Friday, February 5, 2010

In praise of idleness

Do you believe in coincidences? I am not sure what I believe in these days, but at least I notice when something happens three, four times in a row. I keep bumping into this idea o idleness it seems.

Of course, I grew up with the belief that being idle is bad. I had to "do" something all the time, something productive, usefull like homeworks, study, reading. I am not even sure I know how to be idle, assuming that I could find the time for it. It does not mater what I am doing, part of my brain is doing something else. Discussions are going on non stop in my head and no, I do not have ADHD. I simply do not have enough time to deal with everything that needs to be dealt with. I am sure I am not the only dealing with this predicament.

I recently read Jean d'Ormesson's Qu'ai-je dons fait?. In this nostalginc memoir, he also talks about idleness and creativity. Idleness is letting the dust settle, taking time to observe, think, reflect. Masterpieces came to be because their authors took time to be idle. Proust comes to mind, his idleness forced on him by his asthma. He spent years secluded in a cork-lined bedroom, writing A la recherche du temps perdu.  For Thoreau, it was a different kind of idleness, the one made possible by a life in  close communion with nature. Leonardo filled his notebooks with the results of his observations because he took the time to observer. The list could go on. Of course this is not to say that one has to be sick or live a secluded life to be creative. It merely means that the creative act cannot occur when one cannot take time to notice. Nowadays, only the lucky ones seem to have this luxury.

Then, I found this post talking about ... idleness and Bertrand Russell's essay In praise of idleness. And this makes it two.

In an article in Harper's Magazine, the author talked about how America outsourced thinking. How true. Thinking is in short supply these days indeed. No time, we are too busy dancing our fingers on remote controls, ipods, ipads, cellphones, kepboards ...not to mention that nobody tought us how to think. Those who do not think are easier to control because they will think whatever the few want them to think.

And finally the fourth praise of idleness came from another issue of Harper's, from an article about Warren Buffett. The richest man in the world has an office on the 14th floor of a grey building in Omaha where every day he reads reports and thinks. The office is not an example of state-of-the-art-technology, au contraire. But its server the purpose of allowing its owner to do what he does best and that is produce ideas.

How could it be otherwise? How can one think when beig subjected to constant noise, voices, bips, flashes, rings, images, numbers ...The answer is simple: one does not.

I see this chain of events as a concidence; some would argue that it is the Universe trying to tell me something, except that I am not strong in the faith department. And in any case, there is not much I can do about it until I retire or, if I am lucky, until I can leave the rat race behind ...for now, I just notice it. Going back to my long list of non-thought provoking activities.