Somewhere I read about a study linking exercise and intelligence in mice. The researchers set up three cages. In the first cage, the décor was minimal—a food dish, a water bottle, bedding. Your basic rodent padded cell. In the second cage, the researchers added toys (A tiny jack-in-the-box? Itty-bitty Barbies?) for the mice to play with. In the third cage, they substituted a running wheel for toys.
Guess which group of mice, when later tested, figured out how to navigate their way through a maze the fastest? Apparently the wheel not only shaped the mice’s quads and readied them for swimsuit season, it also stimulated their brain activity.
Last week on the Inkpot, alum Georgia Beaverson reminded us of the important yet not always acknowledged truth that to be a writer, one must write, and she reiterated Jane Yolen’s BIC—butt-in-chair—method for getting the job done. I agree that perseverance is the only way to accumulate pages, but for me, getting the butt to stay put is easy. Hey, I’m lazy, I can sit all day! Especially if you keep me supplied with lattes, crackers and cheese, and, at cocktail hour, a nice hoppy ale. I have a different “B” conundrum; I can’t keep my brain in the chair.
Remember the Philosophy 101 “brain in a vat” thought experiment? That’s my brain—technically stuck in one place yet wandering everywhere. I’ve always been “scattered,” as teachers consistently scolded on my report cards, and when a project is hard my thoughts are simultaneously sighted in Greenland, Chile, and Quatar. In other words, focus is a problem.
So when the chair proves counterproductive, I get up. Sometimes I take a walk on the rail trail near my house. Sometimes I walk only as far as the bathroom or—since I write in coffee shops—to the counter to buy a raisin bagel. I’ve found that even a brief spurt of motion can be enough to persuade any random ideas circling the airfield to come in for a landing.
My current work-in-progress is very personal, hence my brain will do anything to avoid it. You could tie me to my chair with my laptop (and no Internet) in an empty room, and my brain would spend the hours happily counting paintbrush marks on the wall or recapping episodes of “How I Met Your Mother.” Attempts to stay in my seat until I’ve finished one page, one paragraph, one sentence too often leave me in despair. At the moment my brain is telling me that I really should keep adding on to this blog post and get back to my WIP tomorrow morning, when I’m fresh! Well, sorry, brain, and no disrespect to you, Inkpot readers, but I have to close my laptop now and get out of my chair. I have work to do.
Christine Heppermann is a January 2010 graduate of the Hamline MFAC program. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley region. To learn more about her and her writing, please visit her website.