I've been slowly devouring the work of Jenny Odell the past couple of weeks. In her talk "How to Do Nothing" from 2017 (she also recently expanded this idea into a book), Odell discusses her observations of the "attention economy" and the idea the every waking human hour can be monetized. One quote from this talk stands out to me:
There is one more Something you can get from [doing] Nothing, and that is an antidote to the rhetoric of growth. In nature, things that grow unchecked are considered parasitic and cancerous; and yet we privilege unchecked growth over the cyclical and the regenerative.
I think about this a lot in my own creative work; how there is a cycle to my creative output vs. my creative incubation. Strangely, the output phase often feels like a churning, a choatic effort to express myself externally, while the incubation may have a very limited external yield but feels incredibly rich to me. This process, for me, mimics but may not particularly coincide with nature's seasons. My creative "Winter" is often in the Summer, when I am outdoors, seeing, walking, hearing, having conversations, letting ideas percolate. Nature's Autumn is inevitably my "Spring" when ideas that have been resting suddenly come alive in an active way and sprout into something tangible; and by the time Winter hits, I am in the thick green growth of my creative "Summer."
I'm not sure why this happens, in fact it's taken me a long time to accept that it happens at all, and that I can't be constantly in the output phase. After all, the attention economy requires constant creative output. But I think Odell has hit on something important when she says "Doing nothing is not a luxury, it’s a ground for meaningful thoughts." Forever growing upward, without taking the time to flower, drop our fruit, die back and become dormant for a little while, is unsustainable and only leads to burnout. Taking time to observe ourselves and our human cycles is a lost art that needs saving.