A List of Acceptable Distractions from Writing

Summer has hit Albuquerque and it feels like a punch in the stomach. The weather reads 99 degrees today, 100 degrees tomorrow, 101 degrees on Friday. You’ll most likely find me lying face down in my “home office” located in the hallway by the nearest swamp cooler vent reading my phone because my laptop is too hot.

My boyfriend periodically glances up from his work to give me an indulgent look and I think, “what? this is completely reasonable” before rolling over to cool off my back. Okay, it’s not really that hot, but after five summers in San Francisco where the average temperature feels like 50 degrees, I haven’t acclimatized. Or at least, that’s my excuse for now. I’ve resigned myself to spending the hours between 10am and 7pm inside, which means I no longer have any excuses for procrastinating on my projects. At the same time, I’ve rediscovered the glorious sensation of doing nothing, and unfortunately, how easy it is to lose a whole afternoon to mindless Internet surfing. Rather than fight the impossible fight, I’ve decided that an hour or two Internet of browsing is okay. I’ve create a list of “acceptable distractions,” and tried to block the rest of the web.

Here are my some of my favorites:

1. When I get stuck writing, I find a quick trip over to Brain Pickings often spurs me on to something good. Brain Pickings, a website created by Marie Popova, describes itself as:

“your cross-disciplinary LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces spanning art, design, science, technology, philosophy, history, politics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, and more; pieces that enrich your mental pool of resources and empower combinatorial ideas that are stronger, smarter, richer, deeper and more impactful.”

Who can argue with that offering? More precisely, the website pulls together interesting sets of books and uses the public library to offer passages and full pages from them. Famous Advice on Writing is a collection of my favorites, writers writing about writing. It’s great for those moments when you think, “I’m worthless. I can’t possible write.” Alternatively, you can check out some of their posts on gorgeous children’s books here.

Today’s offering, “Darwin’s Life Adapted in Poems by his Great-Great Granddaughter” is as great as it sounds.

2. Letters, almost a nostalgic gesture at this point, are absolutely fascinating, and Letters of Note is filled with epic letters from writers, artists, politicians, and just about anyone who put pen to paper and made good use of it. Read memos from an irate Tiger Oil Company CEO, “Idle conversation and gossip in this office among employees will result in immediate termination,” or a letter of advice from father to son. This site alone leads to hours of uninterrupted distraction.

3. As a poet, I find visual art to be particularly stimulating, and often a great source of inspiration. Lately, I’ve found myself obsessed with a Tumblr called Fly Over Art. It posts artwork from artists based out of the Midwest, and is never disappointing. They’ve expanded to the Northeast and the West, but there’s something about the Midwest aesthetic that I can’t get over.

4. And last, but certainly not least, Gwarlingo. Curated by Michelle Alderich, it offers a Sunday Poem each week which consists of an in-depth look at the writer and several pieces of their work. A mix of well known and more obscure poets, the Sunday Poems are always an interesting read. One of my favorites debuted Mary Reufle’s Melody a Story of a Child. The post offers some insight into Reufle, her writing process, and her thoughts on poetry, along with a digital version of the entire book. I highly recommend it.

And how do I keep the rest of the Internet out? This handy app Stay Focused from chrome allows me to block entire websites during specific periods of the day, or allows only short browsing period, for example just ten minutes on Facebook between 9am and 5pm. Be careful though, I’ve accidentally blocked the New York Times semi-permanently.

When all else fails, turning off the laptop and turning to summer reading, while drinking copious amounts of iced tea, seems to be a great way to stay cool and on track. I’ve just started Anne Waldman’s latest book of poetry Gossamurmur, and page one leaves me inclined to believe I’ll like it. If you are truly at a complete loss, there is always this.

Lucy Burns is entering her 2nd year as a poet in the MFA program at the University of New Mexico. She is also the Poetry Editor for Blue Mesa Review