Re: How to Clear One’s Mind

I would like to let all the lovely web bots and lonely souls who post spam comments to my blog know that, even if I don’t allow the comments to become visible to the public, I do read every one of them. I’m very touched by the high esteem in which you hold my writing, though you might want to try and make it seem a bit more like you actually read the blog post on which you are commenting. Today I received a particularly interesting comment that I would actually like to respond to:

First of all I would like to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior
to writing. I have had a hard time clearing my mind
in getting my ideas out. I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first
10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost just trying to
figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints? Thanks!

This comment happened to be in response to my recent post, PANIC!!!, in which I hope I conveyed a sense of, well, panic in the tone of my writing. In the case of that particular post – as well as most of the ones about my actual life experiences, dilemmas, and emotions – writing the post was my process of centering myself and clearing my mind.

I often begin my posts with a strong sense of what I want to express in writing, but no idea what words I’ll use or where the post might go. I pretty much just start typing. I like to write because it forces the thoughts to “get in line;” only one can come out at a time and first they have to form themselves into remotely-coherent English sentences. Writing is the process through which I get the jumbled mess of nebulous thoughts and conflicting emotions out into a form where I can literally look at them. It’s like looking in the mirror, except that instead of freaking out over a new zit I can enable my rational mind to process all the important information my emotional self is trying but failing to communicate to it.

I read and re-read each post several times during the process of writing. I edit as I read – I catch and have the opportunity to fix typos and grammatical errors that way. I also take the opportunity to re-word sentences so they will be easier to read and understand, and so they can more accurately convey whatever I’m trying to express through them.

The reading and re-reading of the post as I’m writing also serves to center my thoughts – again, as I’m writing. It’s part anxiety management, part a reminder of what I’ve written so far and where I’m going, part how I make sure that the post is coherent. I’ve re-read this post several times, now, so I know that it’s been about my writing process and not about, say, cheese. I also have a strong sense of the tone I’ve been using, so I can continue to use it for the remainder of the post.

My experience of written language is almost identical to my experience of spoken language, the only real difference being that with written language I have to see the words with my eyes before I get to “hear” them in my head. Similarly, while I am writing, I hear the words in my head instead of with my ears and move my fingers instead of my mouth to share them with the world. The biggest difference between spoken and written language is that it’s easier to remember what I wrote – I can read it! – and I have a chance to edit it before anyone else gets to read it. Once the spoken words are said they’ve been said, they can’t be taken back, and we might disagree on what they were.

I believe that the way I experience written language gives me a significant advantage when it comes to reading – and especially writing. Both processes come very naturally to me; sometimes they are actually easier than spoken conversation! (If nothing else, interruptions are less likely to mean I never get to make my real point.)

That said, I do also find it helpful to read the post aloud. Reading a post aloud helps make its content feel more real to me and to center my thoughts around the topic. I also find I can express my emotions better through the inflection of my voice. Sometimes I even become more aware of my emotions when I hear myself: “Wow, I sound really angry! I must be angry! Who knew?”

The process is a bit different if I’m writing on a more academic subject, whether for school or in a post like The Complexities of Language, Gender, and Identity. Then I need to do research – to learn what others have written about the topic, organize all the different ideas, think critically, and respond to them.

I tend to organize my own thoughts through – not prior to – writing. That said, it helps to start with a clearer sense of what points I want to make, what information backs them up, and where I got that information. I like to start papers – such as the one I’m procrastinating by writing this post instead – by creating the Works Cited / References page. That makes it easier to keep track of what sources I’m using and to cite them in the actual paper because I already have a handy list, complete with the authors’ last names. Sometimes I’ll make an outline, even if it’s just a basic list of topics to cover. In the case of “Complexities” (link above), I actually wrote a first draft. If an assignment for school requires a clear thesis, I might wait to write it and/or the introductory paragraph until after I’ve used the process of writing the rest of the paper to fully organize my thoughts.

Finally, popcorn works wonders. Settle in with a nice large bag – or three! – and start munching. Just try not to get too much grease (or crumbs) on the keyboard.

Insomnia

So, here I am at the end of a fairly productive day. I completed not one, but TWO assignments for my online class! They were a nice challenge; I definitely learned some things. I’m kinda looking forward to, kinda apprehensive about taking on the next assignment challenge! In my mind, that’s a good place to be.

I also acquired groceries, spent time with my rats (one of whom was surprisingly cuddly – at least for a short while), and played The Sims 3 responsibly. By which I mean I played for a handful of hours, then decided I’d reached a good stopping point and went off to do something else. I’m looking forward to picking up where I left off, but I don’t feel any particular urgency.

