In the 1970s & 80s, anthropologists working in small-scale, non-industrial societies fastidiously noted down what people were doing throughout the day. I’ve been exploring the data & am struck by one of the most popular activities: doing nothing. [thread] pic.twitter.com/Y3YuZUU55O
Tag: doing nothing
Ruefle begins the titular essay in her collection with the statement, “I don’t know where to begin because I have nothing to say,” and then proceeds, as elsewhere in the book, to say a great deal:
John Ashbery, in an interview in the Poetry Miscellany, talks about wasting time: “I waste a lot of time. That’s part of the [creative process]….The problem is, you can’t really use this wasted time. You have to have it wasted. Poetry disequips you for the requirements of life. You can’t use your time.” In other words, wasted time cannot be filled, or changed into another habit; it is a necessary void of fomentation.
“For there is so little time to waste during a life. [Mary Ruefle]” What a lovely corrective to the advice we’re usually given, that wasting time is slothful or indolent. And note that Ruefle is careful not to suggest that wasted time is invisibly productive. This isn’t a backhanded lifehack—it’s a defense of inefficiency.
— Mandy Brown
The Value in Empty Time
Detecting my own restlessness the last few weeks, I’ve tried to pay attention to this theme of empty time. It seems to keep returning, in conversations for this podcast, in books I’m reading, in conversations with friends.
Yutori means having the time and space—and even the resources—to do, with a sense of ease, whatever it is you’d like to do. Plus a bit. That’s the important part: plus a bit.
Yutori isn’t exactly empty time, but it’s enough playroom, enough elbow-room to be who we’d like to be.
— Madeleine Dore
I’ve been really busy at work the last few weeks, and have no time for buffer space, for breathing. Other colleagues I’ve met seem to be like this all the time, running at 110% capacity, no time to do anything that’s not already on their work plan. That’s not how I like to work. I like to have space for kismet, for opportunities to partner with others, for new ideas, for reflection and assessment, for coordination with colleagues that may not yield anything for me but helps them.
I think of the idea I heard about eating to only 90% fullness. That extra 10% of flex space yields the most interesting and enjoyable parts of my job.
I feel this, too, in my personal creative life. I have more projects than I could ever hope to finish, but also don’t have enough time or energy to finish those I am working on. Some more opportunity for picking priorities, and being satisfied with less.
I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. … the most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room, not try to be or do anything, whatsoever.
— May Sarton
Brings me back to this question from Jocelyn K. Glei I’ve been working on for the past two years: who are you without the doing?
These spare, empty minutes in between the doing of our days can be where we find ourselves.
— Madeleine Dore
Looking into Josenji at Akasaka-juku, the famous Sotetsu tree is off to the left side, hidden by the ginko tree and the falling leaves.
Watched with my purring cat draped over my lap.
A moment of resistance, knowing it’s three minutes of silence, not wanting to commit to stillness and potential boredom. Despite years of meditation practice.
A reminder that life goes on, everyone in their own spaces, even as our own lives become more local.
Where, here, can I find these moments, these places to commit to for a few minutes? Nowhere right now, when even a walk around the block feels fraught with risk, everyone else unmasked.