The Power of Rest
It rained for a week and then it was hot for a week and in Michigan, that means the grass is long and it’s humid. Hard hit baseballs roll ten feet before stopping and running to first is enough work for one day. But at Maplewood¹ there’s no comfort to be found inside in the summer. One window air conditioner made for a 100 square foot bedroom has been set to cool an entire house and is only noticeable if your body is pressed against it. The cats lay on the linoleum and tile and don’t bother getting up when you walk by. Ceiling fans push hot air in circles. It’s 93 degrees outside, but sometimes there’s a breeze and that’s enough to make it more pleasant than the living room.
Three weeks ago I ‘rung [my] bell pretty good,’ which is doctor for severe-ish concussion. This meant tv, reading, writing, gaming, jogging, jumping, lifting, mowing, living were out of the question. No work either. Like really, honestly no work. You know when you go on vacation and check your inbox occasionally to reassure yourself that everything will be okay when you get back? Even that was out. What does one do with that kind of uninterrupted, raw, distractionless kind of time? One rests. One naps. One learns to patch holes in walls. One gets scolded for using a power sander. One recovers.
Concussions can be found in the family tree of invisible ailments. A cousin to depression and anxiety, which are, obnoxiously, symptoms of a concussion. If you break your arm, your cast tells people that you’re injured. With a closed head injury, you might find yourself warning everyone you interact with that you had said injury. That if you pause for a long time in the middle of a sentence, to just be patient until the words are found and the thought completed. You might leave the house after being alone all day with fingers wrapped in band-aids because your hands are unsteady and you were working with a hammer, because you were bored out of your mind and what else is there to do. And when writers aren’t allowed to write, or worse, don’t have the mental capacity to write, they get irritable and get out the toolbox and teach themselves how to fix things they’ve never fixed and maybe break things too.
But two weeks of rest can work wonders. It can help the neck to heal from the whiplash and the brain to heal from the thud against the skull. And it can help the brain to heal from the abuse of living in 2018. The screens, the push notifications, the email, the ringing and vibrating and begging for your attention. While I don’t recommend getting a concussion, it does provide the perfect excuse for dropping off the grid. An away message stating you’re on vacation means little these days. But healing from a brain injury in the age of learning about all the scary and potentially long-term side effects gives you an out. No questions asked (rightfully so).
Back to the 93 degree, humid as hell Michigan summer day. I mentioned the grass was long. Did I mention the two rolling acres? Or the dead riding lawn mower? No sweat. That’s a lie. Lots of sweat. Hot, sticky, salty, burning the eyes kind of sweat. But no worries. I had been waiting to mow for three weeks so I excitedly fired up the push mower the day before Ashley and I agreed I should give some physical activity a try. I mowed and mowed and dumped the bag (who wants grass clippings all over the lawn?), and filled up the gas and mowed some more. I’m sorry it took so long to get to this part, but here we are now and I can finally describe how much joy walking around the yard brought the writer in me. With a mostly healed brain and hours of mindless work, the ideas came to life, growing like grass after a week of rain and week of sun. Ideas about unwritten books, about lines and plot twists, about illustrations. All things an author hopes to have ideas about.
Children will inevitably ask where I get my ideas when I’m visiting their school. Sometimes the teachers ask too. Books, movies, songs, video games, people I observe, etc, I tell them. And that’s true. Sometimes a single word can result in an interesting book title and eventually a complete book. But often it’s not until the brain has gone idle that the ideas come together. Once upon a time, that was during my hour commute from Linden, MI to MSU and then back. Now, in a life kept busy by all the things, mowing is my commute. The brain winds down. The phone’s chime can’t be heard over the motor. The kids mostly can’t be heard. And suddenly unsolvable problems are solvable. Writer’s block is unblocked.
The point of this longer than recommended blog post is that we’re all long overdue for a rest. It took me getting a concussion to realize just how badly I needed it. If you’re a writer, I promise it will help you writer. If you’re not a writer, I promise it will help you do whatever it is you do.
In one of those life is weird moments, I was listening to TED Radio Hour while thinking about how best to write this blog. One of the talks highlighted is called “How Boredom Can Lead to Your Most Brilliant Ideas.” It’s worth a viewing: https://www.ted.com/talks/manoush_zomorodi_how_boredom_can_lead_to_your_most_brilliant_ideas
*Special thanks to the Lock family for the concussion helmet and photo!
*Super special thanks to Ashley for making me rest properly!