I’m painting right now.

I hate painting right now.

I hate painting every day. There are so many days to paint. One, two, three, four, all of them. 

People ask me sometimes, they ask me. They say: “You done painting yet?” Then I rip their faces off, with my eyes because I’m not a monster. 

I can’t blame them for wondering. Normally, normal people with normal houses would be done painting, but somehow we’re not those people. I think I’ve figured out why. At night, after we’ve gone to bed, the color regressively drains from the walls and trim. Talk about a bottomless mimosa, this here’s a bottomless paint job.

But I’m not here to complain about that. 

Something I noticed the other day, right in the midst of a painful crouch so I could slop on paint near the baseboard, was that my mind was wandering. I was reflecting on my family relationships, I was coming up with new comebacks to old conversations, I was inventing intricately woven fictional plot lines starring me.

My brain was working.

Is it sad that it normally doesn’t? An active mind isn’t my usual modus operandi. Generally I’m trying to prod it along, a lazy heavy-lidded sloth, kicking and cursing and asking why. WHY AREN’T YOU DOING ANYTHING? And my brain gives me a dopey smile and lets loose a string of nonsense.


100% of my work involves a computer, but the computer bleeds over into every other corner of my day, too. Basically all of my time is spent with my fingertips plugged into the keyboard like sockets. At night I try to be creative, to write or work on other projects, but I just end up spending hours (lifetimes?) staring unfocused into the white abyss of my screen, waiting for productivity to come. Days will go by and I’ve only written a few words, hard-fought ones at that. The whole process feels like trying to squeeze water from a bone-dry rag. Bourbon from a cotton ball. Ketchup from a cookie. Uh. You know. 

I’ve become so accustomed to losing the daily mental battle that the loss seems completely normal.

But then we got this house, and suddenly I had things to do that weren’t located inside the small radius of my laptop. I don’t love doing these things because they’re tedious and physically repetitive: sanding, staining, painting. But it’s like every time I step away from the computer, my brain wakes with a start from a deep sleep. Every time I do something that is actively productive without requiring me to actively think, I start generating mental sparks.

It’s not just house work, either. Last year I spent two days in the car by myself and it was the most creative I’ve maybe ever been. Ideas rushed my windshield like bugs. I came up with jokes that made me laugh so hard I steered outside my lane on the empty, hot interstate. I mean in retrospect I may have been delirious but I didn’t care. In this dry, flat wasteland, my mental cup was overflowing! I was a brilliant, blazing, sweaty force to be reckoned with.


I’m not advocating tossing my laptop out the window. I’m not advocating getting in the car and going for an eternal drive. And I’m not advocating taking up another house remodel, because Jesus, it sucks. But I am toying lately with how to better give my brain room to do its thang. The shower is still a good place for a quickie think, but I need more. I don’t want ideas to be such a chore. I don’t want creativity to be a burden. I don’t want to have to speed through Nebraska on a muggy 95° day with Bruce Springsteen wailing about the darkness on the edge of town every time I need a hit of inspiration.

My mind clearly works best when I’m at my most mindless. So how do I work more active mindlessness into my daily routine?

If you say “take up a house painting side gig” I will break your kneecaps with my eyes.

6 Responses to “mindless”

  1. That’s such an interesting idea – working active mindlessness into your routine. I’m pretty similar, in that I find I do most of my thinking while walking (which I like to do). I’m hoping to start walking to work again occasionally if Winter ever ends, which is a good long stretch of active mindlessness (I live 4.5 miles from work and it take take me about 1.5 hours to get there!)

    • Good idea with the walk! Maybe I need to make a habit of taking an afternoon constitutional, even just around a few blocks. Easier to do now that the days are slowly getting longer.

      • I second the walking. You don’t commute to work anymore (which is where I do most of my thinking), so that’s out, but an afternoon stroll could be a really good thing.

  2. my boss and i talk about this a lot, usually in the context of the “do more with less!” mantra that is the way of work in our modern world, coupled with the way we’re all expected to be constantly reachable and instantly responsive.

    i mean, it would be nice if “spinning in my chair and staring at the ceiling” was recognized as a legitimate use of my work time. instead, it just looks like i’m being lazy. because the only productive use of your time is one that people can track.

    because you know what’s productive, just not on any kind of balance sheet? sitting quietly. allowing your brain to rest. allowing your mind to wander and make connections and bring up the ideas lurking in your subconscious, just out of reach of your engaged mind. some of my most productive thinking time is during my morning walk to work, when there’s nothing i’m *supposed* to be doing.

    so maybe you can schedule some time in your day or week to put away the computer and give your mind some space. take a walk. take a drive. lie on the floor and contemplate your molding. sit on the porch and talk to the squirrels.

    • “allowing your mind to wander and make connections and bring up the ideas lurking in your subconscious, just out of reach of your engaged mind.”

      Yesssss. I love this.

  3. Yes, this this this. You know what’s helped me in the last week? Work got so busy that I had to log off all my social media. No Twitter feed endlessly unspooling in front of me. No more eternal FB refreshing. No clicking through to every interesting article that I run across. Nope, just work. And without everybody else’s words pouring into my eyeballs, I can hear my own voice better, and I can sense my creative well filling up.

    I actually hate it. I miss my internet :( But I’m interested in plumbing this new access to creative juices. Looking on the bright side.

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