Whether you are Protestant or not, you’ve probably fallen victim to that “Protestant work ethic” thing. You know. The one where, as a kid, your parents or teachers or other adults berated you for being L-A-Z-Why Not. The one where, as an adult, your spouse, your friends, or your boss take over.
Please. How do they expect you to daydream? To ruminate? To wonder? To cut to the quick, how do they expect you to create?
Just because the body is doing nothing doesn’t mean the brain is lying fallow. In fact, the brain sometimes does 100 push-ups with one arm best when the body is at rest. The Chinese call it wu wei, which means “non-acting” or “non-doing” or, if you must, “acting without purpose,” all of which undercut what’s actually going on.
I mean, really. Unless you’re dead, something’s always going on upstairs, praise be. Writing doesn’t come in two days from Amazon, after all. Or from a pill, either.
It’s all on you. And though writing itself may be deemed “action,” the necessary first step is ideas—ideas that make you shout (like you discovered it), “Wu wei, this is fun!” because you’re doing a whole lot of “nothing” (accent on quotation marks, thank you) in style.
Raymond Carver knew. He was of the brotherhood. Read “Loafing” below and see what I mean. Yep. One of us!
I looked into the room a moment ago,
and this is what I saw —
my chair in its place by the window,
the book turned facedown on the table.
And on the sill, the cigarette
left burning in its ashtray.
Malingerer! my uncle yelled at me
so long ago. He was right.
I’ve set aside time today,
same as every day,
for doing nothing at all.