Tuesday, 22 December 2015

What is this life if, full of care... - by Nicola Morgan

This is not a whinge about the fact that I'm almost overwhelmed by work and work-related shenanigans. We're all busy. It's modern life. Even when it's not Christmas. And in my case it's entirely self-inflicted, although moving house was not on the cards when I accepted the various things I've accepted.

So, not a whinge but a suggestion. It's a suggestion to myself, to you and to anyone who will listen.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, and however you celebrate it if you do, and however you spend that UK-wide suspension of normal activity otherwise known as the "holidays", let's carve out some thinking time. Because if we starve our brain and soul of thinking time, I think we have a problem.

You know the William Henry Davies poem, or at least the start of it. Interestingly, I started quoting it to the audience of teachers at a school in India where I was doing an INSET recently and they all joined in.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

I don't make time to stand and stare. My life is the poorer for it. I think my creativity is the poorer for it because we can't create if we can't think. (Well, I can't.) I believe many of us have engineered lives of rush and zip and itch and skim and that we have made ourselves breathless and dizzy and somewhat robotic, reactive, task-focused, target-obsessed. My life is driven not by creation now but by cortisol. I suspect it's the same for everyone who is wedded (as I am) to smartphones etc and constant digital distractions.

We need Freedom to Think. This is author Jonathan Stroud's great campaign to get adults to allow children just to mooch and play freely without organised activity. I support it fully and will be talking to teachers and parents about it in INSET days. But I think we all need it.

And so my suggestion is this: allow yourselves and your families and whoever you're with the freedom to think. During the holiday period, snatch what empty times you can and fill them only with frippery and freethinking and fresh air, with nonsense or nothing. Turn off your devices - are you listening, Nicola Morgan? - and switch into another operating system, where we are not (over-)reacting to and seeking out information from a noisy outside world but letting our brains freewheel.

Although I'm suggesting we make time for our offline world, if you have some ideas or want to tell the campaign what freedoms you or your families or friends enjoyed this holiday (or whenever), there's a space to do that here. Or anyone can email ideas, photos, suggestions to: freedomtothinksite@gmail.com. And on Twitter they are @iamfree2think

Here are my own small ideas, the things I plan to do to give myself Freedom to Think:
  • Get outside just to get outside. On my own, to look at trees, breathe the mist and smell Christmas, because I do love a good Christmas air. 
  • Have a bath and not take my ipad in with me. Watch the bubbles.
  • If it snows, I'm going to build a snow penguin. Hell, yes I am! There may be pictures.
  • I might play with words. Maybe some little poems will come. Perhaps a haiku or two. Perhaps
    (Copyright © Chris Riddell 2015)
    they won't. It doesn't matter. That's what freedom is.
  • I'm going to draw. Just a little bit. I used to draw. I used to sell my artwork. 
  • Most importantly, there will be times when I just do nothing but stand and stare. And think. And not think about the conference I'm organising, the committee I chair, the house move, the book contract I'm behind on, the events I have to plan, the foreign trips that loom. Just think.
The point is that if we fill children's time with classes and activities and we fill our own time with work and admin and domestic tasks, we lose something very human. 

Our lives are poorer if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.

Have a very lovely holiday time, everyone, and remember to focus on the important things: love, freedom, health and humanity. See you on the other side and here's to a very positive and fulfilling 2016 with as much freedom to think as we possibly can! xxx


catdownunder said...

Very interesting Nicola. I met a mother in the library a couple of years ago. Her two sons were involved in some activity every day of the week. They were asked what they would like for Christmas and, she reported to me, "they looked at each other and then at us and said "We'd just like some time to ourselves." " Their parents wisely gave it to them and they are doing better than ever.
And, for me, the best part about pedalling out and about (and not being able to drive a car) is that I do get to see and hear things - and I have met an amazing variety of people by doing it. It is sometimes frustrating. I think "I haven't got time" but I am always better off for doing it.
PS I had an awful thought - do you have to leave that lovely "writing shed" behind when you move?

Joan Lennon said...

On the strength of your post, I'm going back to bed with a book. More of a stop and lie down, than a stop and stand, but it's a start.

Sue Purkiss said...

If I did a quarter of what you do, I'd be in a state of collapse. But people are different! Still - it sounds as if you know you're ready for a bit of a pause. Take care of yourself, and good luck with the move and everything else.

Penny Dolan said...

Enjoy the needed pause if you can find it among all you do! Good suggestions her for many people indeed. Nicola.
May Christmas, New Year and all that 2016 involves go as well as you hope and more easily than you fear.

Nicola Morgan said...

Cat, I won't be taking my office with me - BUT...the company which built it are just down the road from where I'm moving to, which means I get a discount for living so close OR a bigger office! *capers*

Joan, hooray!

Sue, I'm desperate for a pause. But I'm at that stage of house-purchase when i can't even sleep at night :(

Penny, thank you and good wishes to you and yours!

Happy Christmas to you all xxx

Anonymous said...

I totally agree. I went to the sea last week, sat in a cafe looking out at the seals. Blow me, ideas came rushing in with the waves, quite unannounced. I saw one of my chapters unfold, unbidden.

Have a lovely Christmas and leave space for the Muse xx

Stroppy Author said...

Ah, at last a campaign for this! I weathered the torrent of disapproval for NOT signing my children up for violin, piano, Italian, dance, netball, brownies and everything else. Yeah, they're uncultured hoodlums now. It's true they can't play the piano. But we don't all have to do everything. If we can ALL play the piano, who will be pleased to visit someone who can and hear wonderful music? They spent their time playing with mud and sticks and going in their boat on the river and playing with the neighbour's dog. They can make a mean bivouac, which might come in more useful, post-apocalypse, than grade 3 violin.