The Right Amount Of Thinking

Keep It Simple, Steve

“Steve McQueen Just Be Cool,” artist: TMM

There are a number of things that can plague a writer.

Or anyone, really. Regardless of their pursuit.

Like: Ideas. Having enough of them. Weeding through them to narrow down the “right” one. Inspiration. Creativity.

Motivation. The will to work. Drive. Ambition?

Similarly, probably: the pull of being “responsible” and earning a basic income to stay alive. Or: The hot cut of criticism or, worse yet, the deafening white noise of nothingness and not feeling “special.”

Writer’s block. Not knowing what to say, or how to say it, to the point that you feel as though you can’t say anything at all.

My biggest struggle isn’t any of those.

Mine, it’s “thinking”

And “overthinking” or, put differently, simply “thinking too much.” To the point where it gets ugly and wretched, the sort of “internalization” that snowballs into bad art, jadedness, or conspiracy theory. Not that I struggle with all of those, because I don’t.

Mine is the tussle of “tone,” really, for lack of a better word — that tug of war between being saying something and saying too much; the line between keeping it light-hearted and not saying anything at all. And I know I struggle with this because, my own suspicions aside, readers have accused me equally of both. They accuse me of a lot of things, of course, but this is one of the things I watch for, and therefore notice:

What mark did I hit, if any?

Which side of the line did I fall on, left to my devices?

Go too far, and you wind up, at best, esoteric, stringing a strand of broken lights and shabby tinsel around your apartment in July, or carpeting your lawn in broken China and convincing yourself that “everyone else” is wrong. It’s not to say that “thinking” automatically means “crazy,” but going too far certainly leaves you vulnerable to this suspicion, like a hermit crab without its shell, as you scamper across your foyer wearing only slippers because, well, “that’s how you do your best thinking.” Do this and you alienate people, not least of whom are your readers, winding up quaint and crafty at best, or an alienated addict at worst. (I’m just being honest here.) That, and you run the risk of sounding critical, cruel, condescending.

Don’t go far enough, though, and you wind up, well, sounding like every other article on the internet. Which is fine, if that’s how you’re trying to make your living — plenty of people are, and do — but can be hard if you think of yourself as having le coeur d’un artiste. ❤

Perspective is everything

I’m not sure what I think about kids, but periodically I ask my partner how he feels. Most times he says he “could go either way,” but last time I asked, he answered, “sure, I want kids — but like, when I’m 45.”

My partner and I, we’re the same age.

And it suddenly occurred to me that he may not know how this “kid” thing works — at least for women.

“That’s not really a thing for me.” I said.

And without skipping a beat, he said what he always says to me when this comes up (and always forgets that he always says to me when this comes up), in a tone so light-hearted it sounds like a change of subject when it’s not:

“Did you hear? They’re making headway on artificial uteruses.”

The world is so incredibly small.

Maybe we have to be that way, in order to stay sane.

In North Carolina, there’s a lake just north of us where, as a friend told me just after I moved here, it’s “the place to live.”

“Anyone with money,” she added, “has a place up there.” I realized that this was a 1:1 relationship for her, working both ways: i.e., if you had money, you had a place at the lake. If you didn’t have a place at the lake, you couldn’t have money. Simple as that.

I’d never even heard of this lake until I moved to Charlotte about a year ago. I doubt many people outside of this area (or those having visited this area, previously lived in this area, or with friends in this area) have either. And yet, for many people in this area, this formula is foolproof, lake and money.

In both case, their’s may well be an example of under-thinking. Maybe. But without a doubt, mine is a great example of overdoing it, churning the butter beyond butter, into whatever morbid, clumpy situation in becomes after that, no longer edible and a bit chewy and distasteful, despite my still trying to spread and serve it on a cracker.

My goal right now is to write more like Lunchables and less like… whatever this post is, frankly. (Clearly, I’m not off to a great start.) To write is to step out from reality — all writing is — which means it’s also susceptible to being bastardized as such: an escape. But good writing isn’t escaping. Good writing is immersion, and engagement.

If you don’t leave your house, you don’t have material for your work

I mean literally leaving your literal house, but also I mean metaphorically.

Material for creative pursuits does not just come from your head, or your heart.

I think maybe we all think it does. but it doesn’t. You really just need to get out of your own way, and if you’re talented or even moderately creatively inclined, it’ll come out okay on the other side.

If you have writer’s block, get out of your head and take action. Ideally, write something — anything; something for yourself is best, because you’ll come off it and, after a while, you’e write more openly and honestly; but barring that, talk to someone, or join improv, where the number one rule is “yes, and,” meaning nobody can reject what you offer.

If that doesn’t work, get out. Distract yourself. Come at it from an angle, so you forget it’s there or even coming until you’re already over it.

I rode horses for years growing up, and when a horse was acting up during a lesson a refusing a fence repeatedly, we’d switch up the course and ride a different direction, as though “hey, horse — no big deal, you win; forget about that fence” and when they’d finally settled down and gotten over their hissy fit (and us our nerves about it), we’d cut into the fence from another angle and, more often than not, the horse would take it.

If that metaphor doesn’t work, here’s this: most children will eat vegetables if you douse them in enough cheese. And grown-ass adults will walk 15+ stories worth of steps if you give them enough stuff to look at en route.

Today I ordered a cheese plate and it came with butter. I took a cheese-sized amount of it and spread it on my baguette and ate it before I realized. Mistakes were made.

Most of us will eat anything if it’s only offered on a bit of bread or cracker.

And that’s, perhaps, how thinking should be — not dragging the entire kitchen out into the dining room to play “chemistry set” with the pH of blue cheese, but rather taking each thing as it comes to us, picking it up, biting some off, and chewing a bit before setting it down, swallowing, and moving on.