Monthly Archives: February 2018

waiting for …


“New Yorkers are accustomed to waiting. They wait, usually with Job-like patience, for a long-overdue train to pull into the station. …”

— editorial, New York Times, February 28, 2018



This is typical pomposity and snootiness on the part of the New York Times Editorial Board. “Job-like patience”? A ridiculous allusion meant to impress and which shows a tin ear as well as a lofty disdain for the grubby actualities of city life. And, a lack of knowledge of life as it is actually lived in the City.

Do they ever deign to themselves ride the subways along with common folk?

In their high handedness, they remain oblivious to — or perhaps just don’t want to acknowledge (because they would have less to pontificate about) — the fact that the waiting time for New York subways is incredibly short, with very few exceptions. I know. I grew up in Boston, where one often has to wait 15 or 20 minutes for a subway during peak hours (whereas, during rush hour in New York on the most heavily traveled lines, trains arrive every four to five minutes).

To affect disdain for the subway is fashionable now. No doubt, service improvements can and should be made, and upgrades are necessary. But the subway system transports millions of New Yorkers every day and is an indispensable part of city life. That it works as well as it does is a reason for rejoicing.

Yes, rejoicing. The complainers don’t realize how vital the subway is to the city. Ask riders who rely on it. Most of them can’t afford to live in Manhattan or pay for alternative forms of transportation.

Believe me, the Times editorial writers don’t care about how the little people live or what they think. They’re too busy telling the benighted masses what they think is good for them, when it is actually the opposite.


— Roger W. Smith

  February 2018

thoughts about Charles Ives (and Copland, Barber, and Gershwin) … plus thoughts about making lists of favorites (and making such judgments in general)


On Sunday, February 25, I attended a performance of Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 2 by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

The program notes for the concert read as follows:

Charles Ives is widely recognized as the first authentically American composer. The supreme collagist in music, Ives is perhaps most appropriately described by piling on words the way he piles on tunes. Composer Lou Harrison, rejoicing in Ives’s “bewildering munificence,” has written: “There is very nearly something for everyone in Ives — rousing band marches for the athletic extrovert, sweet prayers for the pious, amazing constructs for the intellectual … big-sized pieces, minute works, vulgar ones, polite ones, serious, funny, bland, tortuous, affectionate, and business­like ones, ones for the many, ones for the few, and some in between, and so on, and whatnot else … Plainly he was a man who loved many things much.”

Ives’s multiplicity is evident in every aspect of his life and art. An insurance man who composed at night, Ives was almost totally isolated from the musical establishment. He was a passionate nationalist who based his music on traditional American tunes and his metaphysics on Emersonian transcendentalism. Yet, with the help of his father (a small-town bandleader), he inaugurated the most daring kinds of polyrhythmic, polytonal, and aleatory effects. Indeed, his international significance stretches beyond music. As poet and short-story writer Guy Davenport puts it, “Ives aligns with the most significant art of this time: with Pound and Eliot in the reuse of extant compositions, with Joyce in the hermetic diffusion of symbolism throughout a work, with Picasso in exploring the possibilities of extending forms and techniques.”

Like Joyce, Ives aspires to the abstract and the visionary, yet is rooted in the homely and the everyday. Pierre Boulez pointed out that Ives is distinct from other musical innovators in that “the origin of his music, of his invention, is to be found in the surroundings of his life” rather than in a symphonic tradition. Prior to Ives, there was no American tradition in symphonic music; there was nothing to extend or rebel against — only a pallid recycling of European Romanticism. (Even the New Orleans syncopations of Louis Moreau Gottschalk were more popular in Europe than America.) For his inspiration, Ives went directly to the hymns, popular tunes, and band marches from his boyhood in Danbury, Connecticut, transforming these simple sources into a complex mélange.

Ives once called his most ambitious works “ear­stretchers,” and given the stretch that is required, it is not surprising that he has always incited controversy and bewilderment. Many of his most visionary works had to wait half a century for a performance because musicians hadn’t the slightest idea what to make of them.



A few phrases leaped out at me: “the first authentically American composer”; “a passionate nationalist who based his music on traditional American tunes and his metaphysics on Emersonian transcendentalism”; “Ives aspires to the abstract and the visionary, yet is rooted in the homely and the everyday”; “the origin of his music, of his invention, is to be found in the surroundings of his life.”

Another daring innovator, a visionary poet, whom these words call to mind is Walt Whitman. I feel that Ives, an American original, is much like Whitman (who, by the way, was also influenced, deeply, by transcendentalism).

