I have never previously given much thought to the so-called ‘dog days’ of summer. Probably because here in the north of England, anything that evokes a period of sultry, drowsy heat rarely becomes relevant! Plus, it is a pretty old-fashioned expression, a legacy of the days when much of our populations were engaged in farming as a livelihood, and many of us were (though this is debatable), more subject to the moods of the weather.
The ‘dog’ in question is the Dog Star, Sirius, and the term ‘dog days’ a reference to the period from around early to mid July to September (depending on your latitude), the time when Sirius rises in conjunction with the sun in the Northern Hemisphere. This, the hottest time of the year, can, the ancient Greeks and Romans observed, be a perilous time, bringing the threat of drought, storms, and fever. Those who succumbed to the effects of the heat were described as “struck by stars” (astrobóletus) by the Romans and the lethargy evoked as being ‘under the Dog’ by the Greeks. In England, “Dog Daies” were even noted from the around 7th July to the 5th September in 16th-century church calendars, though the dates given vary.
Well, characteristically, it’s not hot here at the moment, following a heatwave lasting a couple of weeks (look, it is England—that counts as a lot of consecutive warm days up here). And yet. I do feel a lethargy has descended. That’s even though I have been less hurried than usual during lockdown, working from home, and only recently venturing beyond journeys on foot within a five-mile radius of my house. Whilst our household has maintained a routine, I have also experienced the commonplace lockdown conditions of fitful sleep and insufficient daylight – affecting cognitive performance and energy levels.
Is there any bright side to fatigue in terms of one’s creativity? It does seem counterintuitive that indolence or fatigue would provide favourable conditions for tackling any task.
However, such an assumption may be wrong.
Apparently, allowing stray thoughts idly to come and go through your mind, rather than straining to harness ideas, can lead to greater creativity. As Chris Bailey notes in Time article ‘Why being lazy is actually good for you,’: “Think back to your last creative insight – chances are it didn’t happen when you were focusing on one thing. In fact, you probably weren’t focused on much at all…” going on to add that a wandering mind “allows us to experience significantly more creative insights than when in a focused state.”
There is hope, too, for those who have experienced boredom during lockdown. In their research-based article ‘Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative?’ Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman of the University of Central Lancashire note that despite the potential negative consequences of being bored, there are also benefits. One of these is that boredom can stimulate creativity. On finding it hard to focus one’s attention on a task, the mind instead shifts to internal thoughts, feelings, and experiences, by way of compensation. In short, we start daydreaming. And it is through this mental meandering that we can come up with imaginative solutions and notions.
Speaking of the virtues of inactivity, The Idler describes itself as a “company devoted to helping people to lead more fulfilled lives”, promoting the idea that “inaction is the wellspring of creation” (you can read their manifesto in full here). They produce a bi-monthly magazine and run online courses.
Amongst other exaltations of the gifts of idleness, The Idler looks into research on the ‘science of idling’, investigating the activity undertaken by the brain whilst it is ostensibly unoccupied. Considerations range from the benefits of napping in terms of heightening the senses, enhancing creativity, and bettering memory function (for which the sloth is a mentor); the benefits of ‘Micromastery’ (i.e. learning small-scale skills quickly rather than becoming a more global expert); and the evolutionary advantages of the slow-moving creature, as evidenced by another animal role model the ‘sleepy small-head’ shark. If nothing else, The Idler magazine makes for absorbing reading. If that is, you can muster up the energy to open it up.
Instead, if you are engaged in a creative pursuit, you may prefer to kick back, close your eyes, let your mind wander, and see what may come.
Chris Bailey ‘Why being lazy is actually good for you’, Time, 28 August 2018.
Sandi Mann, Rebekha Cadman, ‘Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative?’ in Creativity Research Journal, 26 (2). pp. 165-173. ISSN 1040-0419, 2014.
The Idler https://www.idler.co.uk/