I’ve recently been seeing the word “woolgathering” in use again, in a number of places. It’s something that I never heard used as a kid, but read more than once; I’m pretty sure that Judge Dredd would say it on occasion, in one of those moments where the quasi-transatlantic nature of the comic became all-too-visible. (I mean, come on; what tough future New York cop would describe himself as woolgathering?)
For those unfamiliar with the term — I suspect that’s most anyone who might chance upon this post — it’s dictionary definition is straightforward: “indulgence in idle fancies and in daydreaming; absentmindedness.” To woolgather is, I guess, just meandering around mentally, thinking of whatever comes into your head and following it wherever it goes. It’s what I do here all the time.
I’ve become a fan of woolgathering lately; or, rather, it’s something I’ve learned to appreciate more fully. My current workload requires me to create cohesive, extended arguments on a daily basis, to research things and excavate the truth, and then curate everything into the most easily-understandable, almost certainly briefest version of events for whoever happens to be reading. It’s something that, to put it mildly, requires a fair amount of concentration.
At the same time as doing that, though, I need to be thinking about what’s next — planning future pitches, paying attention to whatever might be fodder for a story for another outlet, or whatever. My brain doesn’t get the luxury of solely concentrating on one thing for any extended period of time, because there’s always, always, the next thing to think about. So, I gather wool. I let my mind go where it wants, every now and again, and see what happens.
It’s an odd idea, to consider allowing your mind to wander to be not only a skill that you can develop, but one that can be productive. In both cases, though, that’s true for me. Woolgathering has become a necessary part of my process, even if the name for it sounds particularly casual and rustic.