Monday, November 7, 2016

The Importance of Earnestly Wasting Time

I recently read an article about the value of staring out the window.  The point of the article was to encourage writers to occasionally set down the pen and think.

Taking the time to think, to reflect, or to meditate – cogitate is a great word – is not always modeled or valued in modern society.  How many advertisements show people just sitting around and thinking?  The usual message is that life, the good life, the life worth living involves “do, do, do” and “go, go, go.”  “Let’s go places.”  “The Have Dones.”

In the field of education, teachers are often pressed to have their students do things.  I have observed that most of the “Teacher of the Year” awards go to the human "doings" rather than the human "beings."   This is not to disparage doing things.  When I was actively teaching, I enjoyed doing projects, activities, experiments, and investigations with my students and regularly used hands-on activities as part of the learning process.  But they were always book-ended by intervals of intense reflection.  If a visitor walked in my classroom on any given day, he or she was just as likely to see my students sitting quietly and thinking – staring out the window – as rolling a ball, tossing a beanbag, or inflating a balloon.

I understand why thinking is not actively promoted in the media.  Watching someone think might not be very interesting.  Can you imagine a television show or a movie in which the main character spent most of the time in silent thought?  The media just doesn’t lend itself to reflection.

Agatha Christie’s famous fictional detective, Hercule Poirot, irritated and puzzled his friend Captain Hastings because he often chose to sit and “exercise the little grey cells” rather than chase down clues.  In one story, he even had the audacity, in Hasting’s mind, to build a house of cards while investigating a murder.  Hasting chided Poirot for wasting valuable time.


For me, working on a jigsaw puzzle is one of my productive time wasters.  I often do my best writing while I am searching for an elusive puzzle piece.  While my brain is consciously engaged in the puzzle, my subconscious mind is hard at work sifting through all my ideas and visions.  I also do a lot of pacing and staring out the window when I am writing.  But to paraphrase Chesterton, I can see fairyland from the view out my window.

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