However, you don’t need to read the whole thing to get what I thought was the best part. Never hurts if you can slide the word stick-to-itiveness into a sentence…here, enjoy:
This two-part attentional system is one of the crowning achievements of the human brain, and the focus it enables allowed us to harness fire, build the pyramids, discover penicillin and decode the entire human genome. Those projects required some plain old-fashioned stick-to-itiveness.
But the insight that led to them probably came from the daydreaming mode. This brain state, marked by the flow of connections among disparate ideas and thoughts, is responsible for our moments of greatest creativity and insight, when we’re able to solve problems that previously seemed unsolvable. You might be going for a walk or grocery shopping or doing something that doesn’t require sustained attention and suddenly — boom — the answer to a problem that had been vexing you suddenly appears. This is the mind-wandering mode, making connections among things that we didn’t previously see as connected.
Did you read that? Daydreaming mode. That’s the best mode. I excel at that one.
Have had some long meandering conversations this summer with some of my favourite people, and quite an unlucky few have difficulty with down time. Time when they don’t actually have to be doing something. It’s a topic I find myself coming back to again and again.
Writing and playing music and teaching are all things that I enjoy. They bring me untold pleasure, and I shine when I’m in my element. Yet, if there’s one thing I’m exceptionally good at, it’s idling. Doing as little as possible.
You don’t put much value in such a thing? Yes, I suppose I get that. Probably not going to change your mind on this one, anyway, which is why I was so thrilled to see the above-mentioned article. Don’t take my word for it.
The creative answers that make the breakthroughs? They don’t necessarily come when you buckle down and try harder. They just might materialise while walking the dogs or catching a street car. Or the one of the best scenarios for daydreaming?
Tried this on my Teablog, and only got one tip. I’m in London this weekend, which means there’ll be tea drinking and idling in an entirely new country. Exciting, right?
But as much as I know of the city, there are always places one’s never heard of.
I’m staying near Tottenham Hale, and I need a fantastic, quirky place for a late breakfast on the first morning. Any ideas?
Then, I’m with my friend Nigel in Soho on Friday afternoon, and he’ll take care of where we’re going. At some point we’ll be darkening the doors of The Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment, which I’ll most definitely be blogging about.
But otherwise I’m on the lookout for tea shops and cafés. It could mean the place gets a bit of publicity and then eventually travellers making a pilgrimage there.
Sounds like something no hip café would even want. A load of unwashed tourists with their greasy hands touching everything.
There was a time when we were begging for an instalment from our London correspondent, but luckily that is behind us. After publishing his recent piece on the London Olympics, he appears to have been bitten by the writing bug.
We here at the Lahikmajoe have been so wrapped up in our own idling lately that we hadn’t bothered to write anything here for the last few days. As a result, we’re very grateful to have received the next instalment from Our Man in Notting Hill. And may I reintroduce you to Nigel:
As the 205 flames of Thomas Heatherwick’s Olympic Torch parted, sank and finally died, so did my heart and those of many Londoners around me. I for one shed a tear or two, and woe betide anyone who may have tried soothing me with platitudes in the vein of ‘all good things must come to an end’. For those people I harboured secret plans to make good use of the still dormant missiles strategically placed around London.
The morning after was as it sounds. London had a hangover, whether or not its constituent parts had been drinking. Even the sun refused to shine. So what better course of action to take than to do absolutely nothing? (editor’s note: we like where this is going).
There is an Art to doing absolutely nothing, its fundamental premise being that you actually have to do something which you can tell yourself isn’t doing anything at all. Even thinking about how you are going to do nothing is walking on thin ice as it prevents you from thinking that what you are thinking is absolutely nothing. Avoiding these paradoxes and conundrums is the entire reasoning behind the creation of a pastime known as idling.
I fancy I hear a throng cry out that I am writing about idling ergo can not be idling as writing is clearly an action; but I beg them turn their mis-led souls and blinkered eyes to the words of Alfred Jarry, author of Ubu Roi, who quite rightly claimed that idling was ‘designed to upset the mundanity of being’ and transform it into ‘the eternal dream’. So actually I’m dreaming. And you can’t get more idle than that.
I may have been at a loss as to how to continue floating comfortably in a dream bubble were it not for the fact that an equally idle friend of mine had told me of the existence of the Mecca of idle pursuit – The Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment – and that it lay practically on my doorstep. So I set off to Bayswater to find it (although with some trepidation, lest an aficionado of René Descartes’ philosophies be lying in wait there in order to leap upon me and prove that I was not dreaming at all).
