What Do I Do With My Mind?

Several people have responded that they too are fearful of finding themselves with time on their hands, alone without a book.

I am sure I told the story elsewhere in this Weblog but the focus of this fear in me is an incident that happened one fall afternoon in Los Angeles where I queued-up to register for new classes at the university. It was a lovely warm day and I was surrounded by hundreds of other students, mostly strangers but with that je ne sais quoi of Southern California drug culture in the mid-sixties.

The line was interminable and moving so slowly that we all were squatting on the sidewalk. That was when I realized I had nothing with me to read: not even the proverbial gum wrapper. You know that feeling when your flight to the coast is soaring into the stratosphere and you suddenly can’t remember if you turned the kitchen oven off?

What followed was several hours of anguish. From then on the thought of being caught for even a few minutes without something to read was pure horror.

An interesting and shameful example that this was a part of my personality and not just a strong sense of literature: I was a moderate smoker until about thirty years ago, a little less that a pack of Pall Malls a day. But the addictive personality I had buried beneath my laid-back exterior insisted that I have at least three unopened packs of cigarettes in my pockets or attaché every day before I left the house.

So three packs of smokes, a bag full of books, a fresh T-shirt, Michelin-treaded huaraches and I was prepared for anything the day tossed at me. But I was young then.

Years later I was taking experimental light treatments at a major hospital in New York City. Since it was a new treatment, the exact calibration and availability of the light source was problematic and I would have to stand naked in a light-box with hot UV rays bouncing off my skin and my eyes closed tightly. Try doing that for 60 to 80 minutes three times a week.

Obviously reading was out of the question and the real challenge was to fill my mind with something—anything—that would counteract the discomfort and tedium. Normally I would read a book but that was impossible so I tried some of the tricks I imagined Edmund Dantès might have relied upon. I found that mental woodworking projects tended to pass the time as I selected boards, measured, sawed them to size, hammered nails, and drilled screws. I built a very fancy workbench for my garage four or five times and each time it was even more spectacular, if only in my imagination.

Now my iPad has a mere 4400 books at my fingertips at all times. And not only that, I can access even more books waiting for me in the Cloud. Hey, you never know when you might finish one book and desperately want to start another .. or maybe build a workbench.

2 thoughts on “What Do I Do With My Mind?

  1. There is even a word for this fear, Mike. It’s ‘abibibliophobia’. I just love it. Your trick with ‘virtual carpentry’ amused me as I have a similar trick, I try to recall poems or bits of Shakespeare. It does help thanks for always posting such amusing and interesting stuff on your blog.


    1. I once tried recalling all of the hot girlfriends I had over the years but then I still had time to mentally construct an exact model of the Île de la Cité out of grains of rice and a daub or two of white glue. Is that Freudian?


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