How to be Idle and The Two Percent Solution

May 5, 2013 at 1:45 am | Posted in Books, Quotations | Leave a comment
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It was the old days of telegrams. You paid per word for the speedy delivery of your message, so they often had a particular tone of terse urgency. They had a tendency to contain either very good or very bad news, news that could not wait for the post. Robert Hughes, late with his commissioned book, Art of Australia (published in 1970), in a spirit of affectionate mockery, wrote to his editor/publisher Geoffrey Dutton, exaggerating the flavour of Dutton’s previous telegrams to him:

‘DO YOU SERIOUSLY PROPOSE WRITING THIRTYFIVE THOUSAND REMAINING WORDS IN TWENTYFOUR HOURS WHAT IS HAPPENING DESPERATELY DUTTON’.

My situation will be like that if I don’t start seriously writing my own commissioned book soon. There is always so much else to do. (What did I say last week about time management, in ‘Big Rocks’? I need to heed my own advice.)

But we seem to have had so much more time before electronic communication was invented. In the bush my mother posted our correspondence ‘sets’ when we’d done all the work in them and we received the month’s new set by the post. I can’t remember how we got our post (once a fortnight?) but it was exciting when it happened. In the city it came twice a day. In Charles Darwin’s time the post came five times a day, which is practically as good as email. I guess it went gradually down until today’s once a day.

We’ve gained much from our instant electronic communication but I can’t help feeling we’ve lost much too. The speed of contemporary life can give you vertigo. Just like the speed of the cars. Last week’s book, Car Sick: Solutions for our car-addicted culture by Lynn Sloman does indeed have solutions. It is a very accessible book, fascinating, illuminating, full of hope and beautifully written. One of the solutions is decreasing the speed limit in suburbs, which radically reduces the accident, injury and death rates plus changes the feeling of places by making them safe for children and cyclists and improving social life and social cohesion.

We, most of us, have a tendency to go too fast in every area of our lives. There is always too much to do. And when are we supposed to squeeze in our art: our writing or singing or painting or dancing? Okay: two solutions. The first lies in Tom Hodgkinson’s How to be Idle (2004) and the second in Marcia Hughes’ The Two Percent Solution.

How to be Idle describes the slow food movement or the International Movement for the Defense of and the Right to Pleasure. Founded in 1986 by a group of left-wing Italians who were appalled by the cultural ascendancy of fast food, it aimed to bring pleasure, quality, variety and humanity back to the production and eating of food. It spread all over Europe and is now in the US and here as well. Their logo is a snail.

Their philosophy goes beyond food and is a protest against the dehumanising mechanisation of life. Their Manifesto states: ‘Our century, which began and has developed under the insignia of industrial civilisation, first invented the machine and took it as its life model. … We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life … May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency.’ (p. 65)

So how are we to write or paint or practise our art in these times of unprecedented frenzy? Another way is proposed by Marcia Hughes in The Two Percent Solution. She reckons that all we need to practise our art and then become fulfilled and happy is 2% of our day, ie, 30 minutes. Surely we can all squeeze 30 minutes for ourselves and our art every day?

Yeats wrote, ‘Art only comes when there is abandon, and a world of dreaming and waiting and passionate meditation.’ Could we get into that state within 30 minutes? Well, let me close with another quotation, from Marcia Hughes’ The Two Percent Solution: ‘Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.’ (Anon, p. 33 of Hughes). So I think we can.

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