The Story Economy Blog

Be Your Own Detainee

The car is where my 4-year-old and I have the best conversations. There are times when I’m driving and covertly trying to reach into my purse, unlock my iPhone, and hit the “record” button in the voice memo app because I want so badly to capture these conversations. They are that special.

From his car seat a few weeks, he asked me what happened to our kitty, Glory (he doesn’t remember her; she had to be put to sleep when he was about 8 months old). She died, I told him. But where is she, he asked? I came up with a muddled explanation about cat heaven.

A few days later, he asked: Is Uncle Paul in cat heaven, too? Would we see him again? (Once again, he has no memory of my brother, but has heard us all talk about him.) Oh boy. More muddled explanations of beliefs I may or may not have.

The other day, it was this: Where was he before he was in my belly? And where was his sister? Oh, and by the way, mommy: how did the world get here? (How I answer these questions is really a whole other topic for a newsletter.)

Our conversations are not always so existential. Often we talk about friendship: how you know if someone is your friend. Or we talk about how he and his sister will one day grow up. He told me the other day: “Mommy, I will have to marry someone else when I get big. And I am going to have a dog. But you can move in with us if you want.”

Thanks, kiddo.

He’s four, and he’s chatty. Crazy chatty. So he talks constantly. But the captivity of the car encourages him to ask about the stuff he really wants to know. We could talk about this stuff anytime. But he knows that he has me in the car, and neither of us can distract ourselves with Scooby Doo or superheroes.

 Creating Captivity

But when do we have ourselves? Not that often. That’s why you have to look for opportunities to capture yourself, to latch yourself in, so you can think about the stuff you really want to know. For me, some of the best moments of cognitive and creative flow happen in the environments where I’ve purposely detained myself for some other reason, like driving, running, or showering.

For example, when I’m not forced to answer a four-year-old’s questions about the universe, I do some pretty great thinking of my own while driving by myself. Doesn’t matter where I’m going. It’s the imprisonment of four doors and nothing else to do.

Even on my busiest days, I will still go for a run. Because I don’t have time not to run. If I don’t run—that is, if I don’t trap myself on the pavement with only my brain—I may not have any good ideas. (I definitely wouldn’t be able to write this newsletter if I didn’t run.)

A friend of mine was telling me that he has some sort of waterproof pen and tablet where he can jot down notes in the shower, because that’s when he gets all of his ideas.

You are trapping yourself, except for I don’t really like the word “trap,” because it makes it sound tricky. You’re locking yourself into a situation with full disclosure that you want your brain to feel free to be brilliant. It’s not subterfuge. It’s a method for unleashing. And without it, I don’t know where my ideas would come from.

Never, ever think that being a detainee of yourself is a waste of time. It’s only a waste if you waste it.

So don’t.


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