Advice I Will Give My Girls

Posted On: 07.02.12

It was a writing day. I tethered myself to the wall in the basement, plugging in, making deals with myself: Focus for three hours and you can get a pedicure. Do it. And I puttered around a bit, checking Facebook and Twitter, publishing blog comments, and then I did it. I focused. I wrote.

And then, at some point, I came up for air. I hit a wall in my story or something one of my characters did made me pause and this is always incredibly cool – to realize that my characters affect me, that they are real to me, that the things they do are not fully within my control. Anyway, I pulled my headphones from my ears and listened. I was surrounded by students. Students studying for exams of some kind. Three women next to me flipped madly through their binders of notes and I realized that they were talking about pregnancy. They were studying pregnancy and this made me smile and part of me wanted to tap a shoulder and say something. I know about that. I’ve been there three – no, four – times. But I didn’t. I didn’t say anything.

I sat there and I listened. I wasn’t yet ready to dive back in, to keep writing. But I didn’t do the other things I tend to do when faced with time. I didn’t hop over to Facebook or Twitter. I didn’t pull out my phone.

I just stopped.

I just thought.

I stopped and I thought. I thought about thinking, about thought. About how rarely I do this. Stopping just to think, to consider, to ask. I thought about how quickly I move, we move, through our moments and our days, from A to B to C and beyond, back to A. I thought about the hegemony of schedules and lists and plans. I thought about how strict we are with our selves, with our stories.

And suddenly it didn’t really matter what I was thinking about. What mattered, what struck me, was that I actually stopped and looked around and listened. What mattered is that I thought.

When my girls are older and come to me for advice, I will tell them to do just this. I will tell them that busy-ness should only have so much purchase on existence, that there will always be something to do, to check, to accomplish, but that there is a distinct majesty in just stopping and thinking.

And if they don’t come to me and ask me these things, I will tell another person to do this. To stop. To think. About whatever. Anything really.

{That someone? Me.}

Do you ever just stop to think? How often do you find yourself actually thinking about thinking? What’s one piece of advice you will pass on to your kids or future kids? Do you buy it when people say that their fictional characters “have a mind of their own”? Do you think we are all victims of a self-inflicted plague of “busy-ness”?

Oh, and...

  • The Busy-Trap? Last night, as we were driving in the darkness to Cape Cod, Sister C sent me a link to this amazing, and alarming, article about the contemporary phenomenon of busy-ness. It was so good that I read it aloud to Husband and then we spent a good chunk of our trip talking about it... Let me know what you think. Fodder for a future post indeed...
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24 Comments for: "Advice I Will Give My Girls"
  1. Kendra

    The last year or so I have been excising activities from my life and trying to “waste” more time doing nothing but looking out at my garden or even the wall of my bedroom which I just painted blue, just thinking and enjoying a certain kind of thoughtful stillness. It is very difficult to convince myself that this is not actually wasting time. That it’s okay if I have some days where I get only a couple things done. I find that nowadays I am chronically less busy than those around me, and sometimes it feels as if I am observing their rushing about from a close but different dimension where time is somehow rounder and bounces along like a slow balloon.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Wow. I love that metaphor – where time is somehow rounder and bounces along like a slow balloon. Beautiful and evocative. I do think it is up to us to make room for more idleness, for more down time. I think if we are not careful, we get sucked into a near hysteria of trying to maximize the minutes in our day, but to what end? What does it mean to be maximally “productive” or “busy” if we are missing out on so much? Thanks so much, Kendra. This is a very thoughtful comment.

  2. Amy

    Another beautiful post! I look forward to your words every Monday through Friday…it’s like I need them in order to write my own not-so-creative legal briefs. And I’m definitely going to check out the article on busy-ness.

    I just wanted to leave a comment telling you how well-written and well-thought-out a particular sentence you wrote is…it really resonates with me…The sentence? Because I want to remember to tell my own son, and more importantly, myself, I wrote it in my planner as: “[B]usy-ness should only have so much purchase on existence, that there will always be something to do, to check, to accomplish, but there is a distinct majesty in just stopping and thinking.” Oh, you are so right! I spend very little time “just stopping and thinking,” and I need to spend a great deal more time doing so.

    I am constantly amazed by you and your writing. Impressed that you have the strength and the courage to put your words out there for all to see. Envious of the feeling of freedom that must come from writing the truth. I’m thinking very particularly of these things now, after being asked a question about something I posted privately on facebook that somehow made it into the public sphere and was then made into far more than the thought my basic words conveyed. Basically, an innocuous post on remembering victim’s rights was turned against me to portray me as somebody I’m not. I think of this as I struggle with the need to write, to maybe blog, to tell MY truth while, at the same time, being scared to do so because of the crippling anxiety and nervous stomach associated with what people might think.

    Instead of doing what I need to do, I frequently find that my “stopping and thinking” is the worry at night that keeps me awake for hours. I need the kind of stopping and thinking that only a vacation by the beach might provide, but, um, I’m too busy for such an indulgence.

    Thank you for another great post!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Amy – Thank you so much for these words today. I’ve said it before here, but every now and again I get a comment that makes me smile and nod and reminds me, keenly too, of just why I continue to do this blogging jig. I love the idea that something about my words resonates you and steels you against your less-than-creative pursuits in your legal life. I was there once. Writing the memos and the briefs, poring over documents that meant nothing to me, hungry for something – an idea, a spark, a question…

      As for the question of what people might think… It will never go away. This is part of life. Every action we take, every word we speak and write, is out there, and subject to eyes and ears and hearts and minds, and, yes, judgment. I’ve gotten to the point where I do not think too too much about this. I know that if I write something that feels true to me, that it will all turn out okay. I know doing this is far easier said than done, but I am really pleased to have gotten to this point of relative security in this space.

