In Rest, I talk about several people who became noted literary figures, but had careers in other fields. JRR Tolkien, who wrote The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, was a professor at Oxford; Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, was a theatre manager; James Herriott was a Yorkshire vet. For these people, I argued, writing was a kind of “deep play,” a form of active rest that was both mentally engaging and challenging, and yet also psychologically restorative and rewarding.
Another great example of a figure whose literary second life was deep play is Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. As most of us know, Dodgson was a mathematics professor at Oxford (though one biography describes his work as “rather conservative but certainly thorough and careful”), but he was most famous for Alice in Wonderland.
Not surprisingly, Dodgson was also a great fan of the theatre, as Stuart Dodgson Collingwood’s The life and letters of Lewis Carroll explains:
From early college days he never missed anything which he considered worth seeing at the London theatres. I believe he used to reproach himself unfairly, I think with spending too much time on such recreations. For a man who worked so hard and so incessantly as he did ; for a man to whom vacations meant rather a variation of mental employment than absolute rest of mind, the drama afforded just the sort of relief that was wanted. His vivid imagination, the very earnestness and intensity of his character enabled him to throw himself utterly into the spirit of what he saw upon the stage, and to forget in it all the petty worries and disappointments of life. The old adage says that a man cannot burn the candle at both ends ; like most proverbs, it is only partially true, for often the hardest worker is the man who enters with most zest into his recreations, and this was emphatically the case with Mr. Dodgson.
So one can add Dodgson to the list of people who learned how to practice deliberate rest.
As I explain in Rest, it really is that the case that “often the hardest worker is the man who enters with most zest into his recreations,” as Collingwood puts it. Or as the great neurologist Wilder Penfield put it, “The best rest for doing one thing is doing another until you fall into a sound sleep…. Real rest from the day’s job is doing something else, doing something that brings you delightful preoccupation such as come to a child in his play.”
This is a perspective on rest that has fallen out of favor, but which I think well deserves to be revived.