Meshworks and Down Time

It’s Sunday. I am on my computer in a moment of creative idleness.  I have a back problem and the Pilates instructor recommended that I work lying down as much as possible. All my working and thinking I do lying down. The weather is rainy. I am busy writing projects and sending CVs across the world for new opportunities. It seems like work, but I am actually enjoying this process and feeling very creative. This post is a musing on how we use our time, what creativity means today, and hammocks.


A consumption-free minimal living seems to be a lifestyle response to the information overload we all experience and how to avoid being seduced by the info-machine. This comes down to the issue of being able to control your own time.

This obsession for a productive lifestyle and to be in control of one’s time and productivity is a shift  from the corporate definition of time and productivity towards a personal definition of productivity. This may vary from culture to culture. I certainly understand this philosophy in a US context where work sucks you dry and leaves your personal life as the last priority, thus causing a friction between work ethics and life ethics. This is also true of cultures where work productivity is the essential paradigm of success and places money as the major reward and condition of achievement, if not a personal and social obligation. I see this quite sharply in Singaporean society as well.

Down Time

When given the free time, how is it best used? In many contemporary cultures, time not spent working is seen as an unproductive waste and fosters a sense of guilt and the feeling that leisure and relaxation is an escape.

In the techno-front, some applications putting limitations on how often you can access the web (I forgot the name), lest you use your time for other stuff.

In Brazil, where I come from, it is the opposite: idle time and down time are equally if not more valued than work time, and our true creativity comes from this idea of what makes a good life. Extreme workaholics are deemed to have deficient personal lives or are socially clumsy, something which goes against the basic Brazilian characteristics of conviviality – to take it easy and not take yourself so seriously that you can’t have a good laugh, relax, enjoy nature, enjoy other people and take pleasure in the simple things in life. It is in the moments when we are at rest, slowly watching life, whitsling a tune, napping forgetfully or being around people that our creativity comes to full bloom. Of course, I am talking about productive idleness, not escapist hedonism. In Brazil, beauty and conviviality are not escapes, they are the glue that binds people together. (And yes, I am aware that the cult of beauty in the extreme can revert into extreme plastic surgery make-overs and that extreme conviviality and passion can turn into a lot of heated arguments that revert into violence – so I am not idealizing the Brazilian thing here.)

In Sweden, the other place where I come from, has a strong Protestant work ethic, yet down time spent outside with nature and the prized 6 weeks off in the summer, as well as one-year maternity leaves. These are indicators of a society that sees non-career oriented time spent in outdoorsy solitude or raising a family as a factor that yields more secure and nurtured individuals. Work is essential, but so is life. Naturally, this varies from person to person. But the truth is, no one likes to feel enslaved by work and have someone else decide how you should spend your time or determine what your priorities are.

2 thoughts on “Meshworks and Down Time

  1. Lygia Clark played basketball too? :)

    I jest…..

    I love the Oiticica use of the hammock to change the parameters of the viewing; my appreciation for the Brazilian neo-Concretists only deepens. (And as an aside, Barb F and I were planning to use treadmills for a piece on walking in public space.)

    Nothing really much to add here except a question: if the Brazilian approach to life outside of work is so much more relaxed and enriched, how is it that the Brazilian economy has grown so much on the world stage? It seems to me that this success goes against everything we’ve been taught about the relationship between work and (GDP-style) wealth…

  2. good question, Sean. Are work and play real opposites? A famous poet, Vinicius de Moraes once said that football in Brazil is not a sport, it’s a way of life. On a individual level, the beauty is to appreciate idle time, nurture one’s affections and pleasures while still working hard – to be passionate about both, to have a sense of personal as well as professional achievement and to smile as much as possible in between. We don’t quite understand people who brood about life too much.

    Work and productive idleness are rather complementary, not opposite. Of course, not every single Brazilian is perfectly balanced in this way and Brazil is known for its sharp social contrasts and extreme inequality, and often the balance seems to tip in one direction or in another. We are big, populous, resourceful, industrialised and ambitious, despite the corruption, the backwardness and the provincial domestic politics. Inevitably we move forwards as the ‘land of potential’. Better to think of contradicitions.

    But definitely the work/play ethic is different than the dominant anglo ethic, I think.

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