Wednesday, March 24, 2021

What's getting you through this spring? The mental grout theory of coping.

Some things are looking up. They really are. Want proof?

  • People are getting vaccinated (including me, hooray!).
  • The days are getting longer. Sure, they're still cold, gray, and rainy, with snow and hail from time to time, but they are longer.
  • The political hellscape has lifted and things are getting done. Proof: people are picking at each other on Twitter for very minor sins of omission in fights that exist only among the theory bros and other cool kids.
  • Call my Agent is on Netflix and is absolutely fantastic, a sure way to get out of your head for an hour a day. It's French, and it's hilarious (and the subtitles are really good).

But one thing I've noticed is that every spring, I seem to do a deep dive into something that takes me a complete world away from work. For some people it might be knitting, or yoga, or skiing, or whatever else gives you a brain vacation. The main principles are that it has to (1) be engaging enough to completely flood your brain with something other than work and (2) it has to have little to no utility in any kind of work life. 

The way I think of it is this: the work and daily tasks in your life are like rocks living in your brain. Some of the rocks are huge; some have sharp, irregular edges that bang into you when you're trying to fall asleep; but all of them are there and won't go away, although they change shape and configuration from time to time.

If all you have in your mental inventory is a set of boulders weighing you down and grating against each other, it's going to get you down. What you need is some grout, or smooth mental filler, that you can use to keep those rocks from moving around too much when you need to get some rest and relaxation.

Now, some movies, television shows, podcasts, books, and the like can do this (see: Call My Agent), but you might also need more mental grout than this.

This could be anything, like, say, a deep dive into the films of Orson Welles. Or learning an embarrassing amount about Bonnie and Clyde. Mad Men. Or who really killed the Princes in the Tower. Doesn't matter if you're not an expert on whatever it is; in fact, that's preferable, because then you can learn more. My mental grout this spring is a band, but it could have been anything. It's whatever puts you back to sleep when anxieties awaken you at 3 a.m.

After a time, you might shift the composition of the mental grout to something else, but the point is that it exists, not what it consists of.

Do you have some mental grout that's helping you get through everything? What is it?


nicoleandmaggie said...

The Great British Bakeoff.

gwinne said...

I love this metaphor!

Doing a rewatch of the Gilmore Girls. Also making fancy cocktails, not in a drown-my-sorrows sort of way, but as a learning about ingredients sort of way.

Vaccine accessibility has opened up in my area (even the teen will have one shot in a couple weeks!) and things seem better. Spring helps so much.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Same as it ever was: lots of long walks and reading fantasy novels and/or mid-century light fiction by British women writers.

undine said...

nicoleandmaggie--GBBO is the best.

Gwinne--Gilmore Girls and fancy cocktails will do it! I'm glad your teen will have a shot in a couple of weeks.

Dame Eleanor--with you on the long walks! I have some mid-century light fiction by British women but haven't dived in yet.