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Mental Block

This summer has been a summer of Big Thoughts at work. We’ve been writing our departmental self-study, summing up our present and laying the groundwork for our future. We’ve been grappling with a major project that’s requiring far more thought about everything from logistics to philosophy than I’d anticipated. We’re writing two articles and a college report based on that project, each of which has thwarted us at nearly every step. (And if you’re one of the people who’s waiting for manuscripts of these things, we’re sorry. Really we are. We’re working on them.) Our campus IT department is restructuring, which means that our public service collaborations with them are restructuring, and I’m the library liaison to those things. A new building with a new kind of collaborative learning space is opening next week, so we’ve been thinking big thoughts about how best to balance our enthusiasm for the new service potentials with our capacity to do it all. And somewhere in there, in bits and pieces, Steve and I are working on a book.

And somehow this whole time it’s like I’ve got some sort of mental block. It’s like I can approach that point at which thoughts fall into place and a framework emerges, but I can never quite get there. All the component parts are lying there in a heap on my mental floor, and I can’t seem to disentangle them enough to pull one out, turn it this way and that, and watch it map itself onto the final structure. And so I’m left with a fragile jumble of interesting facts and ideas and a growing sense of frustration and failure.

Published inRandom Thoughts


  1. Have I ever been there.

    Sometimes what works for me is abandoning the big picture outright. If I work on banging together little pieces for a while, my subconscious sometimes sorts out the big picture for me, and then I even have little pieces all ready to fit into it.

  2. This resonates with me on many levels. When I write, what ever kind of writing, there is always a period of mulling things over. Like making a pot of stew – low and slow, let the flavours do their thing. You could rush it, but the product won’t be as good.
    I recently finished a sewing project that required some detailed work with lots of pins involved – friggy work, I call it. And this work had to be done first, long before the garment had any semblance of its finished shape, so I just had to trust my knowledge and skills (was working without a pattern) to turn the bits into a whole.
    There are many sayings around the idea that getting started is the hardest part: “can’t steer a parked car” “journey of a thousand miles . . . ” “admitting a the problem is half the battle” and so on. And of course interia is a truly powerful physical force as much as a state of mind: the act of changing direction requires more energy than simply continuing in a straight line.
    Just a thought: if you know you need to achieve a particular outcome in some area, maybe a learning tip from chess could help. It is frequently suggested to learn the game from the end, when there are very few pieces in play before achieving checkmate, back to the beginning. In doing so one learns how to create the conditions for success given the pieces in play.

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