I suppose if you’re writing a book about wasting time, empty spaces, messing around and doing nothing at all it goes without saying that you need to waste time, gaze into space, mess about and do nothing at all. I spent most of my day today watching ants.
Not 100% true. It’s finished in the sense that I hit the required word count, very mechanical, but it still needs a very big polish. The image above is London, which I’m finding far more condusive to writing. Weirdly, less distractions. Or maybe it’s the right kind of distractions. I can go into the fray or withdraw from it. In the country it’s almost too quiet and the famous flying dog* can drive me nuts. I’m seriously thinking of taking a week off and going to Greece on my own to do the final edit.
* Maybe I didn’t mention this? He jumped out of an upstairs window a few weeks back. Maybe that’s another book? The Day the Dog Jumped Out of the Window.
This sits alongside my last post, perhaps.
I’m looking out of a window at 39,000 feet thinking about what the lack of oxygen outside might be doing to my brain. I’m wondering why my mind is wandering and puzzling how it’s possible that the altitude, or perhaps it’s the expansive horizon, is elevating my thinking. I’m also questioning why I never think like this when I’m frantically searching for a parking space at the Heston Motorway Services (Eastbound), on a modestly miserable Monday.
Astronauts have reported similar feelings of wonderment and even bewilderment looking back at the earth from higher up in space. Indeed, there’s a phrase for this shift in perception – it’s called the overview effect and describes how daily distractions disappear when viewed from such an elevated perspective. One can rise above any inconsequential thoughts and see everything as being connected to everything else, at which point one can glimpse the faint reflection of human continuity. The vastness of space somehow makes people feel simultaneously special and totally irrelevant. This can induce feelings of serenity or absolute panic. Some astronauts have even found God floating 500 kilometres above the earth’s surface.
I spend a lot of time on planes. Given the right combination of seat number, seat incline and flight time, thoughts like these occur with scheduled regularity. My best guess is that it’s because there’s a certain level of disconnection at 39,000 feet. I am often alone too, and while other passengers could use digital devices to make calls or send emails on planes, most generally don’t. Planes are among the last sacred spaces, places where people instinctively feel that any linear silence or mental privacy should be preserved.
There is also the thought that you cannot get off. Once aboard, you have to tightly fasten your seat belt and surrender yourself to this truth. This constraint can result in a certain calmness, which some people cite as being a prerequisite for fresh thinking. There is simply less we can do at 39,000 feet. This means we can think more about where we’ve been or where we are going in a physical and metaphysical sense. “If you want to change where you’re at, you have to change where you’re at” as a friend of mine once said.
I’m out of the office. Well, I’m away from my usual office at any rate. I’m writing and my mind has wandered off into the distance to consider how a room, or a view at least, can impact how one thinks or what one writes. I just searched ‘writers’ rooms’ and got this load of clutter below. I’m not sure I could write surrounded by that much distraction. On the other hand clutter can result in accidental combinations of information so perhaps what you really need is both. You need clutter to input random information and then emptyness to start connecting them in novel ways.
Something I wrote for Fast Company 14 years ago (!!!) about the relationship between spaces and ideas here.