Friday, September 7, 2012

Two Thinkers on the Contemplative Life

I don't think you can disagree with the fact that writers need solitude and quiet. To burrow deeply into our creative minds, we need to shut that figurative--and possibly literal--door, and have the time and leisure to think. I know this is true, because for the first time in 16 years all three of my children are leaving the house for extended periods of the day, an activity commonly known as "school." Frankly, it is amazing to see how much I can get done when I don't have to deal with catering to five-year-olds or blowing the referee's whistle during sibling spats.

This week I read two resonant articles by writers I greatly admire. The first is by Junot Diaz, who wrote the stunning The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which I briefly talked about HERE. Here is what he said to the Guardian, via the always interesting Shelf Awareness. The text in bold is my doing:

Time for Reading 'Should Not Be an Unattainable Thing'

"Books are surviving in this intense, fragmented, hyper-accelerated present, and my sense and hope is that things will slow down again and people will want more time for a contemplative life. There is no way people can keep up this pace. No one is happy. Two or three hours to read should not be an unattainable thing, although I hope we get to that stage without needing a corporate sponsored app to hold our hand. The utopian in me has my fingers crossed that we haven't quite figured out the digital future just yet. After all, the one thing we know about people: they always surprise."
--Author Junot Diaz in an interview with the Guardian

(Junot, I'm trying to prise out my eye-teeth for those two to three reading hours you mention. I'm lucky to get thirty minutes before nodding off to sleep at night. Still need to work on that!)

Then, from a longer piece from an Oregon writer, Matt Love, who's a great essayist:
Commentators frequently place the primary blame on cellphones, but really, fault lies with the addicts who habitually wield them. I say all this with a unique perspective because I live near the No. 1 tourist attraction in the state -- the Oregon Coast -- and routinely see tourists on the beach allowing cellphones to conquer their solitude. And I'm not talking about using them to take photographs or write poetry. I'm talking about willfully abandoning a temporary isolation to engage in what the Sex Pistols called "blah, blah, blah." 

(I tell you, the "Smart Phone" has taken over the known universe. I may be an alien life form: I don't have one. But I've certainly watched enough parents ignoring their children at playgrounds and swimming pools in favor of staring at mini-screens.)

It's easy to sound holier than thou, but I really think a writer can benefit from taking a detour off the information super highway--even for just a couple of hours a day. What think you?


  1. So agree Michael. I read for at least an hour most days before I nod off in bed. I don't watch much TV so I get the reading time in. I love it because it takes us to so many different worlds.

  2. Guilty. I leave my purse in the car when I walk my son to his preschool classroom, but I bring my phone with me, just in case. Just in case what? Just in case I need to check email or FB or blog stats in those four minutes? Starting now, the phone stays in the car, too. For four minutes. Baby steps.

    I'm with you on the reading, too!

  3. enjoyed both articles
    and yes...the sigh of a quiet house experience

  4. Oh my gosh Michael...had to put my head back on after nodding it off. I swear there are times when we are bursting with the need to jump off that highway. And I LOVE technology, have a smart phone etc. etc. But I am telling you...I shut it down, but you know, not nearly enough. Thanks for the insightful article!

  5. I have a smart phone. When I get home after work, it stays in my work pants when I change into something more comfortable. Then it goes in my next pair of pants in the morning. I refuse to be leashed.

  6. They key to this is not having any friends. Then there is no need for communication devices. Moving to a country (or part thereof) where no-one speaks English helps too.

    But I still don't read enough and I am not writing at all at the moment so it is no Elysium. (Other than this and my diary, which you can find at...).

    For those with children, may I recommend reading Medea.

  7. Don't feel bad. I don't have a smart phone either. Maybe we're so smart, we don't need one. :D

  8. Stephen King said: “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

    I believe that quote absolutely, but found myself without reading time in a day packed with stuff I can neither ignore nor put off. So I combined my reading with other stuff. I read while on the treadmill, which raises the motivation level of exercise considerably. It isn't the same as curling up in my favorite chair with hot coffee and a great book, but it keeps me going. I know my life will slow down eventually. The cell phone isn't a distraction for me, though I do play Words With Friends. :) This game has whiled away time when I've been stuck in line at the Post Office or grocery store.

  9. Well written .... You can squeeze extra reading time in by doing all your blog reading on the smart phone and at the same time maintain the wonderful exterior of being busier than everyone else. Allof my numerous devices are woefully underused for Actual Work but i get my reading hours in :)


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