Consider the Cold Spot

8 Dec

By Rhea H. Boyden  

A city can be a wonderfully inspiring place to live-most of the time. As a writer you can observe all kinds of incredible things every day that can become the marrow of your next story. The way an old man sits sadly on a bench with his lip curled up can make you wonder about his day, and you can turn him into a character in your next story. Snippets of conversation overheard on the train between colourfully dressed hipsters can provide you with the first lines of a glittering dialogue that could go anywhere. Observe a strange building closely and then describe it in as much detail as possible, and you have the setting for your next scene. There is indeed so much exhilarating sensory overload the entire time, that you need to go somewhere peaceful to digest and decompose these images through your subconscious mind before you can sit down to write about them. So where does one go to get into this peaceful and meditative state?   Well, in Berlin there are a lot of lush parks which are fabulous in summer, but in winter I head to my heated swimming pool, followed by an even more heated sauna, and then I relax in the so-called “Himalaya Room”. This is a room with comfortable reclining chairs which face an entire illuminated wall of a Himalayan mountain landscape with an icy river meandering in the foreground. It is the perfect place to relax, doze and meditate about writing. Last week, however, I was rudely interrupted from my post-sauna reverie by not one, but two different tones of beeping noises. I sat up, irritated and groggy, and saw that the man to the left of me was fiddling with his iphone and the woman to the right of me was deeply engrossed in reading something on her ipad-with the sound turned on. Do they take them into the sauna with them too? I wondered. I got up and left the room, but the experience had already given me an idea for a new article. “Yes”, I thought. “I want to write about the importance of mobile, Facebook, twitter, chat and beep free zones as essential in certain public spaces in order to give people the space to meditate and give their overloaded brains a chance to recuperate. This is important for everybody, not only for writers and other creative people, but my focus here is particularly how important this is for people who have to work creatively. They need space from the incessant need to be turned on, plugged in and available.   In her recent article in The Sunday Times, Laura Atkinson talks about the importance of turning off your phone to recharge your creative energy. And she says that just switching your phone off for 3 hours over a long and leisurely dinner doesn’t count. You need to really switch off to unwind. She talks about the increasing blending of business and leisure -bleisure- as being stifling to creativity. These days, you can jump on a plane and fly to an exotic destination and the first thing you can enquire about at hotel reception is where the hotspot is, where you can get online, and where you can plug your laptop in to upload your beach photos of your adorable kids up onto Facebook within a few hours of deplaning. Atkinson says that in the future it will more likely be cold spots –places where there is no internet access- that will experience a sharper rise in demand as people become and more aware of the damaging and draining effects of always being switched on.   It seems there is already a demand for this. After polling 1,000 travellers about how they deal with the stresses and demands of always being digitally connected, Marriot Hotels are now offering tech-free zones to travelers in 9 resorts in Mexico and the Carribbean. These zones will offer tech-weary travelers a “braincation”- a chance to really unwind without their mobile gadgets. In these areas, guests can enjoy other leisure activities that don’t include any tech gadgets, and -what a revelation- will be encouraged to simply interact with the other real world individuals they encounter in these areas. This takes considerable willpower for some people who are addicted to their gadgets, but after a little practice they may find it quite lovely to spend the afternoon reading a real book instead of staring at an iphone for hours on end.   I have frequently felt irritated when my mobile gadgets fail to function while visiting my family in rural Ireland. I have often found myself wandering around our front lawn waving my phone around desperately seeking a signal to send a text message. Or I have had my phone upstairs in our house for days and have felt lonely and despondent when I don’t get a response to the many text messages I have been sending, only to find that 10 messages come in at once when I walk downstairs and out into the orchard with my phone. Clearly my bedroom was a nice cold spot.   “I don’t know how you function here with no broadband!” I used to moan to my dad. He just smiles at me and says “Welcome back to the cybersticks, it’s great isn’t it, you can really unwind here.” I used to find this unamusing and would continue to will my poor phone to work, but more recently I see the great value of going somewhere where my phone refuses to cooperate. I also remember being a young child snuggled in my bed, and hearing my dad in the next room typing away for hours into the night on his old typewriter. He was clearly happily lost in his work with no internet or phone to distract him.   