We had a chance to take a last-minute trip last week, to Ireland. When we were lucky enough to go two years ago, I had plenty of advance notice. That meant I checked out the six-disc audio book on Ireland’s history, signed us up for online Irish lessons, collected movies on Irish culture, and basically created a home school Irish program with which to torture my children.
This trip, there was no time for any of that, so I tried a quick review.
Me to Boy: What do you remember about Irish history?
Boy to Me: Hmmm. Well, when they weren’t fighting everybody else, they were trying to kill each other.
Me: Good enough. Let’s go!
So with that and a Dia dhuit, we were on our way. And you know what? We had a great time. Maybe we didn’t see every castle and museum in a 25-mile radius of where we were staying, but we saw enough, and we had fun.
My husband booked a trail ride for me. The day I was supposed to go, it poured. Absolute buckets. So the instructor suggested we do a private lesson inside. She asked if I’d ridden before (I had) and wanted to know what I’d done. And about fifteen minutes later, she was saying things like
Instructor: “Okay! Pick up the canter at the letter F!”
Me: “I haven’t cantered in years!”
Instructor: “That’s great! Canter now, please!”
And so it went. Every time I said I hadn’t done something in years, she would give a perky reply and tell me to get on with it, and in no time at all I found myself facing a two-foot jump. Which doesn’t SOUND very high, but when you are sitting on top of a large animal and you’ve just realized there’s no seat belt, it’s more than high enough.
But here’s the thing: My brain was making little gabbling noises in the back of my head, but my body remembered. My body was saying things like “Shut up. We can do this,” and shortening reins and lifting my butt out of the seat. And when I shut down my brain and just moved, didn’t think, everything went surprisingly well.
As writers, we live a ridiculous amount of time in our heads. For me, that means not just when I’m writing, but when I’m living, too — I’m always analyzing everything, teasing apart whatever meaning could be hidden in a conversation, a glance, a silence. This habit can get in the way — of creating, of relationships, of simply living. Sometimes, we need to tell our brains to shut up and get out of the way. It’s a lesson I need to be reminded of again and again, and when I am, whether by design or by accident, I’m always amazed at how present I feel, how sharp everything seems, and often, how much fun I (and those around me) manage to have.
Tell me — how does your brain get in the way? And what are your tricks for shutting it down?