On relaxation and writing

In most ways, life is easier than it has ever been in history (assuming that you live in the developed world, of course).  Central heating is universal.  Life expectancy stretches well into the 70s.  Most of us are unlikely to ever contract the measles, chicken pox, or polio.  Cancer is no longer a guaranteed death sentence–for many it is at worst a chronic condition.  We have computers and smart phones and so we need memorize anything.  We have ample time for watching television or movies or playing video games, all of which are better than they have ever been.

But as life has gotten so much easier and healthier, we’ve suddenly become “busy”.  I put that in scare quotes not because I don’t believe people are actually busy.  I do.  I put it in quotes because by that I mean more than just we have a lot of things to do.  I mean that busy-ness has become a virtue and a part of many of our identities.  And it’s a scourge.

Tonight, as I was putting the kids to bed, I was feeling tired thinking about all the things I really needed to do.  I needed to clean up the house.  I really needed to write.  I should probably work out.  There’s laundry that needs folding.  And I only have two hours between when the last kid goes to bed and when I need to go to bed, so I was agonizing over what I should do.  But all this thinking about my tasks and what I should do was sapping my desire to do the one thing that I felt like I really, really, REALLY needed to do and that was write.  So, I decided to do something radical–I decided to skip everything (including the writing) and go take a bath.

I feel guilty about doing something like taking a bath.  Rest and relaxation are supposed to be earned after you’ve completed all your tasks and I am so busy that I never get them all completed, which means that I don’t deserve to relax, which means that by taking one I’m being lazy and self-indulgent.  That’s my thought process every goddamn time.

But, anyway, tonight, I settled into the bath with a glass of water and a book and I had a nice, long rest.  For a long time, I just stared at the ceiling.  And as the busy-ness floated away, I started feeling like I wanted to write.  My mind drifted over to plot points, to character development problems, to places I could take my writing, revisions I needed to make.  In resting my body and resting my mind, I was able to refocus, and that led to inspiration.

Our busy-ness is hurting us.  Writers aren’t the only ones who benefit from flexing creative muscles–lawyers, doctors, architects, nurses, truck drivers, nursing home attendants, waitresses, retail workers: everybody’s life and work can be bettered with a little bit of creativity.  And feeling creative and letting your mind run can only happen when you are rested and resting.  We’re all so, so busy, attending to this task or that task, and none of it feels optional.  But I would guess that if we all took a step back and really weighed the pros and cons, we’d discover that there are pockets of time, tasks that could be left undone while we rest our bodies and minds.  We’d all probably be better off for it.

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