I needn’t have troubled myself with the apparent reality of moving shadows as I couldn’t actually find the place. I was told it stands opposite The Westbourne Tavern in Westbourne Park Road and is number 81. Now London is notorious for making things up as it goes along, particularly when it comes to house numbering. Under normal circumstances, the numbers should go up or down depending on which way you are walking and be even on the one side and odd on the other. Not so with this road. There was no number 81. On either side. There was most certainly a number 80. And an 82. But 81 was obviously a figment of my friend’s imagination.
It seems to be a golden rule that you will only find something once you have given up looking. I had abandoned my search and was walking disconsolately homeward when the The Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment suddenly appeared like something out of Alice In Wonderland.
I stood on the threshold faced with a cross between a bookshop, a library and Ye Olde Tea Shoppe on the seafront of every coast town in England. Something about it reawakened the smells and aura of my old school and of childhood holidays simultaneously. One wall was lined with well stocked bookshelves, the other adorned with curiosities; the front an Edwardian full-length glass shop front and the rear a desk with a till and a tea-making table, replete with cake, standing before a sash window. Behind the till was an open door to the garden and stairs leading down to a dark and mysterious place. I wanted to ask what lay down there but was afraid of the possibility of mundanity encroaching upon my dream, so I headed instead for the tea table.
As I crossed the wooden floor, partly covered by a thinning faux-Persian rug worthy of my former headmaster’s study (and his head, if the truth be told), an old rumple-suited man began to expatiate to his long grey beard, teapot and anyone else who may have chosen to listen upon the subject of rationality as it relates to the philosophy of economics and the improbability of the Impossibility Theorem. I thought it best to ignore him and concentrated on the delicious selection of teas displayed on a hand-written blackboard leaning against the tea table.
From a selection including Oolong, Pua Mai and Fresh Mint I chose a Himalayan Orange and sat at one of the oak fly-leaved tables to peruse the bookshelves. And what was the very first thing that caught my eye, sitting there amongst The Iliad, Will Self and Blood & Mistletoe? What other than Bertrand Russell’s In Praise Of Idleness?
At this point the rumpled man, who had become a low monotone soundtrack to the Academy, suddenly said very clearly;
‘Kenneth Arrow, of course. You are familiar with Kenneth Arrow?’ My tea arrived and I stood up at once and stepped towards the bookshelf, my mind searching furiously. Then it came to me.
‘Yes, I believe I heard him mentioned on the radio this morning,’ I replied, pointedly looking at the books, my revelation being that Kenneth Arrow was in fact the gay policeman who had stood as a candidate in the election for the Mayor of London.
‘I very much doubt that,’ he retorted and launched into a torrid invective of the man so torrential that my mind and ears automatically shut off, my hand instinctively reached for Bertrand Russell and I quickly turned to the lady behind the till brandishing the book and saying;
‘How can I resist this? I’d like to buy it if I may.’
‘And I would like to sell it to you,’ she replied, ‘ but I’m afraid the till’s broken. There’s always something broken here.’
As suddenly as they had been aimed at me the rumpled man’s attentions returned to his beard, teapot and whoever else was choosing to listen and he continued to ferociously pluck Kenneth Arrow feather by feather. (I have since discovered Arrow was the man who came up with the Impossibility Theorem. I don’t suppose I’ll ever find out why the old man insisted his theorem was improbable).
What was I to do now? Well, as a means to my idle ends I had brought a book along with me (I never leave home without one). A detective novel. An intelligently written detective novel, but a detective novel nonetheless. Now, having been deprived of the possibility of reading Russell, the obvious thing would have been to have made do with the exploits of a gumshoe, but instead of reaching for the novel I panicked. How could I be seen in the company of Ovid and Darwin’s Ghosts reading a mere detective novel? How trite is that?
Before beads of sweat could form on my troubled brow I was mercifully saved by Joanna the Lady of The Till who must have noticed my disappointment, or panic, or both, for she said;
‘Why don’t you give me £10 and I’ll write a receipt and you can settle any difference there may be next time you’re in?’
I fell in and out of love with her in the time it took for relief to wash over me and for me to dig out my wallet and fork over £10.
So I sat back down, sipped my Himalayan Orange tea and begun idly leafing through Russell’s pages. The old man finished his tea and tutorial, mumbled something about how the Idler Academy was always re-using its tea pigs and shuffled out. I was left to enjoy the fulfillment of the promise inscribed above a snail on the glass over the entrance, ‘Libertus per cultum’, and to conclude that idling was indeed the best way to beat the post Olympic blues.
