writing ideas

2 posts

The Benefits of Laziness


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!


Raymond Carver

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.

Sure Things: Food and Loneliness


What to write about?

Seems like an easy enough question. Some say your topics should be determined solely by the dictator that is you. Others say have mercy on your readers’ souls. Consider them. Others still–the agnostic wafflers of the bunch–say, “Why not both?”

I’ll be political and not take a stand because who really cares what I think? I do know this: You’re in trouble if you think you can write about something you know nothing about or don’t care about.

Which brings us to two sure things: food and loneliness. Like air and water, they will keep you grounded.

How do we know food resonates? Easy. People eat it up. And people with cellphones (there are a few, apparently) actually photograph and upload the stuff before eating it. Curious case closed!

And loneliness? True, most confuse loneliness with being alone, two different animals. Unlike many in this world, I cherish alone time. It sustains me. And my writing. But I know the world also harbors manic social sorts. They get frenzied by lack of sound, technological input, people. They believe they are unpopular, neglected, or sad if not buoyed by activity and input. (How sad!) Can you go wrong, then, when writing about the poignancy and beauty of alone-ness? Rhetorical, I assure you.

My thoughts turned to these two staples of writing after I read Li-Young Lee’s poem “Eating Alone,” which nicely breathes and drinks the two poem-sustaining wonders in one fell swoop. And check out the last line! It speaks to the ages (if you’ll pardon the pun). See if you agree:

“Eating Alone” by Li-Young Lee

I’ve pulled the last of the year’s young onions.
The garden is bare now. The ground is cold,
brown and old. What is left of the day flames
in the maples at the corner of my
eye. I turn, a cardinal vanishes.
By the cellar door, I wash the onions,
then drink from the icy metal spigot.

Once, years back, I walked beside my father
among the windfall pears. I can’t recall
our words. We may have strolled in silence. But
I still see him bend that way-left hand braced
on knee, creaky-to lift and hold to my
eye a rotten pear. In it, a hornet
spun crazily, glazed in slow, glistening juice.

It was my father I saw this morning
waving to me from the trees. I almost
called to him, until I came close enough
to see the shovel, leaning where I had
left it, in the flickering, deep green shade.

White rice steaming, almost done. Sweet green peas
fried in onions. Shrimp braised in sesame
oil and garlic. And my own loneliness.
What more could I, a young man, want.


— from Rose by Li-Young Lee, BOA Editions