First I must state that I have an irrational hatred or monkeys. I cannot stand them. I hate those stupid 80s movies which had chimps dressed up in various costumes, smoking cigarettes or flapping their mouths to hilariously dubbed dialogue. I hate their whole Gorillas-in-the-Mist- chest-beating, mythological trickster-being, SD-Wild-Animal-Park cavorting, poo-flinging antics. I hate their brightly-colored butts and their wrinkled faces and their long skinny fingers squick me out. Go ahead and accuse me of finding them abject because they are troublingly like humans but so frighteningly alien --- and completely lacking in dignity --- at the same time. Go ahead. I'll agree. And as long as I can have nothing to do with them I will leave them quite alone.
However. I've been thinking about my friend's exercises in meditation lately, and trying to see if it has any connection or relevance to the writing process. You see, she goes to a Buddhist meditation retreat on Saturday mornings, and she was telling me about how hard it is to concentrate, even with the multi-ringed symbols and the chanting and the breathing and the practice. How near impossible it is to truly focus on something, really and truly, even when you think you are shutting everything else out. Concentrating down on one thing in that setting just reveals to you how jumpy and uncontrollable your thoughts are all the time --- I don't know about Tibetan Buddhism (which she practices) but Zen calls this "monkey mind": unlike what we may call stream-of-consciousness in fiction courses, "monkey mind" is this never-still, constantly-wriggling-out-of-our-attempts-to-control-it chaotic motion (a "stream" seems more passive and contained, even if constantly flowing.)
So my mind these past few days has seemed like a tree full of riotous monkeys. Which ones are the ones that make that whoop-whoop sound? Howler monkeys? Gibbons? Whichever --- just picture a big-ass tree completely aswarm with wriggling, climbing, leaping, shouting monkeys. I want my thoughts to move like this:
See? Orderly, streamlined, focused, rational --- productive? Hello!?!
But maybe, I've been thinking, I need to stop fighting Monkey Mind --- or maybe find some different way of dealing with it, because I agree with those people who claim our minds just don't work assembly-line fashion and really are more like a tree full of monkeys. I don't have any actual deep pronouncements or conclusions about this yet, sorry. I don't know if that means that I'm going to start meditation practice (unlikely) or study up on it more or throw out the notion of machine-like productivity or what, but I'm thinking about the way I think and the way I work these days.
Today I tried something I haven't done since I was working on my undergrad thesis: about 30-45 minutes of writing (brainstorming and outlining, in today's case) and then I'd go back to bed. My undergrad roomies used to joke that I wrote papers in bed, as if the mental effort of writing out a paragraph was too much and I had to give up for the day.
But, you know, back when I did this as an undergrad, I would immediately drop off to something like the edge of sleep and just sort of ... float ... there. I wasn't asleep --- I was vaguely conscious of what all was going on in the room --- but I wasn't directly, consciously focusing on the paper I was writing, and I wasn't forcing myself to think of one thing or another. Thoughts would just slowly float to the surface and burst, like bubbles. And they'd be all over the place from what I wanted to do with my life to the interesting color metaphors in the novel I was writing on to the cute guy who worked with me at the paper to a favorite street in undergrad city to a commercial jingle. And then suddenly I'd get up after about 15 minutes of that and start writing something again. (Not a finished paragraph --- it comes out as notes and questions just like when I am consciously writing.) And when I'm forcing myself to concentrate on the project at hand while lying there it doesn't work. There seems to be something important about the fact that it's this floating, waiting process --- reading something unrelated to my writing (or even directly related) or watching tv or even cleaning stuff ends the process.
So, hmm. I don't particularly want to write the rest of my dissertation at home in bed --- for one thing, there is still a huge temptation to not work and just surf the web instead --- but on the other hand, I did six cycles of this today and was able to put in more writing effort than I do when I force myself to focus. So, I'm still pondering this whole thing.
I'd ask about other people's writing processes, but I'm worried that everyone will post descriptions of it all coming exceptionally easy and working like robot welding arms cranking away every day for 10 hours and make me feel bad. Or mock my antipathy to monkeys. I warn you, I'll fling mental poo at you if you do!