That is The Do-Nothing Machine, made by Charles and Ray Eames in the 1950s. It was solar-powered, made largely of aluminium and, true to its name, it did nothing. Its parts whirred, spun, caught light, flitted; all for no reason whatsoever. There’s art and creativity that’s in some ways emblematic of an era. The Do-Nothing Machine is the exact opposite. At a time when utility was the magic word — kids were encouraged to be sensible and get jobs rather than nurse creative ambitions; being part of the system was a good thing — this curious, whimsical, sprawling installation seemed completely out of sync. Charles Eames, however, was among those who took play very seriously. Speaking about The Do-Nothing Machine, he said, “We now have a moment in time which is very precious; but this is valid only if the toy does nothing.”
It seems so delightfully contrary to everything that comes to mind at the thought of “machine”. Ideas of productivity and produce and value are replaced with giggles and stupid grins at the sight of the bright colours, the complete cuckooness of these moving parts that have absolutely nothing to do with one another and yet are in perfect harmony. You can see a video of Eames’s machine at work here. Every time I think of that machine, I think of that Terry Pratchett line: “In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.” I’m also gripped with an intense sense of envy because dammit all, I wish my doing nothing was even a fraction as imaginative.
(SUPREMELY SELF-INDULGENT WHINE AHEAD. THE ONLY INTERESTING PART OF THIS POST IS ABOVE. SERIOUSLY. AND OY, IT’S A PERSONAL BLOG. I’M ALLOWED TO WHINE HERE. IT’S ALMOST THE REASON PERSONAL BLOGS EXIST DAMMIT. WHY AM I STILL WRITING IN CAPS? Hmph.)
Here’s the truly frightening part of doing something with regularity: what do you do when you forget how to do nothing? How do you leave the anxious space of processes and deadlines and clocked-in hours, and retreat to that calm, unconcerned state when you end up thinking of all sorts of amazing things with the ease of cotton candy being spun? That state in which your head is like that metal bowl of nothing, seemingly empty, with nothing but a static-y buzz. And then, out of nowhere, these wisps start collecting and before you know it, you have your own cloud. A cloud you can bite into only for it to disappear and leave nothing but a vague aftertaste and the happy memory of how something can actually melt in your mouth.
Rather than zoning out while staring manically at the glistening shapes of Candy Crush Saga that refuse to disappear dammit. Because that’s become my version of doing nothing and it’s making me duller with every crushed bit of candy. Did you know there’s a Despicable Me version of Temple Run? This is why I should never have ‘borrowed’ the iPad.
The other day, someone told me they were playing Candy Crush Saga because it prevented the onset of Alzheimer’s by making their brain “run” — thus resulting in me imagining a row of mice in wheels, scrambling like tiny Sisyphuses, between said person’s ears. It’s one of the more inventive reasons to waste hours on that devil of a game, but I particularly remember that comment because I felt so damn envious of this person having found something that was for them a proper, honest-to-goodness moment of doing nothing. I, on the other hand, am losing it.
These days, on a good day, my brain feels like this. Just not quite as pretty.
I look at things and in my head, it’s blank. I have to push myself to react to things because I can, without skipping a beat, do my little quota of work in a day and pat myself on the back for having done so. Basically, I’m losing the ability to think and consequently, to respond. My writing is like a badly-superglued broken teapot and I’m petrified of the day it falls apart entirely. Because at this rate, it will. I’ve chirruped little bits of outrage and opinion with all the elegance of a wind-up toy, but I haven’t done any Real Writing in months. There was a time when I was certain I must be just a little mentally unhinged because of how easy it was for me to look at a blank page and fill it up with concocted characters and stories, hear their voices, see them, know the angularities of their limbs and personalities intimately. I’d imagine them easily and they’d be just shy of becoming flesh and blood. These days, I’m ready to put on a party hat if I have even a half-baked idea.
Years ago, I’d asked an author about writing and he’d said that he saw it like Delhi’s water supply. It could stop at any moment, without warning, and when it does, banging at the pipes won’t help. So while it’s there, use it the best you can and hope like hell that you’re not home when the water stops and that when you’re back, there’s water in the pipes again. I’d found the analogy very amusing. Now I’m home and watching the tap dribble, and it’s petrifying. With every passing day, I become a little more hesitant to even take my notebook out and glance at what I’d written. I took a printout of a story I’d started and it’s stayed in my bag, unread and almost untouched, for 5 weeks now. The idea of pulling it out and reading it verges on being frightening. So I ignore it and I worry instead about Work and when there isn’t work, I play Candy Crush Saga.
Sooner rather than later, doing nothing and doing something will mean the same thing to me — because I’ll have lost not just the ability to do nothing, but also the memory of it. My Do-Nothing Machine is winding down even as I cross Bubblegum Bridge.