Washington Signature
[ Search and Navigation ]   [ View Full Site ]

The Rose O'Neill


Literary House

Mind Wandering During Events


Date: October 16, 2013
It’s okay to let your mind wander while you listen to me read.

That’s what poet Idra Novey said about a year ago when she read her poetry at the Rose O’Neill Literary House, the final guest in the Jewish Voices Series. Her words struck me as being very honest and comforting, while making me feel better about myself since my mind often wanders during fiction and poetry readings. I’ll hear part of a story or a string of words from a poem that will send me to another place, remind me of another story or a moment in my life that I had not thought about for some time.

This has nothing to do with the reader being boring or their work being poor or not worth the time and attention. On the contrary, if their work is great, my mind will spark with their ideas. As I hear their story or their words, when their ideas enter my brain, a chemical reaction occurs, a mixing of thoughts and memories and emotions. I will wander off to a new place and day dream right there, on the enclosed porch.

More recently I stumbled across an article that made me feel even better about this type of daydreaming. It is written by Maria Popova, the brain behind the website Brain Pickings.

The article is titled “How Mind-Wandering and ‘Positive Constructive Daydreaming’ Enhance Creativity and Improve Our Social Skills.” Quite a mouthful and very thoughtful. It explores the idea that our creativity comes from the creativity of others and that there is nothing wrong with being inspired. The article goes into more depth with the overall importance of daydreaming and how a healthy imagination is good for constructive planning and social skills, but of course I want to focus on mind wandering.

As Popova quotes in her article:

We mind wander, by choice or accident, because it produces tangible rewards when measured against goals and aspirations that are personally meaningful. Having to reread a line of text three times because our attention has drifted away matters very little if that attention shift has allowed us to access a key insight, a precious memory or make sense of a troubling event. Pausing to reflect in the middle of telling a story is inconsequential if that pause allows us to retrieve a distant memory that makes the story more evocative and compelling.

Back in October, during the Mary Jo Salter book event, my mind wandered a lot while listening to Salter read her poetry from the new chapbook Lost Originals, which was produced by the Literary House Press. The poems talk about death and the people whom we have lost. I’m sure most people reading this have lost someone and perhaps have forgotten themselves and mind wandered through an old memory given to us by that person. I know I do. During Salter’s reading, I could not stop myself from doing this as I listened to her wonderful words, which I have read many wonderful times in the making of book. It was different listening to her. The words felt stronger coming from their creator, read aloud and brought to life.

Back to Popova:

All of these activities, which take place internally, sheltered from the demands of external tasks and perception, offer the possibility of enormous personal reward. These mental activities are, in fact, central to the task of meaning making, of developing and maintaining an understanding of oneself in the world.

As Eduardo Corral said during his reading on November 5th, if a poet can give you one phrase or one line from a poem that you can latch on to, then mission accomplished.

Going forward, rather than fight the current, I’ll let the words carry me away, because wherever I go it will be worth it. No longer will I worry about disrespecting any author by mentally wandering away from their story, which is something I do even while I’m reading by myself as I find that my own experiences enrich every story. As Maurice Sendack once said:

No story is worth the writing, no picture worth the making, if it’s not the work of the imagination.

Go where you will and remember how you got there.

Last modified on Nov. 15th, 2013 at 11:10am by Owen Bailey.