Alone time, genius time

Credit Wikimedia Commons

I’m a huge advocate of quiet, solitary downtime. Huge. I loved this Brain Pickings piece about being alone, and in particular this note about the intensely private Greta Garbo.

Garbo introduced a subtlety of expression to the art of silent acting [whose] effect on audiences cannot be exaggerated… In retirement she adopted a lifestyle of both simplicity and leisure, sometimes just ‘drifting’ … She did not marry but did have serious love affairs with both men and women. She collected art. She walked, alone and with companions, especially in New York. She was a skillful paparazzi-avoider. [S]he chose to retire, and for the rest of her life consistently declined opportunities to make further films. [I]t is reasonable to suppose that she was content with that choice.

To what extent do our still moments — that might seem boring or inscrutable to outsiders — produce the stroke of genius essential for making art? How does solitude help us pay attention to the irrepressible slot-machine of ideas we ignore in our work-a-day world?

Musicians spend a lot of time getting their asses kicked in rehearsal. They spend a lot of time dealing with regular old life, too. But musicians have to spend a lot of damn time on their own: the practice room is the padded cell where they face down their demons. Battle them, tame them. It’s lonely. Those goddamn rooms! No phones, no conversation, just phrases and lines, scales and arpeggios.

But then, there’s a spark.



For a classical musician practice is penance. You learn how to love it. Not love in the lusty, obsessive sense. This is an arranged marriage. You survive it, you control it, and you use it to your advantage.

The problem is, this is a Control-T world, and our distractions are an infinitely-recurring loop.

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Sitting in a roomful of people all working on one thing — loud & frenzied — is a powerful tonic, and it may just lead you to that elusive breakthrough. A little head-to-head competition can get your ire up, piss you off enough to bring out your best work.

But something far quieter (and harder) might do the trick too, and quicker. This is the thought uninterrupted: a cluster of still moments opens the mind up, ideas aerate and marinate. Silent, methodical repetition sharpens ideas into knife-edge chops.

Don’t you know that Bad Boys move in silence and violence? –Biggie Smalls

Creation of the universe may have happened in six or seven days — or however that went down — but here on terra firma it takes an Olympic effort just to put down a phone and start something. For some it just ain’t natural. But eventually, ideally, everything falls away, and action begins.


By Will Roseliep

Writer for different outlets. Personal work appears here first:

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