Category: Writing

‘Twas Time to Think

I drove to Red Wing, Minnesota from Richmond, Virginia recently, and back. It was quite the drive: about 18 hours there, and maybe 27 hours home (took the long way back—via Brampton, Ontario). During this very long drive, I used a friend’s Audible account to listen to audiobooks, because I knew I’d get bored–and also deeply sick of searching for acceptable radio stations. (I got standards, y’all.) This worked well and it helped pass the time, which is what it was meant to do. But it also stopped me from thinking. It felt intensely passive at times, and I just didn’t like how that felt.

On a more recent trip, I traveled from Richmond to Neshanic good writerStation, New Jersey, then to Newton, Massachusetts, and then to Bowdoinham, Maine. This was a three-day trip, so none of the driving days were anywhere near as long as the three biggest driving days on my previous trip. There was also more to see, it being the very densely populated Northeast—and the drivers were more demented. Also, the radio stations were much better. But I’d still planned on spending the trip listening to a book. Somehow though, without actually planning it, I didn’t end up playing an audiobook.

The result? Deep thoughts. Ideas. Solutions. Alliterative blog titles. Wandering daydreams involving…well, never mind about that. I even recorded some notes with a voice recording app on my phone. The point is, my mind was active. I did the sort of thinking that can only be done with stretches of time and nothing else to occupy me—I mean, aside from traffic, construction, rain storms, and a weird mass of press in a small town in Pennsylvania. (Only my GPS knows why I drove to Neshanic Station via PA.)

Time sitting still or walking is arguably better for such thinking, as it’s less distracting, but this experience reminded me that I have had essential epiphanies while driving. I’ve come up with such valuable connections and solutions, while gently trying to tease apart knots in plots or a dissertation chapter, for example, that I’ve pulled over to write, which is saying a lot for me.

And of course, it reminded me of how little time I actually spend bored anymore, with nothing to do but think. My cell phone has saved me from having to think while waiting on lines, sitting in waiting rooms, waiting for events to start, trying to wake up or fall asleep, and thousands of other times. Yay?

I do sometimes wonder what I’ve failed to accomplish because of this great benefit of technology. One thing I do know for sure is that I won’t be listening to an audiobook on my trip home from Bowdoinham. Not that I think they’re evil, and not that I won’t ever listen to one in the future—they definitely serve a purpose—but I need more thinking time, and this will be a great opportunity to take some.


Ironically, the day after I wrote this, an artist friend (Kim-Lee Kho) posted this article to Facebook. Brilliant minds, and all that.

Jury Duty, Sept 18, 2015, Richmond City Circuit Court. Interesting in Parts.

Super fun! Getting to the courthouse Friday morning was a little more complicated than usual because of the massive international bike race extravaganza that began with opening ceremonies last night. Roads were closed and people were driving like loonies. Neither of those things are very unusual for Richmond, alas.

We waited in a large holding pen in the basement of the courthouse for a while. We’d been told we could bring books, but no devices, of course. I was amazed at how many people—maybe a quarter of the 28ish people there?—sat and gazed into space rather than read. There was even a table full of magazines, but not many people read them.

There was an orientation video during which the former chief justice of Virginia repeatedly referred to us as jurors, pronouncing it jur-AHRs. Very weird/annoying. (Later, the judge referred to motorcycles as motorsickels. Maybe they were just doing it to mess with us.) The production values and audio quality of the video were atrocious. The commonwealth should be ashamed.

When they did roll call, I was surprised to hear that maybe 20% of the people who were supposed to be there didn’t show up. I wonder what happens to them. Probably not much. Of the names called, I recognized one, but assumed it was a coincidence. A little later, I realized that it wasn’t. I’ve only lived in Richmond for about 4 years total, and I don’t know that many people who live in the city. What are the odds? Anyway, we were able to talk for a while—longer than we ever did when we worked together a few years back. It was really nice. (We were also almost the only people who talked that day. Very quiet crowd.)

Eventually, they herded us upstairs, cramming us into three elevators. We sat and waited in another courtroom until they were ready for us, then moved to the rear of the other courtroom. Thirteen of us were randomly selected to be part of the jury pool. I was number 11. YAY. (I had plans—otherwise I’d have been thrilled.)

We finally learned that it was a civil trial. The judge gave us a summary of the case, which surprised me, and told us the defendant was a John Doe. They didn’t explain it very well, but basically if you want to be anonymous in a civil trial in Virginia, you can be. This is generally done when someone is a public figure. This case involved a man riding on a Harley Davidson motorcycle who claims he was run off the road by a man in an SUV. I have decided that the defendant was Chris Brown (based on no evidence at all) and that he’s guilty. 😉

Anyway, the judge asked a bunch of questions. Then the plaintiff’s lawyer did. Both lawyers agreed to excuse two people at some early stage, and the judge agreed to remove and replace them with extra people from the jury pool. Both people said they had experience with motorcycles and how irresponsible people are when driving around them, and didn’t think they could be impartial, plus they wanted the rest of the day off to screw around. (That last part was unstated, but pretty clear.)

The lawyer asked a bunch more questions, mostly about who’d been in accidents, who had been parties in lawsuits, if any of us had ever used his firm, etc. He also asked about people with medical and legal experience. The friend I spoke with and I both have experience with the legal profession (me as a PI). He asked what kind of work I did—domestic, insurance—and he paused for me to answer. I said: “No domestic, but just about everything else.” He said, “No domestic? Good for you.” “Yes, yes it is,” I said. :-)

Then the defendant’s attorney asked some questions, though he seemed more interested in talking about the case. Seemed a little over the line a couple of times, but no one objected. They also didn’t say much about the John Doe thing, but he promised they’d explain more later. Two people objected strongly to the dude not being there. I also had issues with it—I imagine most of us did—but with an open mind. (Unless it was Chris Brown.)

Then the lawyers SLOWLY went back and forth, apparently agonizing (I wondered if some of that was theater) over the list of names, and each attorney picked three people (alternating) to excuse. I and my friend, who has a JD, were both excused. I was doing my happy dance on the inside, but managed to avoid high fiving anyone. One of the people who’d objected to the John Doe thing—a man who seemed pretty cantankerous—was also excused.

They had us sit and wait a while longer, and then sent us back downstairs…where we waited a little longer. While we waited, I noticed a woman reading a book in the back that I hadn’t noticed before: Fifty Shades of Gray. Now, setting aside issues of quality (I try not to judge, with varying degrees of success), I truly can’t imagine reading that book in a public place, let alone a courthouse. But hey, at least she was reading.

They finally gave us parking vouchers and sent us on our way—along with instructions to call the following Thursday to see if we need to report. We apparently all have 4 Fridays where we might need to serve. Here’s hoping for something more exciting next time, if they ask us to come in (though I expect being excused will be a matter of course, for me).

Update: I forgot to mention a few things that I found interesting. The plaintiff’s attorney said his only witness would be the plaintiff, and asked us if any of us would be unable (don’t remember the exact wording) to vote in favor of his client. He also noted that the state trooper who did the accident investigation might be testifying for the defense (I assume he was–he was present, though not in the courtroom during jury selection), and asked if we would assume the trooper was necessarily right–or if we’d accept the word of the trooper over that of his client. No one raised their hand at that, which surprised me a bit. Though a lot of people are hostile to law enforcement these days, and especially to troopers (speeding tickets), the trooper has no real horse in the race. (That’s arguable, to some extent, but still…) And troopers are supposedly experts in accident reconstruction. The plaintiff had a pretty tough sell, it looked like to me. Unless it was Chris Brown involved, anyway. :-)