I have a lot of bad habits. Most of them I’m aware of: eating too much red licorice, not using conditioner. (Using conditioner just seems like a Madison Avenue scam to me—like those “wash twice” directions on shampoo bottles.) And then there’s the whole wardrobe thing. I never met a pair of shorts or a National Park T-shirt that I didn’t like.
But then there’s this one. I hold my breath. I didn’t even know I was doing it until my friend and get-down-and-do-thirty-push-ups-personal-trainer James told me so. Then other people started pointing out moments when I’m not breathing. I hold my breath when I’m driving over bridges. I hold my breath when I’m writing a particularly difficult sentence. I sometimes hold my breath when I’m cracking an egg.
What’s that all about?
My hunch is that it’s a form of concentration, but—to tell the truth—I have no idea why I do it or how long it’s been a bad habit.
But since James pointed out that I hold my breath when I’m exercising, I’ve been thinking about other forms of constriction.
Take my desk, example. It’s a beauty.
About five years ago, I told myself I deserved a better desk than the five-foot length of counter top perched atop two metal filing cabinets that I had been using since grad school days. And did I splurge on a new desk! It’s a wrap-around with multiple drawers and lots of smooth surfaces and my friend, Peter, built a pull-out shelf that I can write on when I’m doing telephone interviews and need to take notes. Peter whipped together the pull-out invention with scraps of wood from his barn. I just love New England recyclers.
But here’s the deal. My desk is too great. Too functional. Too comfortable. Everyday I spend hours at it. I can write for 10-12 hours a day and not feel the slightest need to get away. Friends shake their heads at the stretches of time I put in down here in the “cave,” as one of them so lovingly put it.
You see where this is going, don’t you?
Sitting at my desk for long stretches of time is like holding my breath. At hour five, I think I’m concentrating, but really I’m turning blue.
“Relax your scapula,” James told me today when I was doing bicep curls. He might as well have been talking about my brain.
Get up. Walk around. Maybe see what those phoebes are doing in the bird nest next to the garage.
The flipside of concentration may just be inspiration.