I am less inclined — this is probably a shortcoming on my part in comprehension — to think of Ives (as does Guy Davenport) in connection with Joyce, Eliot, and Pound, let alone Picasso.



Another quintessentially American composer — by which I mean not only an American native but also a composer of works unmistakably American — is, of course, Aaron Copland. I regard Copland as the greatest American composer. Copland was an early champion of Ives’s music. If for no other reason, I would say that Copland outranks Ives because the latter’s output was comparatively meager.

The greatest single WORK by an American composer? I will take a stab at answering the question and say Porgy and Bess.





I had a lively exchange with a follower of this blog recently. He wrote as follows:

How do you rank classical composers?

Yes, some are timeless — Mozart, Beethoven, Bach — but how would you rank Nielsen vs. Sibelius, Copland vs. Chopin, Brahms vs. Roger Sessions? Or even Bach vs. Mozart or Beethoven?

And why bother? What one likes is important. I’ve always objected to someone who says this author or this composer is overrated, etc. Compared to what, and why? And overrated by whom?



I answered as follows:

My answer would be yes and no.

I generally don’t like ratings and usually disagree with them (what are the 10 greatest American films?).

But to say someone is overrated (I might say, for example, Hemingway, but I know there would be lots of disagreement) or underrated (e.g., Haydn, in my opinion) is entirely valid; people often make such judgments — it’s a matter of making comparisons.

What’s wrong with that? One is always enjoying works of art for their own sake and, at the same time, engaging in armchair criticism.

So, I recently heard a piece of Max Bruch’s in concert and was pleasantly surprised; he reminded me of Brahms. But I am not prepared to say that he outranks Brahms.

I am always compiling inventories and laundry lists in my mind; it’s a good way mentally to keep track of writers, composers, etc. and their works. I FEEL THAT THIS IS KEY.

So, I get into Carl Nielsen, and think: how does he compare to Sibelius? People are still arguing about Tolstoy vs. Dostoevsky.



to which the follower of my blog replied:

I am not saying you shouldn’t rate composers yourself, or authors, or whatever. And I enjoy discussions such as Chopin vs. Schubert.

I’m just saying that when you say that someone is overrated, I say by whom? If you are saying that you believe that x is better than y, or more interesting than y, that’s fine. If you’re ranking your opinion of Nielsen vs. Sibelius, that I understand.

But if you’re saying that the world knows that one is better than the other (either way), I say on what authority is this statement made?

That’s my only point here. And maybe that people waste their time arguing things like Tolstoy vs. Dostoevsky. They were both great writers and I don’t give a damn if someone thinks that one is marginally better than the other.



Our email exchange ended there. But, I think it does make a great deal of difference whom one thinks is better: Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. We are usually not talking about marginal differences — some people actually like one and dislike the other. I know of lovers of Tolstoy’s works who can’t bring themselves to read Dostoevsky.

The point is that such comparisons can be trivial or frivolous, but not necessarily so. There is an inner critic in the brains of aesthetes. So that, experiencing a work of art — literature or music, in this case — they are not only “submitting” to it, allowing themselves to enjoy and be edified by the work, they are also asking themselves what they think of it. This is a good thing. And, by applying one’s own standards, which, needless to say, are subjective, one is making a mental inventory for future reference. So, for example — as a person immersed in literature and music — I have developed a mental map to help orient myself. I have my likes and dislikes. And, I make comparisons: Bruch reminds me of Brahms, Schumann as well. (Whitman reminds me of no one else!) I think that Thomas Wolfe is far superior to Theodore Dreiser. And, so on.



I have posted here (below) some of my favorite pieces by composers whom I regard as quintessentially American.


three songs by CHARLES IVES

Charles Ives, “A Christmas Carol”

Charles Ives, “Memories”


Charles Ives, “In the Mornin’ (Give me Jesus)”



“The Circus Band” (sung by Sara Dell’Omo, soprano)



string quartet no. 1



from The Tender Land (opera)

The opening bars are posted here.



“Morning on the Ranch” (from the Red Pony Suite)



“Letter from Home”



“Quiet City”




Adagio for Strings



Knoxville, Summer 1915



Also posted here is a recording of the film score of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. For a long time, the LP was out of print. In my opinion, the soundtrack album is outstanding for its arrangements and orchestration.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   February 2018

happiness is … an expectant concert audience





“As soon as I enter the door of a tavern, I experience oblivion of care, and a freedom from solicitude. There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn. — Samuel Johnson

“There is nothing like the pure felicity and sense of pleasurable anticipation of an audience arriving for a concert. — Roger W. Smith


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  February 2018

songs from “Rosseter’s Book of Ayres”



Posted here nine songs for voice and lute from “Rosseter’s Book of Ayres,” a songbook by Philip Rosseter and Thomas Campion. No one seems to know for certain who wrote the lyrics. It was probably one of the composers, or both.

