Monkey Mind

I am a distractible adult. I suffer from Monkey Mind.*

I wasn’t a distractible child. I listened in class, turned my assignments in on time, and made the honor roll. It’s true that I didn’t practice the piano or the clarinet as I should have, but there were extenuating circumstances.

Regarding the piano, my mother encouraged me and saw that a certain miminum standard was observed. But she also said she wanted me to learn to play well enough for the piano to be a pleasure rather than a burden.

The piano was a pleasure. I amused myself for hours playing pieces I wanted to play.

Pieces I wanted to play included anything my teacher hadn’t assigned. Scales, arpeggios, Czerny exercises–all those repetitive activities designed to develop skill–fell into the didn’t-want-to column.

As a result, the piano is now a major frustration, and I wish Mother had declared all-out war on her musical slacker.

The clarinet situation was more complex. As a fifth- and sixth-grader, I played daily for my own amusement, and for the amusement of my white-faced Hereford, Marie, who stood on her side of the fence while I entertained from a lawn chair on mine.

But when the euphoria triggered by receipt of my very own Boosey and Hawkes in its very own case had worn off, I realized that, in the hands of a novice, the clarinet is at best a noisemaker. And in concert, the trumpet gets all the good parts, like the melody. Practice was all tootle-tootle-tootle-rest-ooh-ooh-ooh-rest-tootle-tootle-tootle-rest-tootle-rest-rest-rest-repeat.

I loved music, so listening to myself was misery. My mother loved music as well, so being part of a captive audience must have been worse. Consequently, I believe my mother, realizing the clarinet would never be a pleasure to me or to anyone else in the family, except Marie, made certain accommodations. Possibly something like, The less tootling I have to listen to, the less I’ll nag her about the piano.

(No. That’s unfair, even in jest. Music was in my mother’s DNA. She’d have gladly put up with all the tootling I thought necessary.)

(For his part, my father was a saint. He used to joke that when he didn’t want to listen to something–or someone–he turned off his hearing aid. But he kept it on through all my noise. I know because twenty years later, Mother told me that during one evening’s tootling, “Polly Wolly Doodle,” to be exact, he looked up and said, “She’s playing a song.”)


Well. Having concluded that digression, whose connection to the rest of this post isn’t clear to me either, I’ll return to the original topic, and say that, aside from a talent for locking myself out of my car, the tendency to ditsiness lay dormant until a sudden surge six years ago this month. That’s when I left my position as a paralegal (and the structure it provided) to stay home and write. Or, to be more specific, when I bought a laptop and discovered wireless connectivity.

It’s strange how a device that should aid writers can be such a hindrance. Even when good intentions coincide with opportunity, there’s that tempting little Firefox icon lurking at the bottom of the screen. Throw in a tinge of curiosity about anything at all–the current state of your email inbox, the definition of a particular word, the spelling of distractibility, a peek at who’s doing what on Facebook, how old Peter Vaughn is and what Billie Whitelaw, who married him in 1952, looks like, since you know you’ve seen her but you can’t for the life of you remember her face . . . and you have to know now, and then one click leads to another . . .

It’s a slippery slope.

Anyway, I chose to write about Monkey Mind because after sitting in this coffee shop, staring at a blank LibreWriter screen and watching my mentor across the table just typing away, I grew restless, both physically and mentally. After a time, I gave up and in, opened Firefox, and surrendered to the lure of the Web.

Then a funny thing happened. Surfing usually stops the jiggliness I feel when staring at a blank page. Instead, the feeling increased. My mind scattered. My hands shook. To make things worse, an intense irritability set in. I was not in good shape.

Finally, just as I was ready to slam my laptop closed and stalk out, a word unrelated to icons and mice floated through my brain: hunger. Breakfast was only a distant memory. I wobbled to the counter. One orange juice and one banana later, jiggliness abated and writing began.

End of story.


Now for the Moral, which I direct to all those people–and they know who they are–who claim Monkey Mind is completely psychological, a self-indulgence created by literary Camilles, would-be writers who like to talk the talk but don’t want to walk the walk:

The Moral

Monkey Mind can’t always be cured by meditation, relaxation, Artist Dates, discipline, yoga, warm showers, outlining, daily affirmations, or a good swift kick.

Sometimes the only cure for Monkey Mind is lunch.


 * a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable” ~ Wikipedia

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