The Washington Post has an article out about the pompous nature of over-workers. Yes, Silicon Valley startups, the lot of you are awesome. But the rest of us need to shower and sleep without buying an app to tell us how.
The truth is, it’s good to be somewhat aimless half the time. As a kid I was always encouraged to be creative, and that “undiscipline” came precisely from wandering strange roads, exploring the county courthouse on the weekend, invading the library, constructing makeshift tents out of dining room chairs, stuffing swaths of old fabric with cotton, cutting off the hair of my dolls, running away from home and running back, and writing, writing, writing.
At summer camp nobody knew from insurance and liability. We had a schedule, sure, but the truth of it was that we were basically free to do drama club and Color War and tetherball and pottery. Of course, I ran around, broke my fingers one after the other, got dirty and ate blueberries right off the bushes they had growing wild by the woods.
It was heaven.
As an adult, and I don’t know exactly how or when this happened, the downtime got less and less, and the requirement to account for every second of every moment of every day increased accordingly.
On a job interview for a pretty good job the guy said to me, “What’s your favorite book?”
And I answered without thinking, “I don’t read books.”
We both realized how bad that sounded.
I beat myself up all the way home, but the truth was I knew I couldn’t lay claim to that kind of uninterrupted time anymore. That time was over.
As my mind wanders back in time I really miss the good old days before the Internet in particular. We had one book and one book report to do at a pretty slow pace every month, so you had enough time to absorb it. The teacher would grade you briefly and insightfully, not with a mechanical rubric that drilled down to the littlest and frankly most irrelevant detail: “B-. You can do better – argument is superficial.”
I feel pretty spoiled nowadays, too, by this idea that every weekend has to be entertaining. As a kid we didn’t do anything. I mean by this that we slept late, read the cartoons and clipped coupons from the Sunday paper, went to visit the family, and maybe went to the mall.
It was considered your business and your problem what you did with your own time, and this was true from the youngest age. As an eight year old I got into a huge fight with this girl named George (!) on the playground. She punched me right in the face and knocked me out.
Somehow my father appeared and dragged me home, but after wiping the blood off and the snot I was left to go out there once again. That wasn’t news.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to romanticize child neglect or to ignore the risks of minimal structure. But I do feel confident in saying that today we have definitely gone too far the other way. Because now, there is a bias against being alone at all – and without solitude your mind cannot develop properly.
In the work environment, many are expected to function totally out in the open – to concentrate with many other people around, with their noise. I don’t know about you, but it is absolutely impossible for me to think under these circumstances unless my brains are covered in white noise.
As a parent, you are expected to engage your children constantly in some form of social play or learning activity. This pressure starts in the womb as the doctors tell you to play classical music, and continues and continues even into the college years.
You go to college to learn things, but the roster of campus activities is expected to be overflowing, and you as the student are supposed to be partying every Friday night and Saturday night (let alone dorming) or else you’re somehow “isolated from the experience.”
Outside of work, Facebook-worthy shares basically consist of social moments — anything that looks good when anywhere between two and six happy people are smiling into a camera.
Which reminds me of a moment just before last weekend. It was Friday afternoon.
“Any plans for the weekend?” I asked my colleague in the elevator.
The gentleman, about two generations older than myself, answered slowly.
“I’m going to sit on my porch with my dog,” he said. “In my chair. I am going to do nothing.”
Message delivered. This guy knew how to take a chill pill, and he knew that he could be ridiculed for saying so openly.
But I wasn’t ridiculing him in my mind. The truth is, I was jealous.
So this is what I’m thinking, after a week of feeling blocked and then re-starting the creative process after some floundering. That “doing nothing” can in fact be a deliberate act of creativity.
For watering the soil doesn’t make a flower show up right away. But it does set the stage for a rosebud to appear.
Later on, suddenly.
Almost as if by magic.
All opinions my own. Clip art by Jonathan357 via OpenClipArt.org
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