Philip Rosseter (1568-1623) was an English composer and musician, as well as a theatrical manager. Thomas Campion (1567-1620) was an English composer, poet, and physician.

I love these renditions, which were on an LP I purchased around 1964 in my college’s bookstore. The LP is rare and hard to obtain now. It was on a German label, Arkiv. The company was then devoted to producing recordings of historically accurate performances.

The songs and the lyrics (which are very clear) charm me. Tip for would be listeners: the songs are about wooing (a pastime once very much in fashion).


Complete lyrics are posted here as a Word document.

my sweetest Lesbia


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   February 2018

spring fever (a lover and his lass)


springtime - Juniper Valley Park, May 2017.jpg

photograph by Roger W. Smith


song, “It was a Lover and his Lass” (performed by the Deller Consort)



“It was a Lover and his Lass”

It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o’er the green cornfield did pass,
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

Between the acres of the rye,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
Those pretty country folks would lie,
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

This carol they began that hour,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
How that a life was but a flower
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

And therefore take the present time,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
For love is crownèd with the prime
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

— William Shakespeare

from As You Like It





Thomas Morley (1557 or 1558 – 1602) wrote “It was a Lover and his Lass.” The Deller version is good, but I actually prefer the version on a scratchy old LP of mine from the 1950’s. Side 2 of the LP, which I have posted here (above), consists of two songs by John Dowland — “I Saw My Lady Weep” and “Flow My Tears” — and four songs by Morley, including “It was a Lover and his Lass.” “It was a Lover and his Lass” occurs at a point a little over eight minutes into the LP.

The text of all the songs on the LP is posted here (Word document, below).

I saw my Lady weep


— posted by Roger Smith

  February 2018

when in doubt, assume a greater, rather than lesser, degree of intelligence


Roger’s theorem (or perhaps a corollary).

When in doubt, assume a greater, rather than lesser, degree of intelligence.

Talk UP to people; not DOWN. And, besides the admonition don’t talk down to people , if in doubt, assume a greater degree of intelligence, relatively speaking, than what you might expect.

You will often be surprised that

they appreciate being treated as a discerning and intelligent person

they reveal interests and capabilities you would never have suspected

they feel gratitude at being “taking into your confidence” through the sharing of interests, and that you consider them deserving of it

you both feel enriched


— Roger W. Smith

  February 2018

a valuable lesson


I have had occasion because of an unpleasant experience with someone close to me to think of something I learned once.

In the interests of confidentiality, let’s just say that the situation was from my past. The “lesson” (with a different person than the one mentioned in the above paragraph) involved me and a “significant other.” It was a long time ago. It involved a relationship which began auspiciously and which endured.

I had previously had a horrible relationship with someone else which caused me great pain. It took me a long time to get over it; caused lasting damage to me emotionally; and prevented me for quite a while from being able to trust someone and get involved in a new relationship.

But then I met Miss Right. I learned from this newfound relationship something that I had hitherto not been able to see or recognize for myself, even dimly: namely, a sixth sense which she had about how to avoid emotional damage to oneself and how to protect oneself from it; an awareness of when it is advisable to step aside, get out of the way, and extricate oneself; an ability to know when conditions warrant this.

I learned, quickly, from my new partner that one doesn’t have to submit to being dumped on and abused.




Prior to this, my habitual way of dealing with emotional abuse — abuse of any kind — was to stand there, so to speak, and submit to it.

From my new significant other, I learned that there was another way.

If she felt (this was, as I said, early in our relationship) that our relationship was starting, in the least, to become abusive emotionally, or “trending” in that direction, if she got a hint that I was going to be mean to her, she was quite prepared to leave, to exit, right then and there. With no further discussion. Without having to plead with me to change my behavior. She had apparently done this in the past.

Her approach and instincts were that no relationship was worth the trouble of being disrespected and abused. Better to have no relationship than to have an abusive one.

I quickly picked up on this, and it cured me of any misogynist instincts or tendencies I may have had. I knew that if I mistreated her, froze her out emotionally, it would be sayonara. She would be gone fast.

