Now I know how I got into this blogging situation: idle time.
Because here I am, after one full year of blogging, enjoying another idle Ides of March, and my mind is alive. It’s spring break, I’m in my jammies, and I’m not finishing final preparations for the class that I would usually be teaching in an hour. I’m not tired from having taught a grad class last night. And I’m not answering a million emails (oops! spoke too soon – my university email just made its little alert).
I’m invigorating myself with books like If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, which insists that everyone is original and talented and that there are other reasons for writing sonnets than to have them published in the Women’s Home Companion. Ueland says that to be creative, one should be:
idle, limp and alone for much of the time, as lazy as men fishing on a levee, and quietly looking and thinking, not willing all the time. This quiet looking and thinking is the imagination; it is letting in ideas.
With just a week of idle time, my imagination regenerates, and I get crazy ideas like, “I think I’ll start a blog!” That was a year ago over spring break.
One hope I had for the blog was that it would be a venue for me to pause and reflect now and again. As a famous writer* once said, “How do I know what I think until I write it?” I wanted the blog to help me figure out what I think about things by forcing me to articulate them to some sort of public. Otherwise, I have a bunch of unformed thoughts floating around my busy head. The blog would be like forced contemplation. Ueland quotes the philosopher Plotinus: “So there are men too feeble for contemplation.” I’m probably one of those men, which is why I need the blog to force me to do it.
Ueland equates idleness with big ideas, and busyness with little ideas:
So you see the imagination needs moodling,–long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering. These people who are always briskly doing something and as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp, staccato ideas, such as: “I see where I can make an annual cut of $3.47 in my meat budget.” But they have no slow, big ideas. And the fewer consoling, noble, shining, free, jovial, magnanimous ideas that come, the more nervously and desperately they rush and run from office to office and up and downstairs, thinking by action at last to make life have some warmth and meaning.
The nervous running up and downstairs, from office to office, hits a bit too close to home. Something about academia (or surely any institution or business) can turn one into a busy, waltzing mouse full of little ideas. I feel it happening sometimes to me and my colleagues when our budget gets cut again and we’re told to stop making photocopies for the next two months and to consider holding a bake sale to pay for student writing awards. Little, staccato ideas.
Ueland distinguishes between idleness that is a “complete slump” full of worry and fretting, and creative idleness:
…the dreamy idleness that children have, an idleness when you walk alone for a long, long time, or take a long, dreamy time at dressing, or lie in bed at night and thoughts come and go, or dig in a garden, or drive a car for many hours alone, or play the piano, or sew, or paint ALONE; or an idleness–and this is what I want you to do–where you sit with pencil and paper or before a typewriter quietly putting down what you happen to be thinking, that is creative idleness. With all my heart I tell you and reassure you: at such times you are being slowly filled and re-charged with warm imagination, with wonderful, living thoughts.
So, on this idle Ides of March, I warn you: Beware!
Beware long walks and long drives and other forms of idleness. They just may lead to big ideas.
* A quick google search of “How do I know what I think until I write it” suggests that this was said by E.M. Forster, Joan Didion, D.H. Lawrence, Richard Hugo, William Faulkner, and others. I thought it was Flannery O’Connor!