      And that worry at night? I’ve felt it before and it is terrible, and crippling, but I think it is also a feature of being human, and thoughtful.

      I’m so happy to get this comment. Know that. Happy Monday night :)

  3. Monica Selby (@monicajselby)

    Nope, don’t buy it. But, I have yet to finish a novel I wanted to take past first draft, so in this you are probably right and I am probably wrong. :)

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I never bought it either – that our fictional characters have minds of their own – until I began to experience it. Recently, I was at Starbucks and the barista handed me my coffee and I reached for a cardboard sleeve and a thought popped into my head about one of my characters. I thought: She refuses these protective sleeves because she wants to feel the burning heat, she wants to feel something. She is not good at feeling things and this is her way. It was all weird and amazing and I legitimately didn’t feel like I was in control of the idea… or the character at that moment. A bit hokey? Maybe. But also cool. Thanks, Monica!

  4. Along these lines, I think it’s really easy to get caught up in information these days. Parenting alone offers gobs of books, articles, blogs … you can get so wrapped up reading about parenting that you can easily forget that you already have the tools to be an effective parent if you just listen to and observe your kids.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Oh absolutely, Nilsa. I think about this so much. About how we are flooded with bits of information on every topic and that if we are not careful we can become easily overwhelmed. Personally, I avoid prescriptive parenting books for this reason. I love essays on parenthood, but resist writing that seeks to instruct and provide “information” that is gospel. I do think so much of this is about stopping and thinking and listeningto instinct. Thanks!

  5. Sam

    Take time to think. Yes, definitely. I’ve been reading this fascinating book lately called Quiet by Susan Cain, about introverts. I finished it once, and have gone back multiple times to re-read single passages and entire chapters. And one of the things she talks about so beautifully is the intense power and creativity that exists when we give ourselves permission to be quiet and to think. Even though she was writing about introverts in particular, I think what she says can resonate with everyone who has a hectic existence (so, with everyone). I could preach like an evangelist about this book, and how life-changing it was for me to read, but sufficed to say that it encouraged me to take a little bit of down time each and every day to recharge, to think, and just to be.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I have heard SUCH wonderful things about this book. I think it’s time to read it. What does it say about me that I don’t know whether I am an extrovert or an introvert? I think I am most likely a member of the former species, but I for sure harbor some introvert qualities. Anyway, your comment makes me extra eager to read Cain’s book. And, yes, I think we all need a bit of down time to recharge every day. It’s kind of sad that we almost need to put this on the to-do list, that our modern day instincts are even possibly not to do this. Thanks, Sam!

    • Kendra

      I have had this book on my to-read list for ages. I think you may have just convinced me to pop it up to the top!

  6. Katherine

    You are in good company with this concept — I just read this in the New York Times: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Yes! Linked to it actually at the end of this post :) My sister sent me the link and Husband and I spent almost half the drive to Cape Cod last night reading the article and debating it. So so interesting and important. Thanks, Katherine. xox

  7. Wonderful post (again)! My kids are on a 3 day sabbatical at Grandma’s house, and I, too, am carving out time to think. I sometimes forget the sound of my own voice. Sometimes, when my 3 kids are home in the summer, I can feel like I’m losing my mind…like I’m not capable of having a complete thought because I’m so distracted. It’s reassuring to know that my brain comes back when the silence does!

    Incidentally, I stumbled on that “Busy Trap” piece at NYtimes.com last night as well. Good, good stuff.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Wow. So powerful what you say about voice. I think about this so often – about what happens to our voice when kids enter the picture and when life takes over. I think about voice in writing. But I too rarely think about actual voice, the sound and cadence of our words and sentences, of who it is we are. I so understand what you are saying about incomplete thoughts… There is a power in space and silence in reminding us that we can think fluid thoughts, and remember who it is we are without the creatures we love.

      Thanks so much, Susanna.

  8. I juggle many things but I find it important to stand back and take in moments. Those moments are the ones that linger in my memory. I take time to think early in the morning before my day starts. I enjoyed this post,Aidan.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Oh how I love the early morning thoughts, those that come with innocence and rawness before the day becomes clear and demanding. And, yes, I do think it is the moments where we make a concerted and devoted effort to stand back and soak up that linger in our hearts and minds and memories. Thank you, Ayala!

  9. Monica

    It’s funny you mentioned this, but just today I had to stop and think twice with the help my uncle. I was offered a Free Dental treatment; AND when we see the word “free” we want to dive right in and go for it; BUT, like you said there’s always a “but” my uncle bought up a very good point, he said, “if anything goes wrong in the treatment (heaven forbid) we have no proof.” I learned something today; never settle and investigate on your own, nor believe anything is free because it’s not. Thanks for posting this.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Yes, this is a prime example of how important it is to stop and think and question. I think in so many ways we are trained to be efficiency monsters, to get things done, to choose the shortest and most expedient path, but sometimes, often, it really behooves us to pause and ponder. Thanks, Monica!

  10. I often stop and think when I am running in the morning. Because I live in the desert, my thoughts find refuge in the mountains while the sun is rising. After finishing up my run, I tend to mull over some of these same thoughts over a cup of coffee and morning pages.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      So so interesting because I have read so many things recently linking physical exercise to mental health and creativity. It makes so much sense to me. Are you doing Julia Cameron’s morning pages or a different kind?

  11. Tessa S.

    I very much think that we are afflicted by our busy-ness. I know this from having done it and now choosing not to do it. The difference in my world is staggering. Less is definitely more.

    Advice I would give : live in the moment, live with passion, be honest, be respectful, be compassionate, and give, give, give…….

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Wonderful bits of advice… And I love – and believe in – the idea of staggering. Less is more. Indeed. Now I need to walk the walk. Thanks, Tessa.

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