair is perfectly situated for visiting with the girls in the evening, away from the kitchen and the TV.

And my current perch, the kitchen island, allows for quiet background music, monitoring the progress of the meal I'm cooking, and offers a view of the kitchen sink, some streaky windows and the gorgeous expanse of my backyard.

I think this spot works for me.

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