Stare at the Ceiling, Not Your Phone
There was a scene in Hollow Man (2000) where Kevin Bacon leans back in his chair and looks at the ceiling. The camera then shows a sign taped to the ceiling that says “You Should Be Working”. Kevin Bacon sighs and gets back to figuring out why his invisibility serum doesn’t work.
This is not a post about why You Should Be Working. Staring at the ceiling always reminds me of Kevin Bacon though.
When I was growing up, we used to get power outages all the time. There was no reliable, portable, wireless entertainment back in the 80s. The GameBoy was fun for a while, but playing one by candlelight strained the eyes.
Sometimes we’d have no electricity for hours at a time. Mom would call the national electric company to find out what the situation was, and how long we could expect to be in the dark.
Thinking back, they had the most entertaining excuses. A drunk driver swerving into a light pole could take out an entire neighbourhood. Or a bolt of lightning landing right smack in the middle of a transformer somewhere could kill power for the entire city.
She’d then call friends and family to see the extent of the damage. Somehow it always made us feel better if someone else was also miserable and unable to turn on the TV.
One day — I want to say Tuesday afternoon, but I don’t know what I was doing home on a Tuesday — one such power outage happened. It was just me and mom at home.
She called the electric company. Then she called my aunt.
We were gonna be without power for hours.
“Do you want a lollipop?”, mom asked.
She brought back a couple of weird shaped, rainbow coloured lollipops. We unwrapped them, and we stared at the ceiling for hours.
I don’t remember everything we talked about that day, but I do remember it was one of the best days I’d ever spent with her. As a teenager, I didn’t much have the need for a mother at that point, but we were both bored, we were there, and we couldn’t turn on the TV.
So we talked.
I got closer to mom that day. We talked at length about how Bon Jovi wasn’t “the devil’s music” and that bitching doesn’t mean people go out to get bitches.
She asked me about my projects. I regret not asking her about hers.
I dread to think what that day would’ve looked like today. The anecdote would probably go something like this: “We sat down with our lollipops and stared at our phones for like 3 hours. Looking up every 20 minutes to see if the other person needed watering or something.”
I wouldn’t have been able to write this post 25 years later.
Allow Yourself To Be Bored
You know shower thoughts? Those deep, bizarre, moving, yet super interesting thoughts you can only have in the shower?
Why is that? Why is this a universal thing?
I have a theory.
It’s the one place where you can actually be bored without interruptions. It’s the one place your phone, or other electric entertainment devices, can’t reach. I know some of you in the back are giggling yourselves silly, so let me just add: BESIDES THAT.
I don’t know if there’s any science behind it, but I know my brain does two things when I’m bored: it flies off to a distant planet and brings back a story, or it starts frantically searching for my phone.
When I’m in the shower, I can’t have my phone. I don’t have the Internet. WiFi isn’t a thing. Hell, electricity is not a thing.
It gives your brain a chance to explore ideas. To have conversations with yourself. To question where you’re going with your project. It allows communication to happen between you and your project.
Sitting in front of your laptop, staring at your work-in-progress novel going “Ok, now talk to me” almost never works.
When I flew to Chicago a few months ago, I was locked in an airplane for 8 hours with nothing but my laptop. Without distractions and without the Internet, I was able to write about 30 pages of a script for my graphic novel.
It was an 8-hour shower. I had thoughts. I was able to get in the zone, write, and edit my work.
I’ve never written so much in a single day again.
Maybe I should take another trip.
Look Up More
Hollow Man’s workaholic protagonist has that sign in the ceiling that says “You Should Be Working”.
There are two points here that I’d like to argue on.
First, you don’t need anything taped to the ceiling. You just need to stare at it. Leave the phone alone. Shut down the Internet. And look up more.
You especially don’t need a sign judging you for not staring at the computer and writing.
Your brain will scramble for entertainment, and it’ll find the best source of it when it gets bored: in the back of your mind, by the dusty shelf labelled “PROJECTS”.
Second, the sign’s message is off.
Because you are working. Staring into the blackness of space will be more productive than you think. Your mind will try to entertain yourself with the props you’ve already given it. It’ll set up plays and you’ll find yourself having a conversation with your characters before you know it.
And that’s when your project will start talking to you.
So, look up more.
“Jack, Are You Still Watching?”
There’s a battle for your attention. And while your attention is busy somewhere else, it’s not playing with the stories in your head. Your characters won’t be able to ask you “You know what would be fun in this part of the story?”.
Instead of that question, you’ll hear a notification ring, and it’ll ask a different question. Something like “Jack, would you like to see the newest comedy stand-up special on Netflix?”.
And you’ll say “No”.
Wait, hold on. Who’s the performer?
Really? Oh man, I love John Mulaney.
Yeah! Put it on.
I’ll finish this chapter tomorrow.
Hey, I’ve started an email list! Sign up to get updates on new posts directly to your inbox.