Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Filling the Void by Janice Carter

Which void, you may well ask, for there are many.  Abysses. Chasms. Black Holes. Often, clothes dryers.  But the void I'm referring to are those empty moments of time when you are physically  (and mentally perhaps) doing nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Riding on a bus.  Standing in a crowded subway car.  Waiting for a doctor appointment.  Or sitting in a classroom.
      As an elementary student, I would always try to get a desk in the row next to the windows.  I could stare out those windows any time I wanted.  Back then, it was called daydreaming and it was one of my favorite pastimes, especially during the daily arithmetic lesson.  Unfortunately, that habit, along with a particularly frightening teacher, led to a case of math phobia in high school.
     Several years later, when I was a teacher (not of mathematics you may be relieved to know) and spending many hours daily with thirty children and their needs and wants, then going home to two other children (my own), there were no time voids in my life.  Every nanosecond was accounted for, even those that hadn't yet happened.  Once I found myself pulling into the school parking lot without any memory of how I got there.  Apparently this is a real occurrence and many people experience it.  I learned about it in a book about the brain that I was reading to research memory improvement.  I can't recall the author, but I'm sure he or she is a neurologist.  What happens is that a part of the brain lapses into a kind of fugue state while you are performing an everyday activity - like driving a car.  In my case, this state was triggered by a mental debate over menu options for dinner that night. Automatically and without any work on my part, the more reliable part of my brain, in a desperate surge of self-preservation, took control to get me to my destination safely.
    After my retirement those time voids reappeared, giving me plenty of, well, time to indulge mentally.  Or not.  A few weeks ago I was returning home from a visit out of town, travelling by train so my brain didn't have to take charge of my trip.  At one point as I exited the washroom at the end of the car, I was struck by the image of many heads bent over the blue-white glow of electronic devices, passengers filling the voids their way.  The car was dead quiet. When I sat down, I wondered which was more surreal - the actual world around me or the scary one I'd been imagining in the dark forests outside the window.
     I know. I can hear you muttering that I must belong to that pre-tech generation - the one whose childhoods were enlivened by radio, record players and board games.  And I do!  But I also have a Kindle, an iPad and a cellphone (because my children only respond to text messages).  I may be inching my way along the learning curve of technology, but now I can FaceTime, Facebook, iMessage and Instagram with some dexterity.  Of course, there are many seniors far more adept.  I know because I bumped into one the other day.  She was standing in the nuts and dried fruit aisle of the health food store and scrolling through her iPhone - maybe for her shopping list.  I bumped into her because I'd been checking my list on the scrap of paper clutched in my hand.  In spite of my affection for the magic of Google and Two Dots, I can't risk injury to my knee replacements by peering at my cellphone while walking down the street.
      The point I'm trying to make is that these increasingly rare 'time voids' or empty spaces in our lives are important.  We can't slow down technology nor should we want to.  But we can moderate our use of its products, whether cellphones or cars, tablets or dishwashers, and benefit in small but important ways - get more exercise, connect face-to-face with friends or daydream.  Also, the time voids generated could be opportunities to simply give our minds a rest.  A few seconds of daily mental rejuvenation - daydreaming, meditation or cat-napping - can extend our expected life spans.  I'm certain I've read that somewhere.
    Come summer, my preferred mental time-filler involves sitting in an Adirondack chair at my cottage.
                                                       
I wish I could say this is my inspiration chair but really, it's my staring-blankly-at-the-water chair and I can sit in it for ages until a single thought might nudge me into the cottage to fix a snack or get a cold drink.  Occasionally, that thought might become a word followed by a phrase that could lead to a whole sentence.  If I'm lucky, there will be enough sentences to actually write something down, as I have today.  Wishing you many empty and relaxing moments!
       Care to share your favorite way to fill those 'time voids'?
       

27 comments:

  1. The Adirondack chair has always been my favorite, Janice. Lately, it seems that I need that 'time void' in order to slow down my mind. My favorite place is on our back patio, preferably when the hummingbirds have returned.

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    1. That sounds lovely, Jill. Hummingbirds are fascinating to watch, too. I hope it won't be too long before we can both be sitting on our chairs!

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  2. I laughed at your memories of daydreaming in school. Me too. And I thinkthat is what makes us writers. We were inventing stories long before writing them down. smile I fill my voids with quiet meditation and prayer. And I definitely need those times. They are tough to get even when retired. Life is very busy. smile But I hope you continue to find your times so you scan write those lovely books.

