Joanna Tebbs Young
CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY
Writers often hear the advice that they shouldn’t wait for inspiration, that inspiration is gained by putting pen to paper (fingers to keyboard). Some famous author wrote that writers need glue, as in, stick your butt in the chair and just start writing. That’s exactly what I’m doing now. My butt is in the chair, my coffee cup is steaming, and I am making my fingers move across the keyboard. Although I mostly agree with this strategy, I have found that sometimes the exact opposite — doing absolutely nothing — works best.
For someone who doesn’t enjoy the cold (to put it lightly) or navigating sheets of ice whether on foot or skate, winter in Vermont can be a challenge, and I’ll admit, I have a bad case of the winter blues, cabin fever, and procrastinatis. Due to my own error, I didn’t get the information I needed in time for the article I had planned to write today. It feels like my mental processes have slowed way down, kind of like a bear in hibernation or one of those Arctic woolly bear caterpillars, which beyond all reason can be frozen solid all winter and resurrect themselves each spring (a fact learned thanks to “Nature” on PBS). I’m having a difficult time making decisions and getting on with projects.
That is, other than planning for spring. My planner is divided into quarters, three-month sections with a new or newly updated goal for each time period. I’m only in the middle of the first quarter of the year, but I find myself raring to get on to the next. Just the word “April” perks my energy a little. That month’s calendar already lists an out-of-town writing conference, a choral concert, and an online class. Unwritten, but envisioned, are the increased opportunities to get outside into an ever-brightening sun and less face-freezing air.
But, for now, it is still hibernation time. As modern humans, we may have no biological need to literally go underground to wait out the winter months like plants or bears, of either the caterpillar or carnivore variety. But, psychologically, there is still that pull towards cozy.
Denmark’s practice of hygge, an idea of “cosiness and comfortable conviviality” that invites people to read by the fire or snuggle in a blanket with your kids, for example, has recently gained attention beyond Danish borders. Iceland’s Christmas Eve traditional “Flood of Books” has also piqued interest, as the vision of entire families curled up reading a new book on the night before Christmas stirs a deep-seated longing in many rushed-off-their-feet and technologically obsessed Americans.
It’s no accident we’re drawn to these ideas. We want to rest, we long to rest. We need, as we physically require sleep, to give our body and mind time to recoup its energies, to rebuild internal resources, and to give all our processes, including mental, time to do what they are made to do. As a society, we’re not great at this. We try instead, whether by necessity or choice, to rest as little and go as much as possible.
But busy-ness isn’t conducive to productivity. Likewise, it does not aid creativity. In fact, it has been found through studies and anecdotally that it is in fact doing nothing — “mindless” activities (such as washing dishes, taking a shower, walking, or journaling), even what one might consider boredom — that creativity (and critical thinking) needs to thrive. Non-goal-focused activities or those that don’t challenge the mind allow the deeper part of the brain connected to the unconscious to call up the muses. In other words, if you are experiencing a lull, or even feel you’re stuck in a rut, you may just be cooking up something good. You could call it Creative Procrastination.
Mother Nature is the ultimate creative procrastinator; she calls it winter. Soon the fruits of Her downtime will come bursting forth in the ultimate creative miracle: Spring. We should take a page from her book.
A.A. Milne once wrote, “Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering,” and Eckhart Tolle advised that, “all true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness.” Sometimes it is the spaces in between work that prompt true inspiration (which literally means to breath-in). It will be in those moments when sitting still (or with journal in hand), when the brain is turned off, that magic can happen.
Give yourself permission to stop. Calm your brain. Meditate. Doodle in your journal. Pet the cat. Take a shower. Read a book while drinking hot chocolate. Take a walk. Get an early night. Winter, and its opportunities for hygge moments, can be a time of re-inspiration.