Henry David Thoreau wrote: “A man has not everything to do, but something…” I get so caught up in getting through my to-do lists that sometimes, like today, I get mad when I catch myself doing nothing. But doing nothing is something.
Years ago, at an SCBWI Conference in Los Angeles, E.L. Konigsburg discussed creativity and how we need negative space—white space, blank space—in our minds, in our lives, in order to allow new ideas to emerge. The only author to win the Newbery Medal and a Newbery Honor in the same year (1968), with her 2nd and 1st books respectively: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, and then 27 years later win a second Newbery Medal (The View from Saturday, 1997) Elaine Konigsburg is my hero. She is who I want to be when I grow up: a brilliant, accessible, prolific writer. All this being said, you would think that I would take her advice to heart and embrace the white space, allow myself to make nothing that something—sometimes, anyway.
Occasionally, when I consciously try, I give myself that nothing space…really I do. But often, like today—right now—instead of giving my mind time to empty, and the extra time needed for my imagination to kick up to high gear, and even more time to see where it leads me, I take over and get busy doing something—say writing a blog entry.
Earlier, when I was supposed to be doing nothing, I stumbled upon this passage by Brenda Ueland. I believe Julie Larios shared it at a Vermont College residency:
Long, Happy Dawdling
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 down stairs, thinking by action at last to make life have some warmth and meaning.
And so, on this the 31st day of the old year, at the dawning of a new year, 2010, with the hope of allowing for plenty of "moodling" I make this bold and italicized resolution:
The next time I catch myself daydreaming or look back after an afternoon spent…how? and I feel those raging Puritan Ethics Monitors shaking their scabby heads over the wasteful way I spent my day I'm going to set them straight: “Nothing is something! It is what we are supposed to do. ..Elaine said so! ”
I opened with Thoreau, so it feels fitting to close with his blessing. And now, as soon as I post this, I'm going to get busy doing nothing, promise!
"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”