Simply staring out the window

 

Staring out the window one day long ago in Hamburg
Staring out the window one day long ago in Hamburg

Stumbling round the web today, I happened upon a New York Times article that was talking about how our brains work. The whole thing is worth reading, so I’ll link to it here:

Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain

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?

Simply staring out the window.

Go ahead and try it. You’ll be glad you did.

 

quirky cafés and tea shops in London?

going to be drinking a lot of tea in London

Need your help. Please. Pretty please.

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.

Come on, loyal readers. Where should I go?

‘Help me Obi Wan Kanobi you’re my only hope’

 

a visit to the The Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment

 

look…ukuleles in the window!

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.

mug of the snail

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.

Entrance of The Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment

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.

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.

Our Man in Notting Hill peruses the merchandise

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?

The Lady of the Till

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.

interior of The Academy

in praise of idleness

Someone’s got to pour this water, but leave time for daydreaming

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:

What some people call idleness is often the best investment

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.

shadows and light

shadows and light at the Plaza de España in Seville

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 Ireland football 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.

introducing my London correspondent

that’s Nigel on the right (back when he lived in Munich)

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.

The Idler

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.

Mustard and a Piece of Bread

20120609-183148.jpg
Jarrod and his Sponge Bob ukulele

We’ve been playing together for a little more than a year, Jarrod and I…parties and other informal events. Several times at the International Songwriters Evening Munich, which has been a pleasure. Nevertheless, we have plenty of other things going on, so we haven’t bothered coming up with a name. We play our own tunes, as well as relatively unknown covers (the more obscure the better).

But all this is about to change. Not dramatically. Not quickly. But change it must. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, we’re not partial to entropy. We’re playing at Corso Leopold, which is a festival that takes place in the middle of one of Munich’s biggest streets (Leopold Straße). They block it off – it’s not like we’ll be sitting there while traffic whooshes by – and the festivaling commences.

The website is pretty straightforward if you’re accustomed to German. However, if you try using your google-fu and translate it unsupervised, you might encounter a bit of whimsy. Would you like to see a bit of that? Of course you would:

‘When taken to the streets of Munich, he has a lot to see. But nowhere will open his urban diversity so boisterous, as colorful and surprising as to unsrem (our) large hard-Schwabing. On the Corso Leopold is enjoying the big city, slightly self-indulgent as it is now time, as great in front of a mirror.’

Is someone being taken to Munich against his will? That sounds ominous. Schwabing is one of the more popular neighbourhoods in the northern central part of Munich, but I’d describe it as neither large nor hard. Is it in fact ‘now time‘? Really? I suppose that is a bit self-indulgent. And then the announcement goes on:

‘Amazed, because we are immodest, pushes himself as the crowd in front of the attractions. Come on, there’s something for everyone. Culture for everyone. It works! is the motto. And linger, enjoy life. Corso’s is on the event.’

Are we immodest? Merriam-Webster tells me that this means: ‘not conforming to the sexual mores of a particular time or place‘. Are we really all of that? Well, ok. As it’s written, let’s push ourselves as the crowd. According to this translation ‘It works!‘ is the motto. I can think of poorer mottos. As they say, ‘It works!

So, you’ve been informed: we’re playing at the Corso Leopold. To be more specific, we’re playing at the ‘Theater der Flaneure’ on Sunday 10 June 2012 sometime between 17 and 18 o’clock (according to the map provided, it’s near the Gisela Straße U-Bahn stop). The only thing that’s missing at this point is that we need a name. We’ve been talking quite a bit lately about idling, and our newfound obsession with the ukulele seems to go well with said idling. So the name we’ve come up with is:

Idleright

If you can’t make it, I’m hoping we’ll have some footage I can link to later. Oh, and this is the first time we’re playing ‘Mustard and a Piece of Bread‘ live in front of other people. That’s exciting.

How about all of that? I think It Works!

20120609-183246.jpg
some ukulele whimsy

idler and idler

sunny idling

Because of some new projects I’m involved with, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends and trying to do too much. So many things I wanted to accomplish this weekend, and yet something in me rebelled. It was as if my brain raised a flag of surrender and said, ‘Enough.’

Rather than power through and do a lot of work for the sake of it, I followed my heart. I listened to music and took the dogs for a longer walk than usual. Normally, I’d brew a pot of tea to fuel my next writing session. But instead I brewed the same tea I would have and sat looking out the window while I drank it. Doing nothing.

Not doing very little. Not planning the next thing I’d do. Doing absolutely nothing. At all.

Bliss

Yet, there was something bothering me at the end of the day. While I normally have something concrete to show for another day of existence, here I was left at a loss. Those projects were still sitting there untouched. Those people waiting on my submissions still on the other end of the telephone line. Or another email asking, ‘How’s the thing coming? You know, the one we’ve already been waiting on for so long.

Uh, I didn’t want to think of that. Not at all.

In the process of doing some research about an old folk singer whose playing a show in Munich, I happened upon a website called The Idler. This isn’t going to help. This might even keep me distracted a while longer.

The  section called About: An Introduction begins:

The Idler is an annual periodical that campaigns against the work ethic and promotes liberty, autonomy and responsibility.’

Ooh, working against the work ethic? This could get interesting. Liberty and autonomy sound good…I tend to shirk responsibility when possible (see above), but I suppose I do get around to being responsible when it matters.

Then the same page says:

‘The title comes from a series of essays by Dr Johnson, published in 1758-9 in the Gentleman’s Magazine.’

Well, I needn’t know too much about the periodical (it’s from the eighteenth century, after all…unlikely that it’s still in print), but you know I had to go look for what Samuel Johnson had to say about Idlers. I did go look, and found something.

'Written professedly for a paper of miscellaneous intelligence, the Idler dwells on the passing incidents of the day, whether serious or light, and abounds with party and political allusion. Johnson ever surveyed mankind with the eye of a philosopher; but his own easier circumstances would now present the world's aspect to him in brighter, fairer colours. Besides, he could, with more propriety and less risk of misapprehension, venture to trifle now, than when first he addressed the public.'

(source: The Project Gutenburg EBook of The Works of Samuel Johnson in Nine Volumes by Samuel Johnson)

Sounds a bit like how some of us approach blogging. Especially the miscellaneous intelligence part. My intelligence seems particularly filled with miscellany at this point. More so than I’d care to admit.

And I’m doing things a bit backward here. Starting with the brighter, fairer colours and moving toward a bit of propriety. Well, as best I can. My suspicion is that as my writing gets more respectable elsewhere, I’ll continue to use this medium to say things  a bit more thought-provoking and questioning.

I intend to continue with the idling, as well. Just not too much. I have things to accomplish, after all.