Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Being Idle

Weird. I found another nonstop written last year, just about this same time, that could have been written it yesterday. Or today...

"Okay, rather than just sit around staring out the window or at my notes, or getting caught up in yet another diversion/distraction... I will do this nonstop. I could go get coffee, but I won’t. I will do this. I have to be patient with myself. I know that. I recognize this stage. It’s the jittery, mind flitting everywhere stage. I have often wondered if I should use this time to work on something else, but I have never really been able to get myself to do that.

"Crocheting might be good. Or maybe just weird doodling, which I could do. Doodling and coloring in. But anything else? No. I don’t even want to read. And it disturbs me that the only things I can do are mindless, go-nowhere activities. If I try to clean house then I’ll start categorizing and organizing in my mind what else needs to be done and the order in which I’ll do it... and all thoughts of the book go out the window.

"I have read that one does need this time to do nothing. To be idle. Idle. I believe that means doing nothing. That was the word used. And here’s the dictionary definition:

"1) lacking worth or basis : VAIN, idle chatter, idle pleasure, 2) not occupied or employed. 3) not turned to normal or appropriate use, ie, idle funds; idle farmland 4) not scheduled to compete, eg, the team will be idle tomorrow.

"So yeah. If I’m doing housework, that’s not idle. If I’m crocheting that’s so mindless that it’s occupying, yet has no real value. Doodling, likewise. If I start trying to paint a picture, then I have direction, then my mind starts working hard... and it’s no good. It doesn’t work. Walking is okay. I don’t know about stretching. That’s not so good because there is a sequence I have to recall and then I’m no longer idle. I’m recalling and doing.

"That’s interesting. Sitting at the desk watching the birds is really and truly the kind of thing I need to be doing.

"But I've never been able to stand being idle. I always feel guilty about it. I guess I’m an achiever and I want to be achieving, and being idle is not achieving. But I obviously need it, because after the period of idleness when it seems that nothing is happening...the answers do emerge.

"So then what I'm saying is that I have a job where I’m supposed to be idle for some of the time?! Just drift around and be relaxed about that? Oh my.

"Well and here’s a thought from Bible class the other day: the Christian Way of Life is not about achieving and producing, but sitting and listening and submitting and letting the Lord do the work in His time. It is often about waiting through days upon days of small things. It is not about us doing great things for God or even seeking to “please” Him with our works and gifts and activities. It's about us using the power He’s given us through the filling of the Holy Spirit and the intake and applicaction of God's word so He can produce virtue in us and develop the capacity to receive the blessings He has for us. He is glorified when He gives to us, not when we "do" for Him.

"So... then... to sit idly; sheerly, completely, unabashedly idly... is not necessarily at odds with the concept of grace. I am very diligent and disciplined about taking in doctrine. And more, lately, about prayer. Also being filled with the Spirit. I am here, available to write, I’ve set up the schedule to do that. I’ve prepared myself... and I do tussle with the work.

"But I also often “squander” the time that I have doing idle things. And I know that I have always done this, all through my thirty-odd years of writing seriously. There are periods of time, sometimes days, when I cannot concentrate on the work itself for more than a few minutes and yet can’t seem to focus on anything else; when I often just sit and watch the birds. Maybe I should pay attention to this, note the consistent presence of this behavior and take it into account. I do it. Repeatedly. And at the end of the cycle, the new portion of the work always emerges.

"Pastor was also talking in that lesson about cycles. Highs and lows. Or in this case, productivity and non-productivity. Not really rest. Maybe partly rest and partly work beneath the surface. I’m in one now.

"I've just gone through a period of a lot of production, some related to writing, some related to life in general. And having come to the end of all that, I am inclined to be idle. To not go forward with any of the projects that I think are important – like cleaning the house, like getting this book written..."

The old nonstop ends here, but in reading through it I see that I'm at a stage in this book where again I have to do a lot of creating. What is the layout of the Institute? What does Lacey's room look like? What kind of relationship does she have with her roommate and her co-workers? What kind of schedule and organizational system does the Institute have with respect to who lives where and when? What about the service people? Where is the dining hall? Who all eats there?

Each question triggers more questions, all of which have to be considered with an eye to plot and character. It's not a small job. It's not even a linear job. So... I guess this weird, mind-flitting idleness is really not such a disaster after all. And the only thing I really needed to confess today was the self-condemnation for "letting myself" fall into it.