The Importance of Being Idle

Idleness is not something I’m good at; the idea of doing nothing is almost as unintelligible to me as a page of Ancient Greek. 

I’ve always been like this – I can count the number of times I said I was ‘bored’ as a child on one hand – and I’d never really given it much thought other than to wonder how people can go on beach holidays and just lie in the sun. I mean really, how do they do it? No books to read, no visits to interesting places, no notepad or camera to capture the moment … it sounds more like purgatory to me. No, I’ve always needed to be up and doing or I just don’t feel like me. 

There is, however, a difference between being busy and trying to do so much you’re in danger of losing your sanity. 

If we take my day job out of the equation the majority of my time was, and still is, taken up with studying for the exams that will hopefully lead to me qualifying as a Chartered Treasurer. In and of itself this isn’t a problem. No, the problem was that up until last week I was still trying to fit everything else I’d been doing before I started the course into the few hours I had spare each week: 
This blog, along with the two others I have, currently has so many outlined and half written posts that my list of them covers two sides of A4. Then there is the research for my Arthurian novels and the re-writes it generates, not to mention the sketches I’ve made of the places in the books that I want to work up to full oils to really bring them to life. Plus I have a set of short stories that I’m half way through, oh, and a half knitted scarf in the coffee table that I work on when I sit down to watch the TV. 

And I do still watch TV, although somewhere along the line I seem to have lost the able to watch things abstractly anymore; I’m always analysing, reviewing, pulling at the plots. My love affair with BBC’s Merlin spawned a huge number of writing projects – strangely most of them weren’t fan fiction although I have an AU series 4 fic that I’m still in the middle of – and BBC’s Sherlock generated the desire to re-read the entire works of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle so I could try and understand how they put the scripts together. 

Even going to bed doesn’t provide any down time. I either have a brilliant idea just as I’m dropping off, effectively preventing sleep as I scramble to write it all down, or I fall asleep but have exceptionally vivid dreams that leave me as tired as if I hadn’t bothered going to bed at all. Just this morning I woke up feeling as if I’d been royally pounded and in a way I had, having spent last night as an active participant in what I think was the battle of Badon Hill. My first act on opening my eyes was to grope for the sword I didn’t have and, even after I’d woke up most of the way, the taste of copper was so strong I put my hand to my mouth expecting it to come away bloody.

I should have realised sooner that I was running myself to a standstill; I should have recognised the symptoms.

You see, since 2009 when a major cause of stress removed himself from my life, I haven’t really been ill. I’ve picked up the odd bug and had the odd migraine but the days of being surprised when I didn’t feel awful had become a distant memory. Then, at the back end of last year I caught a cold from one of my colleagues. It was bad but not bad enough to incapacitate me. I ate more clementines, took Lemsip but otherwise ignored it. I didn’t have time to be ill and I dismissed the inner voice that had begun muttering that I was trying to do too much with a firm ‘It’s Winter you idiot, what do you expect?’

Eventually the cold eased off but it didn’t go away entirely. The cough that followed really didn’t want to shift though. When it made sleeping almost impossible I finally went to a doctor. The medication shifted the infection but I still didn’t feel well. Again I ignored it, I was functioning and I had too much to do to allow myself to slow down.

At which point my body made it very plain it had a different view on the matter.

I picked up a rather appalling stomach bug and had no choice but to remain in bed for three days doing absolutely nothing. When I’d stopped wanting to die I realised that I felt better for the rest – and that statement tells you all you need to know about how ridiculous my life had become.

Somehow I’d managed to turn wanting to get the most out of my time on this earth into having to do everything all at once. The thought of putting some of my projects on the back burner felt like a failure on my part. I like failure less than I like idleness and so I was damned if I was going to let anything slip. Each time I couldn’t finish something because there simply weren’t enough hours in the day I’d berate myself and vow to do better tomorrow. When that wasn’t possible I’d berate myself some more. Small wonder I’d made myself sick.

They say that if you want something doing you should give it to a busy person. Just in case you were thinking about it I’ll say now, don’t try it with me! I’ve picked the three projects I was enjoying the most to work on when I get some spare time and everything else is packed away. I’ve shredded all the little lists with self imposed deadlines written alongside them and I’ve carved out 15 minutes at the end of each day to simply sit and read a book that has nothing to do with Arthur or Camelot or any other aspect of my research. I’ve even stopped taking my camera with when I walk the dog.

I know it’s not anywhere close to idleness but it’s the best I can manage.

I’ll let you know if it works.

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Being Idle

  1. Yes, it is strange the way our bodies often show what we are feeling. I used to be a person who didn't like beach holidays, and actually I still do usually hate having nothing to do. But lately I have discovered the pleasure of just letting things sink into my brain, lying somewhere pleasant and relaxing in the sunshine, a place where I want to be, with the person or people I want to be with, and just doing nothing. Its a kind of addiction, being busy, and addictions are not always good.

    Good luck with your studies!


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