A woman and her thoughts

Many years ago a friend loaned me a book. She was insistent, so I read and returned it and we enjoyed a mutually satisfying discussion. Unfortunately I don't remember the author or the title, but if my summation rings a bell please let me know. I'd like to read it again.

It is the story (a memoir I believe) of a woman setting off to spend months alone in a rough coastal cabin on the Atlantic, with nothing nearby and even a grocery miles away. Getting supplies of any kind was tedious and time consuming. The details of her stay and the reason for her escape into this challenging environment are lost, but I have remembered one thing quite clearly. 

Throughout her stay she had no communication—no telephone, radio, TV, computer. She lived alone with her thoughts, and when she wasn't busy trying to stay warm and alive her thoughts grew progressively deeper, more complex, more complete. She described this process as having "long thoughts," and it is this idea that has stuck with me all these years. How satisfying it must be to have long thoughts.

To mull over an idea, to carry it to its most extreme interpretation and then to go back to that idea and exam it from another point of view—what a luxury that must be. To have the time to think at all in any deep, meaningful way is almost lost to us now. It is a serious diminution of our competence. We rush from one urgency to the next, constantly interrupted by waiting tasks or our glorious machines, wondering if we can capture an idea in 140 characters.

Mr. Trump perfectly embodies this new reality. I suspect he thinks in 140-characters, with the last person spoken to determining his opinion. This is no way to run a country.

But I too am guilty of this short-burst thinking. I find it harder and harder to contemplate anything, or to find the peace needed to do so. One would think this easy, since it's just Ray and me here, and he sleeps a lot. But apparently my mind has been trained by the Web and I jump from one idea to the next to the next to the next without giving any of them their due. This is no way to be human.

With the beginning of a new year I've been wondering about my own goals, outside the needs of my family. What do I want to accomplish in the next 12 months? I'm beginning to think that I need to relearn thinking. To set aside time every day for silence and choose a thought to follow. I don't think I'll ever attain long thoughts, but I might at least learn to slow down the ridiculously short ones that fill my mind with such chaos. It's worth a try.


Thanks to NF for identifying this excellent book: Drinking the Rain, by Alex Kates Shulman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995.