While I was in Colorado on vacation last week, I stumbled on this short Facebook essay by Sofia Echegaray. There was something about it I found absolutely lovely; something about that beautiful combination of creative accident, preparation, and (as Sofia says here) paying attention.
As they say in Zen, “Don’t just do something, stand there.”
There’s something to taking “time off” and “time away” that sometimes can make all the difference. For example, why, when you’re learning a new song, can you struggle one night and then find it’s a breeze the next morning? (Actually, Radio Lab answered this sometime back. I’ll see if I can find it…)
We all desperately need to not just be in fifth gear all the time. Sometimes, we need to coast. Sometimes, we need to turn off the engine entirely.
Anyway, something about being in Colorado, spending a week away from TV, and most of a week offline, really touched me in these words.
So, what follows is Sofia’s essay. Thanks to her for writing it!
Disorganization: My Savior
by Sofia Echegaray
(Borrowed from this original source)
I was all set to write a post praising the heroes who helped to make my treatment and health possible: Louis Pasteur, one of the fathers of germ theory and vaccines, and Alexander Fleming, who first isolated penicillin. People often wistfully long for the olden days, but as someone who has had scarlet fever, strep throat, impacted wisdom teeth, and lyme disease (and who has *not* had: whooping cough, measles, mumps, polio, etc.), I am thrilled to be living in the age of germ theory, antibiotics, novocaine, and childhood vaccinations.
At any rate: I was going to write about these Great Geniuses who helped to save my bacon. But, as much as I owe to them, I seem to owe as much to the August vacation. Louis Pasteur went away for vacation in August, told his assistant to infect some chickens with cholera, his assistant flaked out and went on vacation too, and a month later they infected the chickens with the now-decrepit bacteria. The chickens didn’t die: that’s how they figured out that a weakened form of bacteria could provide immunity against the real thing.
Decades later, Alexander Fleming went away on his August vacation. When he returned, he saw that one of his staph samples had been contaminated with some sort of fungus, and the fungus had killed the staph. From this, and from other peoples’ research: penicillin.
These are both filed under the heading “Happy Accident,” and it appears that much of the world’s progress in science, arts and so forth have happened because something somewhere went a little screwy. Actually, it’s a combination of A) something going a little screwy and B) someone being alert enough to recognize an opportunity. (“Chance favors the prepared mind,” is the well-known phrase.)
Another example of this: the chocolate chip cookie. Not a lifesaving miracle drug, but certainly next in line for praise and adulation. According to legend, Ruth Wakefield invented the chocolate chip cookie by accident — she had thought the chips would melt completely and make chocolate cookies. Because of her botched experiment, we are all happier people.
Anyways: All Hail the discoveries of the world …. and August vacations…and screwing things up a little from time to time!