A while back, I wrote introducing my London correspondent. In it, I promised a bit about idling at the Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment. A vast swath of my loyal readers have probably felt let down by the many weeks of silence on the matter. I could chalk it up to too much idling, but that would be far too easy an excuse.
The truth of the matter is that Our Man in Notting Hill has had little, if any, time to idle. There was a little sporting event over the last few weeks in his hometown, and Nigel was conflicted about how exactly to cover the Games of the XXX Olympiad here at my less-than-humble blog. He knows that tens of people come here expecting to be enlightened on matters ranging from Dachshund admiration to proper tea drinking etiquette.One thing I’ve been hearing incessantly over the last month or so is,
‘How do you think Lahikmajoe will cover the Olympics? He always has such a preposterous take on things. Will he merely ridicule it? Will he treat it like the very serious worldwide sporting event that it is? Or, will he avoid doing any work whatsoever and pass it on to one of his minions?’
Let somebody else do it should always at least be first considered if one wants to be considered a true idler. So, who do we know in London who’s just sitting around waiting for a bit of extra something something on his plate?I know who! Nigel is our man. Our Man in Notting Hill. That’s London, baby. So without further ado (that was quite a bit of ado, wasn’t it?), here’s Nigel’s take on what’s been happening in his back garden, as it were:
While millions of women have been pouring over the literary phenomenon which is the bestseller Shades Of Grey, E.L.James’ successful attempt to bring soft porn to the home counties, I have been experiencing the phenomenon which is the London Olympics.
Seven years of expectation crystallised into one explosive fortnight. I, who was never in the least interested in Athletics, who considered the Olympics to be a bunch of people running round in circles or hurling themselves into space attached to poles have been glued to the action. As has the world. It has been quite a journey.
London was pronounced winner of the bid on the 6th July 2005. A rare and overwhelming wave of euphoria and pride swept over the city, only to be thwarted the very next day by the bombings and bloodshed on the London Underground and buses. I will never forget that day. I had been back in London only a few weeks, having spent the last 10 years of my life in Germany, taking up residence in Leyton. When I arrived at Leyton Station to go to work that morning, the barriers had been drawn closed and a notice taped to them informing us that there was a failure in the electrical grid system and that no trains were running. Like nearly everyone else, I cursed London Transport for its over-pricing, under-achieving and inefﬁciency and for good measure threw the incessant meaningless platform announcements into the boiling pot in my head. The pot soon simmered down when the truth became clear.
There was electricity in the air that night, an atmosphere both curious and moving. Where last night England had been drawn together by the sparkle of success, tonight we were united in grief and horror. But we were united.
Over the years, the Olympic Hand counted down ﬁnger by ﬁnger. Politicians espoused The Games as the ultimate tonic for an ailing economy, only to then hand franchises to companies based some three and a half thousand miles away. Being only two stops from Stratford, Leyton became part of the massive stadium building site. Property prices and rent in the area soared. The merchandising rights and restrictions ﬂew around like Valkyries and claimed one notable victim in Stratford, Kamel Kichane, who had opened a small cafe which he called ‘Cafe Olympic’ – only to be told by Newham council that he would face legal proceedings if he did not change it. Facing a cost of £3,000 to do this, Kamel (in true British form) found the easy way out and painted over the ‘O’. Cafe Lympic thrives to this day.
On the 4th June 2007, Great Britain was shocked and appalled when Wolff Olins unveiled the ofﬁcial Olympic logo. This clumsy arrangement of trapezes begun to appear everywhere, making a mockery of one of England’s ﬁnest talents and successful industries – that of Design. The travesty continued to annoy me until someone pointed out that it was actually a picture of Lisa Simpson giving head (editor’s note: the language and imagery here is appalling and beneath our standards, but to be honest the meaning of the entire piece would be diminished without it, so we’ve decided to leave it in).
From then on it could only bring a smile. No such observation has been made regarding the equally hideous mascot, another Olins triumph, which is a sort of cross between a phallus and Cyclops. Many champion athletes have been seen hurriedly giving the gold-coloured mascots they were presented with to their Coaching Team for safekeeping.
I escaped the following year which saw the ﬁnancial crisis and the collapse of the banking system by moving back to Germany but on my return to London in 2010 I found England still suffering from its legacy.
