Creative Moodling for Fun and Profit
This week I learned a brilliant word, “moodle,” or in its gerund form, “moodling.” To moodle is to engage in an act of divine laziness, that lovely inactivity that leads to moments of creativity and inspiration. Moodling can take many forms, each as individual as the moodler him (or her)self. I’ve known about moodling for decades; in fact, I’ve known about it all my life. But never before have I found a word for it that expressed the depth and profound benefit of this act.
Our culture (by this I mean Puritan-based American ethics) frowns on moodling. Platitudes such as “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop” (forgive me if I’ve misquoted--I’ve spent the last ten years trying to forget sayings like that) are drummed into the American consciousness from birth. Our society demands constant activity, constant achievement, and tireless motion. Anything done for fun, anything which serves no logical purpose, is suspect. So we run around like little human perpetual motion machines, all the while wondering why we are so tired and frustrated.
Moodling, which I learned from Brenda Ueland’s marvelous book, “If You Want to Write*,” is a precious gift we have sacrificed in the name of accomplishment. Children know how to moodle; they are natural virtuosos at it. You never see a child look up from his blocks to say, “Man, I really should work on my taxes soon.” You never see a young child stop to question the motivation of a game or joke.
Children, precious moodlers that they are, have enormous powers of concentration. They take their world very seriously, playing school with more truth and conviction than a doctoral candidate. All of us were once moodlers, whether we admit it or not.
But the art of moodling is drummed out of us pretty quickly. An adult will tell us, “Stop lying about daydreaming. Why don’t you go out and do something worthwhile?” The teachers will tell us, “Don’t waste your time with such nonsense. The world is not a game.” Being adaptive creatures, we learn to stop our moodling in order to be accepted, taken seriously. We put away our imaginary friends. We close the coloring book. We become...grownups.
And in that transition from Divine Foolishness to Productive Adulthood, we lose something profound. We lose the opportunity to see a castle in a pile of backyard twigs. We relinquish our birthright to play, to fun and laughter.
In essence, we become ponderous automatons, more concerned with making a living than with living itself.
Some people never forget how to moodle, though. These are our poets, artist, inventors, and dreamers. These are the people who refuse to see the world as a series of unbreakable rules. Sometimes, they refuse to see rules altogether. They ask, “Why can’t a man fly?” They ask, “Why can’t we talk to our friends through a computer screen?” Since they don’t believe in the impossible, they continually achieve the impossible.
Not that being a grown-up moodler is an easy life. Former moodlers distrust those who haven’t forgotten the art. Some admire, some fear, few truly understand the adult moodler.
But it is through moodling, that is, stopping the constant rattle in our brain, stopping the continuous motion of our lives in order to allow our true thoughts to catch up, that we transform the universe into a place of miracles.
Moodling doesn’t have to be frightening. There are grown-up activities you can modify to get the moodling effect. Try them. Be brave. Be silly. Be lazy. It will take you to places you’ve completely forgotten.
Moodling for Fun and Profit
These are just a few of the moodling activities I enjoy. Of course, the best moodles are those we find for ourselves. It may be tinkering with a motorcycle, or whipping up a Spanish omelet, or figuring out a Rubick’s Cube. The common thread is the joy we take in it, the sense of wonder, and the creativity that is released in each simple act.
*If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland; first published in 1938, second edition 1983 by Greywolf Press, PO Box 75006, St. Paul MN, 55175. ISBN:0-915308-94-0.
- Silence: Try spending an hour or two without talking to anyone. Turn off the phone, unplug the television and radio, ignore the computer. Find a place, either in your house or elsewhere, where you can be completely alone. Once you’ve found this place (even if you can only do it for fifteen minutes), turn off your brain. Whenever you try to think about what you’re going to have for dinner, or whether you should ask for that promotion, or whatever tedious thought pops into your brain, just brush it away like a floating leaf. When you’ve finally stopped the rattle of thoughts, just listen. Silence has its own kind of sound. It speaks when nobody’s listening, and tells the most amazing things. Make friends with silence, with being alone. You’ll find it more addictive than the strongest narcotic.
- Go for a Moodle Drive: When I was a kid, my grandfather used to pile whichever of us happened to be with him on a Sunday into his luxury land yacht and take us for a drive after church. Ostensibly, it was for the purpose of checking out his property, but I really believe my grandfather just liked to drive. We would travel the back roads of our small Louisiana community, seeing who had built new houses, cutting bits of raw sugar cane and sucking on the peeled stalks. It was one of the few bonding experiences I remember having with my grown-up, businesslike grandpa.
Today, when I find myself depressed, or frustrated, or just longing without reason, I jump into my 92 Ford Escort and hit the road. The first few minutes are always the same: my mind plays out the various controversies of the day, dissecting and analyzing the events and players. But eventually, I get bored with my own problems. That’s when the true “Moodle Drive” begins.
I never know where I’m going on a Moodle Drive, but somehow I always get there. I take roads I’ve never traveled. I seek out places I’ve never seen. Once, on a Moodle Drive back in my home town of Thibodaux, I actually wound up in Grand Isle, a beach town two hours away. That drive, launched during a period of acute depression, brought me exactly where I needed to be. I got out of the car and began to walk on the beach, staring silently at the Gulf of Mexico. It was a fall weekday, and the beach was deserted. As I felt the sand crunching beneath my sneakers, smelled the salt in the air, felt the sunlight fighting with the cool breeze for supremacy, I found a calm which had eluded me for weeks. I drove home that day in no better situation than before, but with a newfound capacity to endure.
- Chopping Vegetables: It may sound strange, but chopping vegetables such as celery, bell peppers, and onions is one of the most centering experiences I know. It always surprises people when I volunteer to chop onions. But I love it. Perhaps because I’m not the most domestic of women, I love the opportunity to do little chores once in a while. I buy the vegetables--celery, red peppers, green peppers, onions, shallots, and carrots--all at once, and usually buy much more than I need. Then, I take my little chopping board and one of the fabulously sharp knives my mom gave me as a house-warming gift, and sit on the floor of my studio. I’ll put on public radio, or one of my CDs, or maybe just put a movie on television. Then I begin to chop. The act of chopping vegetables doesn’t require a PhD in neurosurgery, but it does require attention. It requires patience and time and concentration. In the end, you are totally centered, and you have tons of cooking vegetables to be frozen and used later.
- Playing with Tinker Toys: When my nephew Paxton was born, my sister Susie went out almost immediately and bought him a set of Tinker Toys. It’s true, a newborn doesn’t have much use for a set of Tinker Toys, but my sister had remembered on some level the joy that comes from such things. There’s no greater social equalizer than building, either with Tinker Toys, Legos, blocks, or even playing cards. These simple tools unleash more than just a flurry of pint-sized castles and auto garages and airports. They unleash the exhilarating sense of creativity that comes with building something from nothing.
The fact that the structure is impermanent is crucial--for in this instance, one is creating for the sheer thrill of creating...not to fulfill an obligation, not for recognition, not for money. And this simple act of creation unleashes in us such forgotten pleasure, such unvarnished fun, that for an adult to participate in such games is frowned upon by nearly everyone. I truly believe that most children are born on this earth because (on some level) their parents long desparately for an excuse to play with toys once more.