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Reading Heals the Mind

Some random thoughts (and I do mean random):

First, I just woke up from a dream, a wacky though relaxing dream about finding a low-pressure (!) publishing job in Austin. The details of this dream aren’t worth mentioning (I’m convinced that dreams are dull to everyone except the person having it), but all the time I was hearing this mindless melody go over and over again. Upon waking, I realized that the melody came from one of those exercise videos I was always using. Thinking over it a bit, I realize I’ve been humming a lot of those tunes. They aren’t remarkable tunes, but a little catchy, plus they really aid in getting through the workout. It’s no secret that my favorite exercise vids are also the ones with the most lively melodies.

Second, I’m now going to attest to the value of buying a good ergonomic chair. For years I’ve been bothered by carpal tunnel syndrome; I’ve abused chairs to death and found them uncomfortable (the same used to happen with beds; it’s a really long story). I quit my job last February and determined to stay within a budget. But then my chair just started driving me crazy. And I thought–gosh, I spend so much time in front of a computer screen; I can’t skimp on a computer chair. So I went to Office Depot and bought a chair for some ridiculous price; I think it was $250, or maybe a little higher. The labels had various ratings according to amount of use. Some were recommended for 1-2 hours of use; others for 4-5 hours of use; this one was rated for the longest (8-9 hours of use). A year later, I am happy to report that this chair was one of the smartest investments I’ve made. It almost totally eliminated my discomfort, plus I am better able to focus on work and less on smart posture or other extraneous things. The chair has more adjustments than any other chair I’ve been on (even at my job). If you really want to know the brand of chair, I suppose I could look it up, but it’s probably more important to hear a testimonial about buying a high-end chair. There are times when I’ll spend 10-12 hours (or more) seated on this chair either reading or doing work or web surfing. Sitting in this chair makes me more alert, more eager to work.

Last night, I knew I had a lot of work to do–and truly I’m falling behind, but my mind was frazzled; yesterday was a waste of a day; I had an urgent technical issue I needed to solve yesterday morning, and the day went off course from there. At night I watched a little TV and tried several times to get back to my work. But even though I was sitting down and staring at my computer screen (I was “posing for holy cards,” as my high school Latin teacher used to say), I was actually just wasting time. And watching TV didn’t help. It stimulated my mind unnecessarily. Finally, I went upstairs and read a chapter or two from a random book (Marco Vassi’s Stoned Apocalypse) and drifted off to sleep. Now I am awake, and I just wanted to say how restorative that simple reading time-out turned out to be. Reading heals the mind. Really. I used to read a lot of novels in my twenties, and it came as second nature; now though reading is more like work. I do it–and enjoy it, but sometimes I view reading as a kind of labor; I need to get this book done so I can write a review/essay about it.

A few years ago I got back into reading with my ebook reader and Arnold Bennett’s Old Wives’ Tale. There was something about the combination of reading to the ebook light and reading this straight personal drama that recharged my mind and soul. It was odd reading to ebook light, but it was easy to get used to. Recently, I realized that one impediment to my reading was that awful overhead light on my fan; it was so hideous that reading just seemed painful; it kept me awake, as though it were designed precisely to prevent people from drifting into sleep. Later, I decided to buy a normal lamp to put at my nightstand; really, why didn’t I think of that before? I wanted a softer light; once I bought it, reading became a pleasure once again. Reading in bed was something I could do more naturally. Your surroundings (whether it be a chair or bed or light source) make a difference.

But now it’s the next morning, and I feel totally recharged. From sleep (obviously), but also from that hour or so of reading. it was just what the doctor ordered. In creative and intellectual tasks, too much attention can be enervating. Knowing when to take a break is important. Sometimes it feels that I’m just spinning my wheels; there’s no point in staring at a computer if all you’re doing is getting distracted by the New York Times or your RSS feed. I remember at a creative writing workshop I attended, a respected writer told of sitting before her computer for 7 hours at a time to work. I was dumbfounded and slightly skeptical. Staying that long before my computer would drain my productivity. Sometimes a power nap or just doing other things helped my productivity just as much as chaining myself to the chair. You are no doubt familiar with the concept of “flow.” When working on complicated projects, my productivity depends less on the task itself than my readiness to tackle it–my energy level, my motivation, my attention span, my general state of health. Logging more hours doesn’t change how your own internal engines run; it just wears them down.

I have a very flexible manner of working–admittedly too flexible. I don’t have strict work habits; I sometimes let myself be distracted by other things; as frustrating as it is, the best I can do is get a good night’s sleep and assume I’ll be better in the morning.

Now I sit before my computer (basking in my ergonomic seat), ready to tackle the world.

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