On Shoveling: A Modest Proposal*
Studies have shown that the abstracted mind is an agile and creative mind. Scientists have found that when we distract ourselves from our work, we arrive at solutions and inspiration. The way to creativity, their experimentations suggest, lies through tasks that take us momentarily from our work and allow our minds to wander.
We might conclude, then, that New Englanders are poised to claim the title of Most Creative of Americans by virtue of the time they have been required of late to spend away from their jobs and family and recreations in order to shovel snow. The winter of 2014-15 will see a marked increase in New England-sourced art thanks to a string of storms that has buffeted the region during the months of January and February. In fact, it may be said that New England has been the seat of learning and of deep thought and deeper writing for centuries precisely because of its tendency to such inclement and precipitation-yielding winter weather. New studies will likely emerge to show that Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Alcott all would have written and thought nothing had they not been required by their climate to clear snow from the paths and roads that led to their desks.
In this 2014-2015 winter, we see creativity beginning to flourish under the regime of snow-shoveling and ice-chipping that the climate has demanded. One individual has snowboarded down Commonwealth Avenue on a towline from a skimobile. Others have dug tunnels out of sidewalks when it would have been just as simple to burst through the tunnel roof into the light. Another soul has carved a sculpture from the snowbank of a city street to fashion a fanged creature in the act of swallowing a car.
But this does not suffice. These creative acts exist in physical rather than verbal space. And though there have been whisperings throughout the snow-bound city about certain writers who have managed, in these storm-challenged times, to complete manuscripts, to launch novels, or to revise stories, the production of written creativity in this epoch of winter storms is not satisfactory.
Therefore, deeming that the balance between work and distractions from work is in need of readjustment before the literary arts can prosper, we call for more snow and more storms. New England writers require more time away from their desks to allow their minds to wander productively. They must be distracted by physical work in order to create works of literary art. There needs must be, thus, more shoveling.
At present, we have experienced the arrival of one storm per week. In order for our writers to thrive, we must have two storms per seven-day period. There must no longer be days on which writers can rest from shoveling. There must be no days during which there is a pause in the rhythmic and soothing tap of water droplets into buckets. The ice dams must not evaporate.
Only by continuing to wake and sleep in a world dominated by snow and ice can the New England writer engage in the kind of distracted thinking that will allow her or his literary work to flourish. Only by experiencing a soreness in the lower back and a twingeing in the forearm and a tightness in the shoulder can the New England writer exercise her or his creative mind. We must have snow and we must have ice dams if the New England writer is to find the vacant mental space in which to find inspiration.
*apologies to Jonathan Swift
Henriette Lazaridis' debut novel The Clover House was published by Ballantine Books in April 2013 and was a Boston Globe best-seller and a Target Emerging Authors pick. Her work has appeared in publications including ELLE, Narrative Magazine, Forge, Salamander, the New England Review, The Millions, The New York Times online, and the Huffington Post and has earned her a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Grant. She has degrees in English from Middlebury College, Oxford University where she was a Rhodes Scholar, and the University of Pennsylvania where she earned a Ph.D. She taught at Harvard for ten years before leaving academia to turn to writing. In the summers, she runs the Krouna Writing Workshop in northern Greece (www.krounawritingworkshop.com).See other articles by Henriette Lazaridis