A valuable lesson she taught me. It was a lesson that worked both ways. I learned not only the strategy of beating a fast exit whenever I got an inkling that someone was having fun being nasty at my expense. I learned that it works both ways, and that no one should have to put up with abusive behavior from me.



Please note: I don’t intend to imply that at the slightest hint of a disagreement, it is advisable to terminate a relationship. People in intimate relationships (e.g., married couples) or in close quarters quarrel all the time.

What I am thinking about in this post are situations where there is an ongoing pattern of hatred or emotional cruelty, or perhaps an intermittent pattern, but where, when it rears its head, one knows instinctively that it’s more than just a disagreement. It could be a situation where what seemed at first like a mere disagreement has led to festering anger, causing the other person to wish to hurt and degrade you. When you can sense hatred or vindictiveness, chronic surliness, and the like, then, it seems, it’s time to exit, so to speak, in order to protect oneself. This can happen with friends, lovers, and close relatives. I have experienced it.

To me, a good yardstick might be: are you and the other person inclined to bicker? Well, so what? It may or may not be serious; perhaps one or both of you are crotchety. But, be alert for cases when a person whom you were once close to and on good terms with (and more) — so you thought — suddenly seems to be looking constantly for ways to undermine you. That’s a bad sign. You seemed to be in their good graces. Now they are constantly finding fault and won’t cut you any slack. Their face is set in a continual glower; their demeanor towards you is one of outright anger, or barely concealed anger — chronic anger, that is — which consumes them. They are constantly looking for things about you to take offense at.

You can see this in people who are constantly looking for opportunities to attack. You make what seems to be an innocuous remark; they pounce on it. They enjoy finding fault with you in matters and using standards of measure large and small. (For example, they may say they find you obnoxious, a “big” measure; or, they noticed that your tie isn’t knotted properly or your shoelaces have come undone, a “small bore” measure.)

These are the kinds of situations I’m talking about.



In my opinion, such situations can occur with persons with whom one has been intimate or had a long time relationship. Things change, and suddenly they are inimical to you. Or, present you with something you can’t endure.

In such cases, no matter who it is, it may be advisable to completely cease communications. You may find that you feel better despite the pain of separation, and despite the thought: I can’t believe it’s come to this. Having no relationship is better than having an abusive relationship, than having one in which one finds oneself being attacked and degraded, no matter who the other party is. Perhaps a rule of thumb might be — I have found it helpful — is to ask oneself: Is damage control or damage repair possible? Is the other person willing to be reasonable and listen to you? When you realize that discussion will only lead to more attacks upon you or degradation, and continual “hostilities,” with no possibility of agreement, meeting of minds, or resolution foreseeable, then it’s time to get out with as much of you is still intact.




I have been doing some more thinking about emotional abuse. When and how does it occur? And why do people submit to it?

Based on my own experience, it seems that it is often the case that one person — or sometimes a group of persons — feels superior to someone. In the case of the latter, a group, it occurs when the group treats one person as an outcast or pariah, or not as good as the others, and gangs up on the target of their abuse. By so doing, they have a collective sense of being better than the lowly reject: more refined, knowledgeable, and sophisticated; and, on the right side when it comes to contentious issues or matters or dispute — they love to be in the majority.

It often seems to be the case that the feelings of superiority are not necessarily based on anything definitive, but that the supposedly inferior person plays along with the other’s (or others’) treatment of them as an inferior. The supposedly superior person, the dominant one, is used to telling the supposedly inferior person what to do and how to act, pointing out his or her faults, and so on. Often, there is some sphere of activity in which the “superior” person enjoys contemplating his or her supposed superiority to their “inferior,” or perhaps it is some mark of distinction or achievement. It seems to both parties that things have always been this way, and the “inferior” person doesn’t want to “rock the boat.” Perhaps he or she dimly senses that being “uppity” (contentious when it comes to submitting to authority) or questioning authority will cause the dominant person or group to come down hard on them.

Then something happens. The “inferior” person forms a relationship with someone new who appreciates them, doesn’t look down on them, or admires them, and helps to free them from “bondage.” Or the “inferior” party makes strides forward in life and begins to feel less inferior. Or the “inferior” person — usually by incremental steps at first not noticeable — begins to surpass the “superior” person in some field of endeavor in which the latter took for granted that he or she was superior or more knowledgeable. It shouldn’t make a difference, but it does, because the “superior” person wants to prevail, or be dominant, in all respects.

