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On being creative …

Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity.
—Robert Louis Stevenson 

I took the time to reread Stevenson's essay An Apology for Idlers before leaving home for work this morning. I found the Anthology of Prose Writing that introduced my fifteen year old self to this, and many other essay writers, while still at school. It is interesting how some concepts stay with you even though you may not fully understand them at first.

My early morning search of the bookshelves was prompted by a realisation that lately there has been little time for idleness in my own busy life. Stevenson's well crafted exposition on the importance of idleness to creative thought has been reworked many times since. A recent opinion piece in the New York Times reshaped it for a contemporary audience concluding that:

Life it too short to be busy.

It suggests that idleness is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body. John Cleese also proclaims the importance of making space for creativity. He puts it quite bluntly saying that if you spend your day running around ticking things off lists you are not going to have any creative ideas. Usefully, he goes on to describe a methodology for integrating idleness with our busy lives. It requires the creation of a time and space bound oasis where your 'mind can come out to play', where creativity is allowed to arise and the more usual critical faculties of the mind are put away for a while.

I have a tendency to indulge the conceit that our modern world is so much busier than ever before, that we have so much more on our plates than our predecessors. At various times I have this blamed this on email, the internet, computers, mobile phones, or simply the ubiquitous nature of communication. This, despite the fact that Stevenson described an equally busy life in 1877. It might be argued that he was writing as the effects of the Industrial Revolution were creating our modern world but, it is quite clear Stevenson was arguing that busyness is more a self-imposed state of mind than an objective reality. He was warning of the consequences of not allowing the mind to come out to play.

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