Book Review: The Art of the Wasted Day
To live, one must let go. Let go of notions of time, ideas of importance, deep seated feelings of guilt, and the ever nagging desire to do something. It is only then that we can truly get lost in thought, in our own minds, and in ourselves. And what emerges is not just a daydream, but a window to our soul.
In her new book, The Art of the Wasted Day, Patricia Hampl takes us on a vivid and passionate journey that asks more questions than it answers about what it means to live, love, and wonder about it all.
“When you close your eyes, you see and hear things you didn’t notice before, though they must have been there all along. It’s not that you make things up – you notice things,” writes Hampl.
Yet daydreaming is a sin – listed in the Examination of Conscience – which, for Hampl, confuses the idea of listening to your inner voice, following it, and trusting it.
Ultimately she resists.
“I don’t hesitate. I throw my lot with the occasion of sin. I already know that daydreaming doesn’t make things up. It sees things, claims things, twirls them around, takes a good look. Possesses them. Embraces them. Makes something of them. Makes sense. Or music. How restful it is, how full of motion. My first paradox,” writes Hampl.
Deadlines, to do lists, priorities, other peoples’ expectations, our own confused expectations – life summed up in 140 characters – all get in the way.
“Whole decades can go by this way – and have – not just in domestic detail, but awash in the brackish flotsam of endeavor, failure and success, responsibility and reward,” writes Hampl.
Amidst the illusions we contrive, rationalize, and sell to ourselves – that a productive life is a good life, that we are “living fully” when we are achieving our goals, that our goals are actually ours – we fail to see the virtue of doing nothing.
“It’s taken for dross. Waste. Yet in the end (and at the beginning – childhood) this glimmer bit is the only thing of value we possess,” writes Hampl.
Happiness becomes a project, a pursuit, and a burden. We should be happy. If we are not, there is something wrong with us. We should take a pill, take up yoga, get up earlier, be more productive, do more, and waste no time in getting back to being happy.
“How about just giving up?” asks Hampl.
Or maybe we should redefine happiness as looking out the window and taking things in – not pursuing them. What we want is to hear a voice, one sane, singular voice that clarifies, demystifies, and promises sanity.
“This is why a little girl keeping a diary in an Amsterdam attic is the ‘voice of the Holocaust,’” writes Hampl.
Sitting quietly, leisurely, is the prize for success, and reserved only for those wealthy few who have clawed their way to the top, the hard labor and broken bodies having been assigned to someone else.
It is just one of many things we get wrong. And Hampl realizes that after arguing about politics, the real meaning of faith and what really matters in life can be found in simply slowing down and enjoying it.
When we slow down, we notice what Hampl calls the “patchwork of reality,” complete with no suprastructure and no organization.
“Its order was the integrity of the eye, moving over chaos, but repudiating chaos by the fact of its attention. The mind, displayed in a tumble of sentences, was the world’s organizing angel, the companion of life,” writes Hampl.
It is our right to think, contemplate, become absorbed, and even lost in thought. Hampl quotes Montaigne:
“It is an absolute perfection and virtually divine to know how to enjoy our being rightfully.”
For a writer, the paradox is experiencing the self – hearing the voice inside – and witnessing the self – hearing the words as they are written. It is the allure of solitude against the desire for connection.
It is in the emptiness of self, when we let go of ambition, regret, pride, shame, failures and grudges and let time have its way with us, that we are truly free to live, love, and connect.
Again, Hampl quotes Montaigne:
“We say; ‘I have done nothing today.’ What, have you not lived? That is the fundamental but the most illustrious of your occupations.”
The Art of the Wasted Day asks more than it answers, searches more than it finds, and explores more than it summarizes. All in service of that wonderful and lost art of daydreaming and the wisdom it offers.
The Art of the Wasted Day
Hardcover, 288 Pages