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    1. We really do need those times, don't we, Sandra, even in retirement. I could never understand why my parents were excited about weekends long after they retired but now I do!

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  3. Your post and the picture of the Adirondack chair made me think of my favorite places to sit and think. Top of my list is a huge granite outcropping at our cottage, where I could sit and see the cottage, the gardens surrounding it and the lake behind it. If a moose or deer happened to stroll across the clearing while I sat there, even better!

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    1. I'm picturing that right now, Kate, and it sounds lovely! Won't be long....

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  4. Even in retirement, I find myself trying to fill up all those moments, as if lack of productivity was one of the "big" sins. I think maybe I need to rethink just sitting. A great post!

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    1. It's all about the balance, isn't it Liz? For some reason, I find it easier to hit that balance in the summer as opposed to winter. The problem is, I think the brains of writers are always ticking away no matter where we are or what we're doing!

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  5. Great post, Janice. One day, I was supposed to be driving to school and must have zoned out, because I looked up and I was in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Apparently, I go there a lot, because my brain took over and there I was, lol. Luckily, it's only a few minutes from my school so I wasn't late for work!

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    1. Can totally relate, LeAnne. I keep,these moments from my family, though.

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  6. That chair does look very tempting! I'm in the stage of life with a school aged child, but I write full time from home, so I do get that quiet time to "stare at walls" as I put it. I treasure that time! It's where ideas come from... or just more patience. LOL! But right now, my son is on spring break, so I don't get that time alone, and I'm itching for it.

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    1. I remember those days and, though it doesn't seem so at the time, they do manage to,speed by. Take every advantage! Thanks Patricia - did you like the Beauty and Beast movie?

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  7. Fun post, Janice! I will confess I'm not very good at relaxing. I get fidgety because I can't turn off my brain. I do like to sit with my dog in the morning and have a cup of coffee while I go over the day's game plan. My favorite way to fill those time voids is to read but I'm thinking maybe that doesn't count if I'm reading? Probably I need to try some meditation or something.

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    1. I think reading might count, Carol though nowadays I find myself drifting off when I read, especially late afternoon. Hmmm, Think my brain is telling me something.

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  8. I belong to the generation that believed idle hands were...well, you know. About the only time I zone out is on my deck, early in the morning as I listen to the birds sing. No, that's not right. I do zone out driving sometimes and like LeAnne, end up somewhere other than where I was going. :-)

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    1. Decks, birds singing, early morning sound good to me, Patricia,. Being stationary is definitely best for zoning out!

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  9. I like the part about extending life span! It makes sense, too. Quiet moments, slowing the breath--sometimes they seem to stand out as unusual points in a day. I don't have a pet, and don't want the responsibility, but some of my friends have said that petting a dog or cat is almost like meditation for them.

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    1. That's interesting about the pets, Virginia, and clearly a reason why pet therapy is becoming more and more prevalent. I was nice really into meditation but now seem to,prefer just sitting staring at a nice view! Maybe the same thing?

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  10. I'm still in the pre-teen at home, full time job, millions of commitment. I grumped at my husband last night because we didn't have any dive team lessons, puppet practice, etc places to be. I longed for a few minutes to sit outside and read. At 10:30 when I finish the last of my must-do's, I went to bed - without reading.

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    1. Ah Pamela, I remember those days! All I can say is, when the kids leave, life is bittersweet. Quiet - too quiet sometimes- but also calm! Holidays are good for zoning out in the meantime.

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  11. I have a lot of these empty moments, mainly when I'm writing or editing (like today). I sit and suddenly look at my desk and wonder where I've been for a while and why I'm still on the same passage in the book.

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    1. Very funny, Shirley, and so true for me, too! Is that called escapism? Or what I learned in Psych 101 as approach-avoidance conflict? Haha.

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  12. I need those empty moments for my mind to drift. Sometimes it works out story ideas and sometimes it just floats. Ironically, my husband's retirement means I have less alone time for those moments. The bathtub is one of my favorite empty moment places.

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    1. Beth, the bath tub sounds good, too. Though I find the water gets cold too fast! I guess any place can be good as long as we get those times.

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  13. Lovely meaningful post. For me, having time to just think. No music or noise, is very rare and precious. Something I think that is gradually being forgotten x

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  14. I completely agree Eleanor. Silence is golden, right?

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  15. Absolutely Janice And very rare nowadays I think

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