With only about 365 ﬁngers left to tap on the Olympic Hand, Lisa Simpson looked down upon London, Liverpool, Birmingham and many other parts of England as rioters took to the streets and the nation burned.
Promises were made, the ubiquitous lessons learned yet again, and endless debates and recriminations further soiled an already tainted country. But as is nearly always the way, the shock abated or was rather shrugged off and people got back to living life in the shadow of economic collapse. The Games for a time became seen as a ﬁnancial burden, an unnecessary extravagance, and the pervading consensus was that we were being governed by an elitist club of ex-Etonians who didn’t even know the price of a pint of milk.
But there’s nothing better than a right royal knees-upto bring cheer to the masses and right on cue, as the start of the games drew tangibly close, we were treated to the pre-Olympic spectacle of her Majesty the Queen celebrating her Diamond Jubilee. 60 years on the throne. That’s a long time for Prince Charles to have waited outside the locked door hopping from foot to foot. The Duke of Edinburgh took to his bed during the proceedings with a bladder infection which the great British mothers put down to the rain. I have never been a Royalist, but hats off to Her Majesty for the tireless work she has done for her country.
Long before these celebrations the Four Great British Birthrights of the Apocalypse had already saddled up and ridden out, namely Cynicism, Complaining, Dissent and Expecting The Worst. Given our governments, football team, bankers and weather, it is hardly surprising that even our most stoic and upstanding citizens fall foul of their genes.
In the weeks prior to the opening ceremony the Heavens opened and deluged half of the British Isles. While the nation baled out, the Border Control ofﬁcers and London Transportworkers held The Games to ransom by threatening strikes, the London Transport system creaked and groaned, the Chancellor exposed his dubious grasp of ﬁgures by promising that the government would dedicate 110% of its time to solving the economic crisis and McDonalds announced that nobody would be allowed to take their own food into the Olympic Park or Arenasand would be force-fed Big Macs and Coca Cola. London was full of holes. The rain wasn’t going away. The security company G4S failed to provide the agreed number of staff. The army was called in. Missiles appeared on people’s rooftops.
Rough-hewn Mitt Romney said the run-up was disconcerting. The whole shebang was doomed to disaster. The Press, particularly the Mail immediately smelt copy and launched into a campaign which echoed the nation’s fears and resulted in a great many people defying British Airways’ billboards urging ‘Don’t Fly – Stay and Support Team GB’ by buggering off on the double.
This may have been how it looked to outsiders. It is certainly how it looked to those parts of Great Britain as yet un-visited by the Olympic Torch, particularly London. But what was happening behind this raging fear was extraordinary. As the torch relay progressed, thousands of people again took to the streets but this time to cheer on the fantastically diverse range of citizens who bore the ﬂame to London. All 8,000 of them, from Caro Clarke to Sir Steven Redgrave, who heralded the spirit of the games by passing on the honour of lighting the 205 petals making up the Olympic cauldron to seven young and unknown athletes. Before we knew it, not even the £320,000 in ﬁnes for driving in the ORN (Olympic Route Network) lanes could douse the spirit of enthusiasm and excitement in the British people.
The ceremony as you already know was as unceremonious and quirky as the British are wont to be, from the Queen’s gamesome participation in the James Bond joke to the down-and-dirty rave at the end. I commented that it would take a great deal to follow this – and was promptly put right when I was reminded that 2016 was Brazil’s, and if anyone could follow it, they could.
So Bradley Wiggins struck the bell and the games began. There’s no need for me to re-document the successes and disappointments of the athletes, but the close proximity to these hopes and fears had an overwhelming effect on the soul. Nobody seemed to care who you were or what country you came from. The Olympic Games echoed Worldwide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee’s illuminated message to the world – ‘This Is For Everyone’.
The day before yesterday the last races were run. Mo Farah (who became my favourite athlete after his performance in the 10,000 metres) achieved the double in a riveting 5,000 metre battle and Jamaica smashed their own world record in the Men’s 4 x 100 metre Relay, the baton brought home by the indomitable Usain Bolt. Yesterday were the closing ceremony, but the experience will never leave me. For while some women were hiding behind Shades Of Grey, I was basking in shades of gold; gold in the victories, gold in defeat and gold in the people who cheered it all on.
I’ve had a few days where I just couldn’t do much of anything. Somehow my brain has rebelled and shut off. Certainly made it to my appointments, and fulfilled my responsibilities in my job…however, when I’ve sat down at my desk to write, I haven’t been able to focus. I’ve been eager to finish various tasks, but something in me has rebelled.
