Thursday, February 21, 2013

The "Creative Pause"

I don’t like wasting time and I don’t like being bored. I’m the one in line at the airport reading a book, or in the grocery store checking emails at the check-out. I have a hard time arriving early to events and waiting for the function or performance to begin. I’ll avoid arriving too early to a movie because I don’t want to sit in the theatre waiting in the dark. I buy tickets online in advance and arrive as close to the start time as I can.

I realize that I may sound “type A”, but really I’m not. I’m not a perfectionist or wildly competitive. Nor do I consider myself controlling. But what I am for sure is impatient. Is this a bad quality? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. During job interviews I’ve responded to the question, “What is your biggest flaw?” with, “I’m impatient.” I follow this by saying that I’m motivated to get the job done and find it difficult to wait for others to do their part. I’m efficient. I’m a “let’s get the job done” kind of person. No dilly-dallying.

My family is not like that, especially my teenage boys. They move at their own pace and it’s even challenging for them to get to school on time (despite living just around the corner). One of my sons had over thirty ‘lates’ during his first term. “But I’m only a minute or two late,” he says. He thinks it’s worth the sporadic detentions he receives. He says he hates wasting time sitting at his desk waiting for class to begin. This, I understand.

I bring reading material wherever I go. But this can also cause problems. One time, I was waiting for my number to come up at the passport office. They were at 42 when I arrived and my number was 96, so I pulled out my book and started to read. When I looked up to check the numbers several minutes later, they were only at 46. I’ll be here forever, I thought. My nose went back into my book. The next time I looked up (about forty-five minutes later), the number was at 105. I rushed to one of the kiosks and showed the attendant my 96. “Too bad you missed it,” she said. “Can you please squeeze me in next,” I pleaded? “Sorry,” she said. “You’ll have to get a new number and start over.” I was incensed. “You’re kidding me,” I said. “Sorry,” she said, grimacing. “I can’t help you.”

This past Christmas Eve I had a few errands to do during the day: buy a baguette for the next morning, flowers for the hostess that evening, a book for my husband. But everywhere I went, the lines at the cash were huge, sometimes trailing outside the door. When my turn came to be served at the bakery counter, there were no more baguettes. I left the store frustrated and agitated. The bookstore was no better; the line was about twenty minutes long. Same at the flower shop. The holiday bustle, which I usually enjoy, exasperated me. Walking down the street in search of another bakery, I came across a nail salon, the only establishment not crammed with people. So I went in and had a pedicure – oh, such peace, such joy, such a pleasant interlude! However, by the time I was done, I had to rush home, empty-handed and late, to get ready for the festivities. No time to shower, iron my dress, or tidy up. I was a madwoman, trying to get myself and the family ready and on the road.

And of course, we were late.

What I’ve learned from this reflection is not so much a lesson on time management and patience, but a lesson about boredom. I need to fill every moment with a constructive activity, something that makes me feel I’m using time, one of our most precious commodities, efficiently. “Only boring people get bored,” the saying goes.

The other day I heard about a study revealing that “boring and bored” are not bad words, that when our minds are inactive is when our creativity can flourish. The mind needs to settle down and be still in order to absorb ideas and allow for our imagination to work. This can happen while waiting your turn in a line, taking a shower, or even brushing your teeth. It’s called “the creative pause.” It seems I’m not alone in this “do anything to keep from being bored” mindset. Electronic gadgets are the best boredom fighters ever invented and they are ubiquitous: joggers listening to iPods, pedestrians talking on their cell phones, and until recently, drivers texting on the road.

Not long ago, I asked my doctor if there is a motion-sickness drug that would prevent me from feeling queasy while reading on the subway. She smiled and said, “How about putting your book down, closing your eyes, or watching the people instead?” That would be so boring, I thought at the time.

Perhaps she and those boredom studies are right. Maybe we all need to give ourselves permission to give our minds a break. If I’d had a little more patience and was less worried about being bored, I’d have completed my tasks on Christmas Eve, been less frazzled getting ready, and not been late for the festivities. And maybe I’d have given my head a creative break. But then, I wouldn’t have had nice toenails.