By Grace Segran
The lockdown has done something to me and I hope the effect is permanent: emptied my brain of contents and left only a few scraggly bits. Just enough for day-to-day functioning. Being “brain-free” seems to be good for me.
My epic obsession with the calendar and the clock: gone. Until now, I didn’t realize how much space in my brain they both took up.
No more cell phone notifications like Last chance to catch the 17:03 Red Line. Start walking. NOW!!! that I’d set indefinitely for every Monday so as not to be late for Master Memoir class and suffer the instructor’s displeasure. It took me an hour to go through twelve months of the calendar and delete all the notifications that weren’t necessary anymore: Boston Women’s Creative Group author evenings, quarterly Resistance Mic, Moth and local storytelling events, church weekday meetings, book clubs, Museum of Fine Arts lectures, getaways.
One week into the pandemic stay-at-home quarantine, I didn’t look at the clock any more except to see if it was time to meet the delivery person bringing my dinner. A treat that I look forward to. Before, my clock-watching and the never-ending accompanying monologue in my head went like this:
OK, it’s 5:01. I hope Starbucks isn’t late opening again today. I need my flat white. Real bad. Maybe with an extra shot today.
It’s 9:05. Where is the maintenance guy? The work is going to run over 9:30 and I need to catch the T to Boston for an interview for an assignment.
How did I not see that the calendar and the clock had been impinging on my life the whole time? No wonder I didn’t get much writing done.
I move through a different sort of day now. No doctor’s or social appointments. Not even Zoom appointments with my commissioning editor due to budget cuts. No buses or trains to catch. No places to go. A day which is not measured by time. I float happily along, doing what I want when I want. And that augurs well for creativity. I feel lucky to have some savings to tide me over until editorial budgets are reinstated. This leaves me free of obligations to enjoy the benefits of being brain-free.
Once I stopped complaining about the stay-at-home order and gave in to the constraints the virus placed on me, I found myself doing strange things. Things that didn’t ever figure into my usual clock-and-calendar ruled life.
I wanted to take walks all the time. Any time of day.
I found myself in conversation with myself in ways I can’t tune out. This must be what my daughter meant when she mentioned “stream of consciousness” in relation to Virginia Woolf and that I won’t like Woolf because her work is too profound for me. She was a literature student at Columbia and then UC Berkeley. She must be right.
But if this monologue in my brain is “stream of consciousness,” I like it. I like it because it helps me conquer writer’s block. Being brain-free is like restoring a computer to factory settings with the luxury of 64G RAM and 1TB hard disk storage and endless possibilities.
With no appointments, no clamoring clock-and-calendar watching in my brain, something else is happening, too. I’m writing new pages for my essay collection. The smithy had been shuttered for quite a while. Now I’m bursting with so many words and ideas I can’t keep up. Ideas for new stories and ideas to fix stories that were stuck. Sometimes I feel like Jack Kerouac typing, typing, typing away. The lockdown has taken me out of writerly hibernation.
Only problem is, I usually get the barrage of ideas at inconvenient times. Like last Sunday, during an extended walk.
Gotta get home quick to write all this down. Another two miles. Shouldn’t have walked so far. Maybe I can take the bus…Oh no! “Reduced bus service until further notice in the interest of the health and safety of our riders and customers.” Next bus 9:00 tomorrow morning. Seriously?!
The following day I brought my cellphone on my walk so I could capture the ideas on audio before they evaporated. However, I’m a purist. Walking is a sacred activity for me. Recording my thoughts cramped my style. You want to walk or you want to talk? I guess I just need to walk faster to get home.
Not only am I generating new stuff while being brain-free, I seem able to complete my freelance writing, assigned pre-pandemic, more efficiently. My brain appears to have un-aged ten, maybe twenty years. La jeunesse. The mind feels supple and nimble.
Woolf’s thesis that women can only play a full part in writing if they have a decent income and a room of their own still holds true today. I am lucky to have both. But I didn’t have the time to write. Not even for “roomination.” Until now. When the Coronavirus took over our lives and caused me to pause.
I like being brain-free. The big empty hole in my brain—where my inner monologue of worry and clock-watching and calendar reminders used to live—now sparks joy and makes me a better writer.
Grace Segran is a former journalist and global nomad who lives in Boston, MA. Her work has been published in Columbia Journal, Pangyrus, The Common, Brevity, The Smart Set, and elsewhere. She was a finalist in Columbia Journal’s 2019 Fall Contest and the winner of the 2019 Keats Literary Contest.