Neil Gaiman talked about this a few years ago when he took a social media vacation for six months to get bored so his brain would start working hard on some stories. I thought it was an interesting, if terrible, idea. (Terrible in the terms of “oh god I could never do that.”)
I took a major social media break in September and didn’t fully come back. I’m happier this way. But I have another drain on my time: iPhone games. Namely Neko Atsume, This War of Mine, and Fallout Shelter. (Heck, Fallout Shelter gave me my Twitter avatar.*) After realizing I had slid back into “gee I wish I would write something neat,” instead of, you know, doing my fucking job and writing something neat, I realized that when I encountered something that was dull to my brain, like car trips or waiting in line, I would fill it with a game. And those times are vital to my brain’s subconscious to do some freaking work.
How many times have you gotten an idea while in the shower? Cleaning? Driving? Doing something that forced you to give it attention, but only enough attention to do some unthinking labor so that your mind was free to go wandering? I have been robbing my brain of that time when it comes up and I don’t need to focus: someone else is driving, or hanging out with family in front of the TV**, waiting for water to boil. OH GOD SOMEONE HAS BEEN IN THE WASTELAND TOO LONG BRING THEM HOME BEFORE THEY ENCOUNTER ANOTHER DEATHCLAW.
I understand my brain. It wants to fill the spaces that I typically can use for the evil thoughts. The “you suck” thoughts. For example, instead of brilliant ideas I could think about every mistake I’ve ever made. (This happened while driving through rural NC at night in the rain recently. Fun fun.) Dopamine hits from seeing what cats have visited or finding a weapon in This War of Mine are much more fun than “remember that thing you did thousands of days ago that you’re long past? Yeah that was stupid, wasn’t it?”
But despite that downward spiral of self loathing that is, sadly, sometimes inevitable in non-sociopaths, giving your brain some time off makes it stomp around yelling, “MOM, I’m BOOOOORED” and then you patiently tell you brain, “Find something to do, dear,” and then you brain pouts a bit, and then unearths its old doll house and reenacts Hamlet with its dolls, and then writes HAMLET TWO: THE NUNNERY GETTING TO because your brain doesn’t know what a nunnery is in the terms of Hamlet and you don’t want to tell them because you’re so delighted that they did something creative.
There are other reasons why I am holding back, and I’ll work them out in a later blog post. But for now I’m tackling the thing that’s easiest AND hardest to fix: deleting the games from the ipad and iphone. Deleting the games is easy. Keeping them off is the hard part. Wish me luck. And consider letting you brain get bored sometime this year too. You may be surprised with what you come up with.
* I’ll probably keep the Twitter avatar. It just makes me so happy.
** OK, so sitting in front of the TV isn’t the best for the brain working on ideas either, but you know what I mean, dammit.