When I left the pool the other evening, I resolved to come home, turn on my laptop, and only open my word document to write and not go online at all. I wanted to create a cold spot right in my living room, with no internet to distract me. I was thinking of my dad and his typewriter and serene and quiet space. Upon opening the door to my flat, however, I got more than I bargained for. I stared at my desk and saw that my laptop was gone. Burglars had created a very cold spot for me. Now, 24 hours later, after dealing with the mayhem of a break-in, I am now sitting at my desk calmly typing this article on an old laptop borrowed from a friend and I have no internet connection. Naturally, I am livid that my space has been invaded and my personal belongings stolen, but I could think of only one way of curing the pain I feel of being the victim of a burglary and that was to replace the lock to my front door, bolt it tight, make a fresh pot of coffee, and get lost in writing.     Of course, having your laptop stolen is an extreme method of being forced offline. If your laptop happens not to be stolen, then you must take other drastic measures yourself to make your workspace conducive to creativity. The successful music producer Illiam Gates shares his methods for success in his workshop “The Ill Methodology”. He says that if you plan on producing a track that day then you must pull the modem jack out of your wall and take the battery out of your phone and store it at the other end of your house. No exceptions. He states that our brains get crippled by over thinking and we must clear our minds of other noise if we want to get into the creative zone and get on fire creatively. We have to train our creative minds to stay in the right brain-which is the side of the brain from where most creative impulses stem- and become removed from the analytical noise of the left brain. The left brain functions are marvelous indeed for many a pursuit, but not when you want your actions to be clear of doubt and ego. When in the heat of composition you need to simply follow through and not analyse what you are doing or question it. You must follow your instincts and roll on the wave you have caught with no doubt to stop you. Illiam Gates talks about how society rewards and  encourages us to live in the left brain constantly analyzing, thinking, doubting, proscrastinating, doubting and thinking again. We are not encouraged to think outside the box in mainstream pursuits. Internet addiction and useless hours of staring at an iphone seem in some ways to be a combination of doubt and brain turning to mush at the same time, and ultimately not really achieving anything of any value in either the left or the right brain halves, but rather confusing and draining both.   Naturally some of us are more talented at right brain activities and others at left brain activities, but Illiam Gates surely has a point when he talks about left brain careers and activities being more rewarded in our society. Look at all the accountants, mathematicians and computer scientists in our society who are rewarded handsomely for their analytical skills.   In his novel ‘The Pale King’ David Foster Wallace ridicules his character Sylvanshine, who is a trainee accountant, for his petty way of over-analysing every situation and every outcome of every action he takes in the same manner a tax accountant can analyse cost and profit analysis in every situation. Foster Wallace himself was a tortured right brain genius who very much spent most of his time in the creative state of writing, feeling very much alienated from the rewards of the left brain analytical world. He had his incredible left brain talents too, being a superb tennis player, but he suffered severe depression and eventually committed suicide at age 46, but not before leaving us with a great dose of his opinions on modern society. It seems he could never shut his brain off.   Foster Wallace was extremely critical of many aspects of American society and he spoke the crystal truth of how he saw things. His views could not be denied even by many a left-brain conforming analyst. He was sent on the strangest journalistic assignments that seemed clearly, from the outset, not what the magazine had intended. His critical essay of the treatment of lobsters at the Maine Lobster Festival which was then published in Gourmet Magazine- does not contain a lovely recipe for how to prepare a lobster, but rather how he is loathsome of mass tourism and of the fact that lobsters are thrown live into a pot of boiling water to be cooked. One has to respect Gourmet magazine for thinking outside the box and publishing his whole article ‘Consider the Lobster’. Its publication was a marvelous surprise for the world of animal rights movements too-whose work, like many people who live in right brain endeavors are also not richly financially rewarded.   And what area of the brain are burglars using when they operate, and how analytical or creative are they when they are at work? It is an area I find too painful to even explore in depth at  this present time, but I would imagine that they use both halves marvelously when  at work, and I would also guess that they don’t care to have much down time or living in cold spots to meditate on the wonderful jobs they are doing. I can only guess that constant online access makes their jobs easier to coordinate. So while I sit here genuinely enjoying and making the most of my forced internet offline cold spot, I shudder to think what those burglars are now doing with my laptop and my data. I certainly do not want to torture myself too much and get overly analytical and doubtful and obsessive over it though, because it will only disturb the surprisingly easy-going and happy creative state I have somehow managed to work myself into within only 24 hours of a burglary, and I would rather wait until tomorrow to deal with it again when I will then be forced to unhappily deal with tedious, painful and analytical bureaucracy that is filing police reports and insurance claims. For now I am going to stay in my happy offline right brain activities making the most of it, away from the noise, images and beeps of the city and its gadgets.

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