It's surprising how hard we'll work when the work is done just for ourselves. And with all due respect to John Stuart Mill, maybe utilitarianism is overrated. If I've learned one thing from being a cartoonist, it's how important playing is to creativity and happiness. My job is essentially to come up with 365 ideas a year. ...Read the whole thing. A kaleidoscopic array of memories scattered through my head as I read Watterson’s speech. A undergraduate philosophy professor telling me that the best writers have an abiding love for thinking deeply. The condescending smile of an older friend who said that reading was a luxury in which I wouldn’t be able to indulge as I aged. The way acquaintances’ eyes dull whenever conversation strays into anything more complex than sports scores or sitcom season finales. Heinlein’s famous quote on focused living. (“In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.”)
We're not really taught how to recreate constructively. We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery—it recharges by running.
You may be surprised to find how quickly daily routine and the demands of "just getting by: absorb your waking hours. You may be surprised matters of habit rather than thought and inquiry. You may be surprised to find how quickly you start to see your life in terms of other people's expectations rather than issues. You may be surprised to find out how quickly reading a good book sounds like a luxury.
At school, new ideas are thrust at you every day. Out in the world, you'll have to find the inner motivation to search for new ideas on your own. With any luck at all, you'll never need to take an idea and squeeze a punchline out of it, but as bright, creative people, you'll be called upon to generate ideas and solutions all your lives. Letting your mind play is the best way to solve problems.
For the adult, time is tight. Engaged thought is a luxury. Finding mental and chronological space to write? That’s beyond precious. I believe that’s part of Watterson’s point: Given that it’s so difficult to engage in the worthy stuff that makes creativity possible, why not make that very stuff part of our ever-shrinking recreational lives? In other words, we should make the fundamentals fun if we want to create.
(Picture: CC 2008 by Brad Arnold; Hat Tip: Between Two Worlds)