I’ve been much happier ever since I took a walk with my friend Carol and she agreed with me on one of the little philosophies I cling to in my life. Which is: There is no such thing as doing nothing.
Oh, sure. People may look at you and think you’re not doing much — that you’re sound, asleep, say. Or you’re watching TV or taking a walk or staring at the ceiling.
They may think you’re not working — but they have no idea what is really going on with you. Down deep, something is going on. You are working. You are thinking, even though you don’t necessarily realize you’re thinking. Or maybe you’re simply saving your energy for the work you have to do. Soon. Very soon.
“I call it gestating,” I said to Carol. We were walking at the hike and bike trail, where the casual onlooker might have thought we were only getting exercise and gossiping with great enthusiasm. Well, ha. We were at work.
“Gestating! That’s it!” Carol said. “That’s exactly it.”
Rounding the trail, almost running into somebody’s yappy little dog or coming close to getting creamed by a new European bike, we refined the theory more. Gestating — not coincidentally, very similar to pregnancy — is when you’re working on something at such a deep level that you’re hardly aware you’re working. Your conscious mind may almost be unaware of this profound level of work, feeling guilty because you’ve been producing absolutely nothing and look like a giant bloodsucking leech on the great civilization teeming around you. But that’s a needless internal guilt trip. You are gestating.
Maybe an idea or a fully written book, like a fetus, simply isn’t ready to emerge. Never mind. It will come in its own sweet time (both my kids were overdue. Was that my fault? No). In the meantime, you’re nurturing it somewhere in your body, doing work that is invisible, but vital. You are not in control, but that doesn’t mean you’re lazy or inactive. Hey, give yourself some credit. Lots of it.
“Yes!” Carol said. “Gestating!” As the mother of three, including a set of twins, and the author of several books, she is what I would call a super-gestator. I am in awe of her powers of gestation, all the while looking as if she’s painting or eating or drinking or traveling or not doing much at all. I aspire to gestate as productively as Carol does.
We rounded the bend and came into the home stretch. We weren’t just two middle-aged women exercising to keep their bodies in shape. Hell, no. We are looking to hatch something one of these days soon. Something big, I swear.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
You know, I think this is really true. When I was in graduate school and doing a lot of writing I really felt that I was ALWAYS working on every paper, even when I wasn’t sitting in front of the computer. Everything I read and many of the conversations I had always went back to the subjects that I was interested in & in this way I was continualy “gestating” the topics I was interested in. It’s been years since graduate school and I have finally let go of all of that stuff by really cleaning out the file cabinets. I am gestating on other topics now…
I like the gestating part of writing, but that whole birthing part can be slow and painful. Unlike pregnancy, it’s hard to know when gestation should end and birthing should begin…
I can say I’ve never birthed a premature book!
Interesting! A songwriter and I were talking about that very thing a couple days ago. I said something about “giving the topic to my subconscious and then doing something completely different.” He looked at me in amazement and said, “That’s just what I do!”