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Three Cheers for Idleness!


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Last week, I arrived for my dentist appointment at the top of the 10:00 AM hour and so I joined five or six people waiting. I looked around and almost laughed out loud. 

Every person—young and old—sat with head down, reading or watching the screens on their phones. 

I sat there, pondering. Questions like, “When was the last time I saw anyone reading magazines in a doctor or dentist waiting room?” Or “What in the world are these people reading/watching so intently in this few minutes of waiting?” And finally, “Do people—and by people, I mean people other than me—ever just sit and wait anymore? Have we lost the art of wool-gathering?” 

Honestly, are there many of us left who even know what wool-gathering is? I suppose babies and toddlers are supremely adept at just hanging out, occupying themselves with thoughts of…well, who knows? But it’s not like they know they’re wool-gathering. 

Anyway, I feel like it’s a pretty important skill, this sitting around doing nothing but letting our minds wander. Though I’m not saying we should engage in it for hours on end. Obviously, there are things that must be done, like eating, driving, going to the dentist. 

 And yet, think of the world we live in and how we’re all plugged in constantly, even when we’re doing the most mundane things. Take, for example, the TVs built into refrigerators, or the TV screen at the gas pump or over your head in the dentist’s chair. Or the miniature screen on your watch!

For cryin’ out loud. We spend an inordinate amount of time distracted by media, and though I personally feel it’s an unhealthy practice in general, I’m sure it’s not good for me specifically as a writer. But then again, I’m a writer of a certain age; perhaps writers younger than I who’ve grown up plugged into screens their whole lives might disagree. 

Still, for me, unplugging is a necessity and I’ll tell you why. When I’m doing nothing—like sitting on my deck for a half hour or so—I’m daydreaming and aimlessly looking about. I notice a spider web and think how amazingly intricate it is and how did that spider manage to rebuild that web so darn quick (when I took a broom to it the day before!)? 

Or when I’m driving around locally, I drive in silence. And not just because I need my wits about me, driving in big city/big suburb traffic. I like the quiet time with my thoughts. What am I thinking about? Who knows? 

The point is, I don’t want to be constantly entertained/distracted. I want my mind to be free to wander and perhaps come up with ideas for a blog post, maybe one about a spider. Or I may start out mentally grousing about the driver who cut me off, but I may end up figuring out a plot dead-end. The elderly woman ahead of me in the grocery store line might remind me of an aunt from thirty years ago, an aunt (cleverly disguised) who would hit just the right character note in my work-in-progress. 

So fine, maybe other writers find ideas or work out story glitches or get creative in all kinds of ways on those screens they’re locked into, even for three minutes in a dentist’s waiting room. 

But if you’re a writer struggling to come up with anything lately, why not try a little wool-gathering (verb: to indulge in aimless thoughts or idle daydreams)? Untether yourself, friends, and give a hip-hip-hooray for idleness!


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