So, here’s a book I wrote last year.
It’s called ‘Do Nothing: An alternative approach to life for people who do too much.”
There are only two copies of it in existence. And I haven’t got either of them.
It started off as a silly/serious/perfect idea.
I was sitting on my bed. Half-meditating (not very successfully). And I glanced over at a little picture on my bedside table that I’d made about a year before. It’s just the words: MY CREATIVE FIELD, NOTHING, EMPTINESS, SILENCE and spinning. And some splodges from a very leaky pen that a friend had given me as a present. It was one of those absent-minded things that just emerged half of its own accord. But, when it arrived, it captured something for me: that, though it’s often hard to explain exactly how, a lot of my work is kind of grounded in doing nothing. (I wrote a little bit about it earlier this year.)
And as I was sitting there, half-meditating, (not very successfully) and glancing over at this drawing, I felt this full-fledged frustration: that I so easily feel and see the benefit of doing nothing, but that a lot of the time in work I would still find myself pushing and trying and doing. Even though I kind of knew those weren’t the best strategies.
And then this perfect joke popped into my head.
I should go to the DO Lectures in Wales and stand for doing nothing.
The DO Lectures: Inspirational talks from passionate, creative people. The idea is a simple one. That people who Do things, can inspire the rest of us to go and Do things too.
It felt like a joke, because it was so neat. Maybe joke isn’t the right word. I don’t know what the right word is. But a thing that makes you laugh because it feels so sweet and perfect and spot-on.
To go and stand for doing nothing. I felt a huge sense of relief - all of the frustration gone - as I saw the scene in my mind. To walk to the stage. To stand at the lectern. To have prepared nothing. And to do nothing.
Not as a gimmick. Not as a gag. But as a heartfelt offer. To offer the other side of the coin. To say: it’s also OK to not Do things.
From teaching and stand-up and improvisation, I know how easy it is to fill time just out of nerves. I know how easy it is to prepare material and then deliver that material and reveal nothing. To not be vulnerable. To not really be present. To use stories and smart words and preparation as a defensive measure. And as teacher or performer that means you can be safe. That means you can go up and be there and not die. But people don’t go to a performance to see someone hiding. The magic begins when you can stand up and not hide. Stand up unprepared and open and defenseless.
That was the gift I wanted to bring.
The moment the thought entered my mind, I dropped into this wonderfully lucid meditation. Eyes open. Relaxed. Peaceful. Happy. Just from imagining the feeling of what it might feel like to go and stand for doing nothing in the midst of a day devoted to doing. It felt good.
In that moment, it felt like something resolved. I had found a story where doing nothing could be genuinely valuable in the world. A perfect opportunity. Something I could stand for.
And then, happily, one of my favourite things in the world happened. I had a really silly idea. I knew the one person that I had to tell it to. And when I told it to them, they took it absolutely seriously.
So, thank you Curtis James for saying, yes, absolutely, of course you must go to the DO Lectures and stand up for doing nothing. And, yes of course the best way of getting the chance to do that would be to mock-up a DO Nothing book (in the style of the DO Lectures series of books about doing things).
And thank you Emily Macaulay for also taking it absolutely seriously and – just for the hell of it – handcrafting these two immaculate copies of a book about doing nothing.
Front cover - the title and a beautifully rendered, swooshy, flowing Zen ink wash swirl.
Back cover - a full exposition of why doing nothing matters:
“Whether it’s Archimedes in the bath or Buddha under the Bodhi Tree, some of the greatest breakthroughs in human history have been made while people were doing nothing. But in a world where we’re all permanently connected to everyone and everything, the undisturbed wildernesses of bathtime and downtime are increasingly under threat.
This drive to always be doing something started out as an Industrial Era dream of never-ending progress and ever-increasing output. But that dream has long since passed its sell-by date. Now, as we devote ourselves to productivity for its own sake, our busyness serves only to put our lives and our world under ever greater stress.
But there is a way out.
You can tap into a deeper creativity. A way of working that goes beyond productivity. A way of life that leaves space to dream and time for yourself.
And everything you need to get started is contained within the pages of this book.”
And inside - all the pages are blank. Of course. Haha.
It’s quite a funny object in the end. Because there’s not really very much difference between it and a blank notebook. But it would feel SO, SO wrong to write in it. It is a book. It’s finished. It’s not meant to be filled up with more. It’s just that each page has chosen to keep its silence. Something like that.
So, anyway, I sent one copy to David Hieatt, the founder of the DO Lectures. And I sent one to my friend Thomas, who wrote a terrifyingly smart (and very short) book called ‘Nothing: the building block of the universe’.
And Thomas was grateful. And David was impressed.
And nothing happened.
There was a little back and forth on email. About the book. About a lecture.
But nothing came of it.
So I didn’t go to Wales. And I didn’t stand up.
I did even less than that.
If you’d like someone to make a beautifully crafted book for you, get in touch with Emily: http://www.stanleyjamespress.com/.
And if you’d like to go hear people talking about doing things, head this way: http://www.thedolectures.com/
And if you’d like to do nothing, then do nothing.