I was even able to take a bath without my mind wandering off into horrible, dangerous thoughts.

Fast forward to the present; I’m sitting here thinking, now what? The clock is telling me it’s time to sleep but I don’t really feel like it. In a way I feel like I haven’t really started my day – I haven’t exactly done any physical activity. Maybe that’s my problem, I need to exercise. Then my body will feel like I’ve done something today and decide it’s ready to sleep. Maybe my mind will follow suit.

Of course, right now exercising is the last thing I want to do. That tends to be how I feel most of the time – otherwise, I’d actually do it! In fact, given the choice between exercise and sleep, my body and mind seem ready to choose sleep. Well, if that’s what it takes to overcome my insomnia …

I think what it comes down to is that I’m afraid. If I stay awake, I can be pretty sure I can predict what will happen. I’ll do … whatever I want. I might be tired, maybe anxious, maybe sad. Okay, I’m used to those emotions, I can deal with them. Who knows? I might be happy! It’s nice and quiet. Maybe I can even be creative. It’s been a while since I’ve drawn or colored or improvised.

If I go to sleep … when I let my guard down the darkness starts to creep in. I feel anxious and it takes a while for my body to relax. I have bad dreams.

Dreams where the rules that govern reality don’t apply. In reality if I have an irrational fear I can use my understanding of logic and science to talk myself out of it. The empirical evidence usually supports this calming self-talk. Usually.

In dreams the fear manifests as something that my dream-self thinks is real; in that moment, it poses a real threat to me. For example, the “badly drawn babies with sharp teeth” in my previous post really had the potential to devour me if I did not get away! Even when I think I’ve woken up, often it’s just a dream-within-a-dream. Maybe the new reality is better, maybe it’s worse. It’s probably just as dangerous.

And when I finally do wake up, I feel groggy and drowsy. I don’t want to face reality. My dreams often haunt me, weighing on my mind. Sometimes I feel like I left something unfinished. The worst is when my dream-self was interacting with a loved one who really died, but in my dream they’ve just been gone for a while. When my waking-self remembers that said loved one is dead, it’s like a stab in the heart. I don’t know when I’ll get to see them again, and I probably won’t have any control over what I do or say next time we meet.

To say I’m going back and forth between dreams and reality is a bit misleading. It feels more like I’m moving between or among realities. Who’s to say that this one is any more real than the dream worlds? Sometimes the dreams feel more real.

To make matters worse, if I go to sleep, inevitably I’ll have to wake up again in this reality. Then, some unknown amount of time will have passed – time that I could have spent doing, I don’t know, something.

I’ll probably wake up less able to deal with reality than I am now. I’ll probably be haunted by bad dreams. Who knows what will be happening? It could be anything! My mother might want to impose on me before I’ve had a chance to put my guard up or, you know, eat something. I’ll have to face the uncertainty of feeling like I should do something useful with my time, but lack the motivation or energy or organization. There could be some disaster happening …

I think I’ve made my point. Going to sleep is scary because I don’t know what I’ll have to face in my dreams. Waking up is scary because then I have to deal with reality when I’ve just woken up and who knows what I’ll wake up into. I’d rather just deal with one reality full time instead of switching back and forth and having to adjust after each transition.

So I keep trying to think of things to do, anything but sleep. Lately it’s been The Sims 3. It just dawned on me that going through stuff and cleaning might actually be useful. I’ve probably made this blog post longer than it needs to be because writing is a viable alternative to sleep. Maybe I should try writing fiction. Or another poem? Or maybe one of the other posts that’s been sitting on the back burner …

Nightmare

It’s time
To take the final exam
But I missed the review
Didn’t study!

And I don’t even
Have the right test
Somehow it’s late
I can’t concentrate

My mind
Has turned
To mush

Let’s coordinate!
A dual wedding
Two couples, two ceremonies
One reception

But you’ve already been married and
Our bridal parties are too big and
Our ceremony is already long and
We don’t want to compromise!

Seeing through the eyes
Of a foster child
He tries to explain his life
To a family
That will never accept him

“Down the toilets there is a world
Inexplicably sad and scary”
And I travel down past
Real excrement into

The excrement of the mind where
Everything is red static and
Badly drawn babies with sharp teeth
Fly at me; try to eat

And I try to run away
But everything is spinning
Warping into ellipses
Stretching, rotating sideways

Even when I think I am awake!
There is no escape!
Forever doomed to wander
This red world