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Technology Editor J. Howard writes about a week spent rediscovering uni-tasking and the written word.

Except for the morning and evening communal yelling from howler monkeys in the trees beyond our balcony, our week spent in Costa Rica was relatively quiet.  And slow.  No errands to run, classes to teach or emails to send.  Our only contacts were my sister and her family, and they were busy with work and school, so time, while slowing down, also magnified each minute into a delicious span of possibility.

I’d brought down my notebook and a copy of The Making of a Poem by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland.  For eleven years The Making of a Poem had sat at home in a tall pile of half-read books. I’d read a chapter or a poem and then need to put it aside for some pressing errand.  Reading in patches of time, I wasn’t certain that I was retaining much of it (or any of its companions in that growing pile).  So, when it came time to pack for the trip, I decided to bring that book, and only that book, in the hope that I’d finish it.

Once ensconced in Tamarindo, I’d wake up to the howls of the monkeys and within the hour,  be seated at a restaurant, drinking coffee, eating papaya, underlining and annotating and, good lord, learning something from the book. It didn’t hurt that my table was outside in the hot sun (always a plus for a SAD sufferer) and that the ocean, with its predictable, soothing rhythm, was not too far away.

After an hour or so, I’d open my notebook and write. And write and write and write.  I’d try out whichever form I’d read about that day, or I’d continue working on a sketch about being a foreign service child in 1962. I composed a ballad about a Little Miss Echo, a doll who was also a tape recorder, and my adventures with her in our D.C. apartment in ’62.  I wrote an ode to the ocean and the letter O.  I’d recall lines from unwritten poems and would jot them down before I forgot them.

Slowing down for a week made me realize just how busy I am during the regular year.  Or, to be honest, how busy I let myself be.  Not having an iPad to work on, or a computer, cut out all of the many ways I use to distract myself from getting down to my own work.  Carrying around one book and not five allowed me to focus deeply.  The rhythms that I followed were my own and not governed by waiting for a repairman to arrive or for a class to start. It was productive and it was bliss.



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