Idle

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

~ Tim Kreider, author of We Learn Nothing

Let’s be idle, shall we? Surely we’ve earned it. Three hundred years of capitalism has worn out the social fabric, all of us with holes in the knees of our jeans, and here you thought you were making a fashion statement, silly rabbit.

A few months ago I closed my pay-what-you-can café and went off to manage a fancy coffee bar. Now I’m on forced hiatus, like most of my fellow food-and-beverage folk, not exactly laid off but not exactly employed. Unsure of what’s ahead. Like most of us.

For the first two weeks I was seduced by productivity porn, but I’m over it. I’m even shucking off the soft-core variety that assures me it’s okay to not know what to do, okay to give myself the time I need to process — I’m done with the processing, too, done with the implication that once I’m done with all the processing I’ll be ready for more productivity. 

I want to rest. Don’t you? I want the world to rest. I want us to stop wondering when things will get back to normal (asdf: I think that ship has sailed) and why would we want to go back to that, anyway? Don’t we remember how awful it was?

I remember.

Scroll this: I’ve updated my art page. (See? Productive!)

Recommended reading: Tom Hodgkinson’s How to Be Idle, because I think we could all use a refresher course. You can check it out for free from Open Library, or buy it from an indie.

What Idiots We Are

Peter Gray on the academic kindergarten:

Race to the Top; what a horrid metaphor for education. A race? Everyone is on the same track, seeing how fast they can go? Racing toward what? The top? The top of what? Education is not a race, it’s an amble. Real education only occurs when everyone is ambling along their own path. We are bringing the worst values and attitudes of our culture to bear on our image of education. What idiots we are.

And from the teachers forced to bring academic curriculum into their kindergarten classrooms:

We see many of our Kindergartners struggle with anxiety about school because they know they are expected to read. … It is now common to hear their little voices announce to us, “I don’t know how to read, I hate reading, I hate school, I am not good at anything.”

Read the entire article here.

Snow Day

My friends in Buffalo roll their eyes at how little it takes for us in the Ohio River Valley to call a snow day. A bit of ice on the roads, some flocking on the trees. This morning I looked out the window and said, “Oh, look how pretty.” And took a snow day.

It’s one of the perks of running your own shop: you can choose to stay home if you want. Which sounds lovely until you understand that not going to work means no income that day. So you choose with care.

I sent the usual notices by social media and email, but those don’t catch everybody, and some may arrive at my little café and find the doors locked. I’ve been telling them for months to reserve before they come. Send me a text, I say. Call me. Do they do it? Not always. Not everyone. I forgive them. Will they forgive me? ¿Quién sabe? 

Seth Godin says when we’re considering whether our work has value, the question to ask is, would anyone miss it if we stopped doing it?

A few missed me today. I’ve got their texts, their social media comments. So my work has value. Good to know. Sometimes you gotta take a day, right? As a friend used to say, how can they miss you if you never leave?

Bugs

The fleas are tenacious this year. The youngest cat in the household has an allergy to flea bites and he has been miserable with them, but no one’s having an easy time of it. Standard treatments become ineffective as generation after generation of ever-hardier bugs develop resistance to drops, collars, and oral treatments. We’re all scrubbing our floors and upholstery with Dawn dish-washing liquid and hoping for the best.

In her book Deep Creek author Pam Houston writes about the decimation of the western forests by the pine beetle in the 90’s and the spruce bark beetle in the ’00’s, leaving entire mountainsides covered with standing kindling just waiting for a bolt of lightning or an untended campfire. And just this morning I saw this article in the NY Times about antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are transforming what was once a vexing but easily treated infection into something life-threatening.

Here’s my takeaway: it won’t be fire or ice that does us in. It won’t be nukes, it won’t be an asteroid. It’s going to be the bugs.

Where Creativity Might Live

It may be the case that expensive cities are killing creativity, but I suspect the real culprit is the belief that you have to live in a certain sort of place in order to create.

If you want to have time to make your art, it helps to live somewhere that offers low overhead. Cheap rent, or — imagine it! — an affordable mortgage, in a place that’s reasonably well-tended and feels safe. Because chances are it isn’t the city that’s killing your creativity, it’s the amount of money it costs to live there and the amount of time you have to spend acquiring that money. Scarcity — insufficient time, inadequate funds — is the real creativity-killer.

Maybe going home to your “dying” hometown — or some reasonable facsimile thereof — will serve your creativity in ways you can’t imagine from where you are right now.