Some days I feel quite productive, completing projects and meeting deadlines and even returning phone calls (ahem.). But many days, productivity eludes me. These are the days where I’ve touched all the projects, but haven’t pushed any of them forward any measurable distance. (On these days, I certainly did not make any phone calls.) Progress is often in spurts. In between, I wrestle with my words and ideas, and they wrestle me back. The wrestling is all in my head, of course, but it wears me out mentally, emotionally. Sometimes it causes me to set projects aside, wander about, waste time on the InterWebs.
And so, when I read about the Lethargarian characters in The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, I could relate. I’m reading the book for my summer reading challenge with our public library called A.R.K.S. (Adults Reading Kids’ Stuff). The Phantom Tollbooth has been on my list every since my writer friend Abby Perry wrote about it at Christ and Pop Culture, and it is a writer’s and word lover’s dream! Milo, our protagonist, is on a journey to Dictionopolis, where he meets the Lethargarians for the first time in the Doldrums:
“Well, if you can’t laugh or think, what can you do?” asked Milo.
“Anything as long as it’s nothing, and everything as long as it isn’t anything,” explained another. “There’s lots to do; we have a very busy schedule—
“At 8 o’clock we get up, and then we spend
“From 8 to 9 daydreaming.
“From 9 to 9:30 we take our early midmorning nap.
“From 9:30 to 10:30 we dawdle and delay.
“From 10:30 to 11:30 we take our late early morning nap.
“From ll:00 to 12:00 we bide our time and then eat lunch.
“From l:00 to 2:00 we linger and loiter.
“From 2:00 to 2:30 we take our early afternoon nap.
“From 2:30 to 3:30 we put off for tomorrow what we could have done today.
“From 3:30 to 4:00 we take our early late afternoon nap.
“From 4:00 to 5:00 we loaf and lounge until dinner.
“From 6:00 to 7:00 we dillydally.
“From 7:00 to 8:00 we take our early evening nap, and then for an hour before we go to bed at 9:00 we waste time.
“As you can see, that leaves almost no time for brooding, lagging, plodding, or procrastinating, and if we stopped to think or laugh, we’d never get nothing done.”
“You mean you’d never get anything done,” corrected Milo.
“We don’t want to get anything done,” snapped another angrily; “we want to get nothing done, and we can do that without your help.”
Can you relate to these creatures? I can. And I must say, I am quite impressed with the schedule. Getting “nothing done,” on purpose, actually takes a bit of effort. All of us get something done; but is the something we do the something we should be doing?
Especially in regard to my creative life, I can lean toward the Lethargarian Way of getting nothing done. All the ideas I have—the thinking those Lethargarians denounced—mull about in my heart and soul and mind but have difficulty moving into tangible form. I dawdle and delay and loaf and lounge and dillydally. And the whole day (week? month? gasp!) has passed, with nothing done.
I’m currently reading through the Old Testament, having just followed the Israelites along their wilderness wanderings after they refused to move forward into the Promised Land. God told them to enter into this space and make it their home, to own it and tend to it. Fear sent them on a 40-year walk about, landing them right back where they started, with the same instruction: enter, make a home, own it, tend to it.
I can also relate to the Israelites. It seems like God has made a way for me to enter into this space and make it my home, to own it and tend to it. But like the Israelites, my fear keeps me wandering. And like the Lethargarians, I’m really good at getting nothing done.
And still, God is faithful. Maybe I’ve not moved ahead with gusto or confidence into this writing space, maybe I’ve not yet felt at home here, not enough to own it and tend to it. But I’m back here, right where I started. I love words and ideas and talking and thinking. And God has held my spot, waiting for me to come back so He can repeat the promise: enter, make a home, own it, tend to it.
Image: Rachel H Kay