What seems to often happen is that the “superior” person becomes jealous or can’t accept the “inferior” person’s newfound assertiveness. If the “inferior” person begins to question the authority of and things said by his “superior” — the latter’s edicts — the latter can become very angry. The “superior” person has been used to deference on the part of his or her “inferior” and has always secretly taken pleasure in having his or her pronouncements accepted and adhered to. He or she also enjoys giving advice and playing the role of mentor or boss.

The hardest thing to deal with is jealousy. Or, as the poet James Thomson wrote:

“Base Envy withers at another’s joy,
And hates that excellence it cannot reach.”

The Seasons (1746)

I have observed this with former friends and relatives of mine and with friends of my wife. If they observe you moving ahead in areas they always thought were their domain, or perhaps just getting ahead in life — or forming new relationships which they are not a party to and in which your new partner doesn’t acknowledge their authority — they often become sullen and resentful. And lash out. Using a pretext to criticize you. Or dropping you altogether.

It usually behooves you, at this juncture, to cease relations with them.


— Roger W. Smith

   August 2017; updated February 2018

manifesto (my response to critical comments on this site)


Montaigne wrote about everything under the sun; he’s my model. Samuel Johnson in his essays did something similar. A former English teacher colleague of my wife told me once, “You could write about a doorknob and make it interesting.”

I’m a writer, not a professor, policy wonk, or doctor.

I do not pretend to expertise I don’t have or put on airs.

I write ESSAYS. I know they are consistently good and of a consistent level of excellence. If you like good writing, you will like my blog. Which is my followers keep coming back, regardless of subject matter.

I write from personal experience. MY experience. Which is exactly what Montaigne did. Which is what good writers do. If I tried to write from an omniscient stance and pose as an authority, my writing would fall flat. Any writer will give the same advice: write about what you KNOW (and have experienced).

It is not surprising that some people will not find my writing interesting or appreciate it. To appreciate it, you have to be able to appreciate good writing.

If I write about Mozart, I’m not fooling myself that I am an authority. But I think that the writing is good and interesting. That’s what matters. If someone wants a self-help piece, or to bone up on history or politics or classical music, my blog is unlikely to be of interest or value to them. Its appeal lies solely in its excellence of writing.

I do do an awful lot of background research to ensure that my pieces are factually accurate and that I have covered the material. I rarely make factual errors or wild assertions or claims. This is different from stating opinions, when it’s clear that that’s what I’m doing.

Good essay writing should have a point of view. We’re not talking about a scholarly monograph. But, when I provide facts or background material, it’s usually reliably accurate.

Some of my writing is whimsical, impressionistic, or what have you. A light piece playing with or sometimes floating an idea or trying to convey an impression or mood. This is well within the essay writing tradition.

I don’t know quite how I would compare alongside acknowledged masters. But, I am convinced that my essays are very good and worth reading mainly for the pleasure and enlightenment that can be derived from good writing.

An artist paints in his studio. A lot of what motivates him is the pleasure of painting and doing it well. Once you’ve gotten good at something, it’s a lot of fun to keep doing it. You get pleasure every time, and there’s a feeling of self-affirmation.

The artist wants his work to be exhibited … craves recognition.

The pleasure of writing well, of meeting my own standard of excellence, is its own reward. I know when I’ve done justice to a topic and met my own high standards. There’s great satisfaction in carrying it off.

A lot of my pieces probably don’t seem that substantial. But, if one looked closely, they would see the craftsmanship and how well done they are. Yet, think of all the people who buy a pair of shoes or a bottle of wine with no idea which ones are best or appreciation of what production entails.

Largely because of having had professional experience, I know I’m not fooling myself when I say my stuff is good, unlike a lot of people who fancy themselves writers or poets. But I know what I can and cannot do. I do not write fiction or poetry. It’s a matter of what kind of writing I am qualified or prepared to do, not whether I can or cannot write well.

I have a small, slowly growing coterie of followers. I get great satisfaction out of their positive feedback and knowing I have reached them. It speaks well for me and them that they are discerning readers who can see the person embedded in the piece as well as the words and who appreciate my range of interests and integrity.

That’s enough for me — it means so much to me — but I do crave recognition and believe I deserve it.

The best man at my wedding, Charles Pierre, is a poet who had at that time just self-published his first book of poetry. He always made it clear that, in his opinion, he was good, despite not getting recognition, for the most part. I know very little about poetry, but I read his poetry and somehow, I knew that what he claimed was true.


