Sometimes a lifetime of voracious reading is an advantage; other times, not so much. On the upside, as long as I have a book (or newspaper or magazine or propaganda pamphlet or even a shampoo bottle with text on the label) I’ll never be bored.
On the downside, having a bottomless well of trivia in one’s brain isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I know what to do in just about any situation, but it’s not always practicable to do it.
For example, I know how to make a gas mask out of an empty bleach bottle, a bulletproof vest out of Bibles, and a deadly weapon out of a newspaper. I sincerely hope I’ll never be in a situation where I need these skills. But if I were, I suspect that the chances of actually having an empty bleach bottle, a stack of Bibles, or a newspaper are slim to none.
In the non-lethal side of my reading, I’ve also absorbed a startling variety of random information: Business and marketing and writing tips out the ying-yang, of course; but also fascinating factoids on everything from neuroplasticity, Buddhism, and quantum physics to Wicca, time management, and mindfulness meditation.
The latter two came to mind last weekend while I was broiling in my car at a dead stop in bumper-to-bumper traffic. There’s something about a traffic jam that ratchets my blood pressure up to Vesuvius levels. It’s part claustrophobia and part resentment over the waste of my all-too-scant ‘spare’ time.
The time management books tell me that sitting in traffic is an ideal time to plan to-do lists and so forth, but I think they underestimate my powers of concentration. (Which is a polite way to say I’m incapable of driving and thinking at the same time.) If I started plotting Book 12 while sitting in a traffic jam, I’d blink back to reality two hours later still parked in the same place while infuriated drivers honked and swerved around me, spewing invective and flipping me the universal gesture of fellowship and goodwill.
Or how about Zen and mindfulness? I should ‘be in the moment’. There was no emergency; I wasn’t late for any appointments; and there were absolutely no negative consequences that could result from my slowdown. I should just breathe. Relax and enjoy the downtime.
Zen, shmen. I knew a detour that would take me to my destination via the back ways and save me oodles of time!
In the traffic jam, I had noticed that the black minivan ahead of me had a distinctive set of those little family-caricature decals on the back. When I finally made it to my destination half an hour after winding through a series of convoluted back streets, guess what I saw in front of me? That same damn minivan. Apparently it took precisely the same amount of time to inch through the traffic jam as it had taken me to follow my complicated detour.
That took a bit of the shine off my triumph, but not as much as you might think. I’d rather be actively driving than sitting in traffic for the same amount of time. And at least nobody yelled or flipped me off.
Zen traffic meditator or complex detour planner – which are you? And what’s the most obscure thing you’ve learned lately?
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