My Praises for "In Praise of Wasting Time"

I’m pretty disciplined and passionate about my work. That’s a nice way of saying that I’ve got a particularly bad case of the Protestant work ethic. So about as close as I get to wasting time is browsing the “New Nonfiction Books” display at the library right before I settle in for a full afternoon of work. There I picked up this little book, “In Praise of Wasting Time,” which Alan Lightman has written for people like me. His thesis is simple and obvious. In our busy and wired world, we’ve lost something essential: that by allowing the mind to lie fallow with no thoughts of schedules and to-do lists and social media, by unplugging from the grid, we can replenish our minds and spirits and “find and solidify the inner self.” My favorite chapter is “The Free-Grazing Mind” because of the rich examples Lightman provides from the lives of Gertrude Stein, Federico Fellini, and some scientists that I’ve never heard of about how they created time and space for idleness or play in their work schedules. Stein, for instance, sketched picture of cows in the middle of her workday, so that her mind could rest and wonder before she returned to her writing.

For those who know how to waste time, getting “stuck” isn’t an obstacle but an opportunity: “When we are stuck --,” says Lightman, “if we have managed to escape the heave and thrush of the world, if we have managed to secure solitude and quiet and space without time – then our minds can roam and explore and invent in unfettered freedom. But too often we dread being stuck. . . . On the contrary we should welcome getting stuck. That’s when discovery begins. If we have a prepared mind, if we have done our homework, then getting suck is a trumpet call to our creative imaginations.”

But gosh is it hard to let go of the idea that we shouldn’t waste a single second with seemingly unproductive activities! I’d love to hear how you “waste time.” And, I’d love to buy one hundred copies of Lightman’s book to pass it out to all of the too busy, too wired people that I know.

Lisa Knopp