— Roger W. Smith

   February 2018

on the importance of downtime


… I have been a chronic loafer and an enthusiast of dolce far niente all my life. This is the other side of the Taoist percept that “doing nothing is better than to be busy doing nothing.” Almost daily I spend a couple of afternoon hours in my favorite ways of “doing nothing” mentally: working in my garden, cutting the lawn, struggling with the jungle around my summer cottage, walking, swimming, fishing, and climbing mountains. … I still do … [all] kinds of physical work.

Quite frequently I also loaf by meditating on a beautiful sunset or sunrise, whitecaps or the stillness of dreaming waters, the fireworks of a thunderstorm, or the “deafening silence” of a starry night.

— Pitirim A. Sorokin, A Long Journey: The Autobiography of Pitirim A. Sorokin (1963)



I have observed it often. I am sure you have too.

Overprogrammed kids (uber-kids). Overprogrammed adults.



Uber-kids. You will from time to time read about them in the newspaper. The high school student who missed getting into an Ivy League School for some reason and perhaps feels it was because of discrimination. Near 800 scores on their SAT’s. Proficient on the cello. Captained the high school tennis team. Volunteers at a homeless shelter and spent a summer in Guatemala assisting with refugee efforts.

And so on.

I hope I don’t sound snide. Or like a know it all. When I was in high school, and was striving to get accepted to Harvard, I felt overprogrammed. I volunteered for all sorts of clubs and student organizations; participated in athletics which I did enjoy for the most part but also hoped would make me appear “well rounded”; and studied very hard. But, one can’t help wondering, is it fair to place such demands and expectations on young people, that they always perform at a high level in so many areas? With no time to just be themselves. Their wonderful, unique selves (as their parents know them to be).

I have witnessed, as I am sure most readers of this blog have, many kids brought up this way from early childhood. Swimming lessons. Tennis lessons. Music lessons. After school enrichment programs. Summer camp (no time allowed for sheer idleness). And so on.

Their parents seem hard pressed to shepherd them (usually by automobile) from appointment to appointment.



Anyway, I took a walk yesterday after a long, hectic week. And was thinking about how I often feel overprogrammed. Multitasking. I often seem to be doing everything practically at once and accomplishing less and less as time goes on.

It was sometimes this way in my own adolescence, but I do recall having a lot of time as a child — in a different age, when things seemed simpler and less competitive — to just hang out with friends or do things by myself. Long summer vacations (they seemed endless when you were a kid). Playing in the back yard, the street, or a vacant lot. Improvised games and idle conversations. Playing kids’ board games or with toys, or simple card games such as War and Old Maid. (Games that were essentially a waste of time, but we were socializing.) Days spent lolling around with a book, or a comic book. Daydreaming. Being alone, lost in thought, or playing a solitary game. The feeling we used to have of delicious boredom.



On my neighborhood walk yesterday, I thought to myself that everyone needs down time. Not only to “recharge batteries.” But for true productivity.

And, most importantly, for CREATIVITY.

When one is idling mentally, one has the time and opportunity to think or just start doing something different or new. It doesn’t have to be something momentous. It often isn’t. It could be picking up something such as a book you had forgotten you had. It could be cleaning your room or raking leaves, or doing some other menial task. But, what happens is that one finds that the mind becomes reenergized. Naturally.

It seems to be true that the mind is most fertile precisely when it is not overprogrammed. You pick up a newspaper or magazine or a book you had forgotten about. You engage in a conversation that seems to be going nowhere in particular (which is of no account). And, suddenly, you get a new idea. Or, when you are doing something nonintellectual, and a whole new idea, a new thought, comes to you, strikes you. And, feeling refreshed, you are eager to perhaps write it down, to run with it, so to speak. This happens, it seems, not only because you are refreshed, but also because the mind has been cleared, making new thoughts more likely, and so on. If I were a psychologist, I could, no doubt, explain this better.



Pitirim A. Sorokin expressed this well. But, it should be noted that it is not exactly a matter of shutting down mentally. It’s just that the mind needs freedom to idle (like a car engine) and wander a bit. It needs some freedom to “roam.”

To put it another way, using a metaphor from nature. If you can give yourself a break mentally, a germination process often occurs. You are cleaning your room or raking leaves (or perhaps doing something non task oriented, like walking). You have shut down mentally for a short while. All the thoughts and impressions, all the knowledge, is still there. They are mulch, like leaves on the ground. They are the substratum of new mental matter, new thoughts.

How truly pleasurable this is. I hope our kids will be allowed to experience it.

Why can’t they just be kids?


— Roger W. Smith

   February 2018