Every ten years or so, I go a little nuts and challenge myself to do something wacky, something well-outside my comfort zone, something that requires me to push myself, something that makes me cuss up a storm and question my very sanity (or at least my impulses)!
This year, my wacky led me to (try to) create my own website. Yup. From scratch.
Don’t ask why. These things have very little rhyme or reason. It’s as if a switch gets flicked in my head, and before I know it, I’m knee-deep in domain names and web-hosting and platforms.
Ten years before this, I made the decision to go back to grad school. I know what you’re thinking–wasn’t twelve years of higher education enough punishment? Apparently not. I figured I needed five years more. And, I needed it while I still had kids at home.
And ten years before that, I decided to run a marathon. With no prior experience with running . . . or any physical activity, for that matter. You see, I’m the kind of person who thinks “Lion!” when I hear the word “run” and “couch” when I hear the word “surf.” The sum total of my physical education in high school consisted of finding new places to hide in 7th period (PE), and when that didn’t work, trying to dodge the teacher with an array of inventive excuses. Now that I think of it, I might have been the only human in history that had her period every day consecutively for four straight years!
The good news is that there seems to be a predictable interval between my wackies, so y’all are safe for another decade or so.
So what is this all about?
Well, sometimes I get in a funk, like, “Is this all there is?” And then I have to shake it up a bit. The year I ran my marathon, I had just had my second (and final) child, and was entering my thirties with very little to show for it (or so I thought). I was in deep funk. So I did what every other funker does and tried to think of what would be the hardest thing to do that I had never done before.
(No, that’s not me. I’m the blur waaay off in the distance. And I certainly wasn’t smiling!)
It took six full months of training and hundreds of dollars of gear and vile-tasting nutrition, but I did it. I ran a marathon. I crossed the finish line. Never mind that I crossed it at the same time as an eighty-year-old, I was thrilled that I crossed it.
That happy lasted about ten years and then I started getting restless again. This time, I felt like it was my mind that was stultifying. I was at the high point of a very successful teaching career, but I could sense that now that I was there, I needed something else, something more.
Enter Grad School.
You get the idea. I wont bore you with all the details. Also, the getting to the grad school finish line was nowhere near as thrilling as crossing the marathon finish line. But that’s a story for another day.
This most recent wacky–the website–although much smaller in amplitude than my previous two wackies, taught me something that I had not previously realized–that this sort of crosstraining not only rewires the brain and makes you more nimble and adaptive, it also rejuvenates the spirit and makes the world (and your place in it) interesting once again.
Athletes have known this for years. So much so, that crosstraining, especially in the off season, has now become “conventional” wisdom. Crosstraining offers several physical benefits, not the least of which are the prevention of injury, the opportunity for recovery, the development of other and (complementary) muscles, and rejuvenation.
The mind, too, seems to benefit from this sort of crosstraining. Thinking or creativity in one field or discipline can be enhanced by engaging in other areas or disciplines. Einstein called it “combinatory play” or the act of “opening up one mental channel by dabbling in another.” Legend has it that when he found himself stuck in his work, Einstein would put it aside and play the violin for a while instead. He found that playing the violin rejuvenated him to the point where he was then able to go back to his work refreshed. Such combinatory play, Einstein claimed, is the “essential feature in productive thought.”
Other creative minds, both in the arts as well as in science, have proposed similar ideas about creativity and genius. T. S. Eliot wrote that the poet’s mind “incubates fragmentary thoughts into beautiful ideas,” and Stephen Jay Gould, paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, suggested that “connecting the seemingly unconnected is the secret of genius.”
Now I don’t pretend to be a genius, nor am I trying to compare myself to any of the geniuses above, but this might ‘splain some of the wacky that I periodically go through. Now that I think of it, I seem to have this need for crosstraining/crosspollinating on a micro level as well. I am a classic Jack of All Trades, dabbling in this and that, enjoying it all. I rarely have a singular focus, and have often felt guilty (or apologetic) for not being more, well, “whole.” Yet despite this fragmented approach, my various dabbles, together, seem to feed me, the person, if not especially feeding or fueling any one project or endeavor.
So maybe it’s okay to say, “Do something different.” And before you all jump down my throat over a (presumed) grammar faux pas, what I mean is do some thing different–play the piano, take up golf–not do the same thing differently–like writing your novel with your left hand instead of your right–although that might also lead to unexpected creativity.
Does this sound like I’m making excuses for my weirdness? Of course I am!
I suggest you take a break from your regularly scheduled program and do something different.
Then you, too, can use it as an excuse.