As I write that, I’m reminded of times I’ve felt overwhelmed and muscled through. Those times when I thought I just couldn’t do anymore, but I resolved to simply finish the task at hand. When I think about it, I realise I do that quite a lot. I’ve read a lot about how we, as humans, are able to do much more than we think we can. Because I’m a generally optimistic person, I regularly set goal just out of reach. For the most part, I’m able to do more than I could foresee.
There are certainly exceptions where I’ve failed miserably.
So here I’ve sat…not really finishing the task at hand, but feeling oddly uncomfortable with the whole state of affairs. Then, I read this:
Isn’t that great? Since I was a teenager, I’ve been convinced that the amount of time you spend on a task is not necessarily indicative of the quality of your work. If being creative were like making sausage, then anyone could do it. When I say making sausage, I mean cramming as much into a project without much concern for the quality of the work.
I knew people in music school who spent significantly fewer hours practising than the ones who seemed to live in their studios. The article’s author, Ed Smith, calls the work ethic of the latter category the cult of busyness. I really enjoyed how he wrote of idleness, which as you know is a particular past-time of mine. Here’s how he describes it:
‘The lesser players spread their work throughout the day, never escaping a sense of stress and anxiety. The elite players, in contrast, consolidated their work into two well-defined periods, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Either side of these peaks of concentration, the best players enjoyed life: they slept more during the daytime and spent more time having fun away from music. Their lives were simultaneously more relaxed and more productive. What some people call idleness is often the best investment.’
Not bad, eh? I’m off to do a bit more idling before I get to work.
For those of you who like to see new things show up here on the Lahikmajoe blog, you have the dreadfully boring state of the Spain v Irelandfootball match to thank for this blogpost. Who-eee this one’s a snore fest (to be fair, there’ve been moments when Ireland didn’t look that terrible, but they were few).
For the next several weeks, I’ll be desperately trying to write about things other than football. But it has to be said that most of the time this month that I’m writing about idling or politics or eating cheese, I’ve been sitting for hours on end staring at the screen.
Screaming at the teams I like and hollering at the teams I don’t. Oh, and scowling at the referees. Scowling and saying very little to those blind and morally reprehensible referees. So there’s that. You’ll likely be impressed at the quality thunking going on here when you consider the time I’ve wasted staring at the television screen.
There was an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung last weekend that asked an interesting question I thought I might research and ponder and really write a fantastic blogpost about. But then the football started, and that just sounded like a lot of work.
Essentially, the question was: Wouldn’t it be great if the teams that did so well in football at the European Championship were able to actually able to contribute to solving the European debt crisis?
That’s not such a bad question is it. I’ll cut to the chase, and say that the big thing that’s missing in the realm of European economics is creativity. That everyone’s dug in and is holding their position firmly, but these countries that play football in such a beautiful and inventive manner could use a bit of the same ingenuity in coming up with new ideas.
New manufacturing. New technologies. Most importantly – new ways of seeing things.
I wish I could tell you I’m tying this up to go back to watching some beautiful football. Sadly, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
My friend Nigel and I were chatting the other day. He was in London, and I was back home here in Munich. I was telling him about the Summer of Uke, which kicked off the other day at the Corso Leopold when Idleright played Mustard and a Piece of Bread. Then we found ourselves knee-deep in a discussion about idling.
So, we were talking about playing the ukulele and idling, and the logical place this conversation is going is to London. Not just London, but Nigel‘s neighbourhood there. You see, there’s a place for idling. Well, there are many places for idling. Shakespeare and Company in Paris. Or up in Aspen, Colorado there’s Explore Booksellers. Those’re excellent idling locations. As is the Orange Show in Houston, Texas. I could keep listing excellent places to idle, but the point of this is to introduce one place in particular that I’m very excited about. The one in London. Near Nigel.
That’s right. It’s a place called The Idler. I’m going to go there. It’s on my list. As a travelling Bon Vivant, I’m sure I’ll be there sooner than any of us expect. But in the meantime, Nigel has offered to be my London correspondent. He’s going to the Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment in my name and writing about his encounters. There will be stories of Nigel doing as little as possible. He’ll ask some inappropriate questions while he’s there, and hopefully manage to get his photo taken. It’s all very official.
I think you’ll enjoy Nigel’s work. Especially because it won’t resemble work in any way, shape or form. As is the way of a true idler.