I read an essay by novelist Claire Messud, recently, which raised questions about the pace of everyday life. (“In Praise of Boredom,” by Claire Messud, Harper’s, August 2015, pgs. 52-54). At times, her thoughts appeared to be hurried and unrelated, beginning with reminiscences about her childhood and the frugality of her parents and then moving on to the hectic pace of her children’s lives which were so filled with studies, sports and extracurricular activities, that to keep up with them, her communications with friends were reduced to tweets. As if embarrassed, she admitted her leisure hours, what there was of them, she spent looking for entertainment rather than enlightenment.
Her greatest wish was to give her children a chance to fritter away time so they might discover themselves. “They’d have to learn to lie on the lawn watching ants scale grass blades…” (Ibid pg. 54) She seems to be making a distinction between wasted time and idle time, a difference which I agree exists.
If we fill our lives with too much activity, the brain tires and hungers for simplicity. It seeks activities that entertain rather than stimulate. Experiences become flattened by an absence of novelty or the eccentric. We choose beach reads and not Crime and Punishment.
Idle time requires each person to have a room of one’s own — a place to contemplate and process the surplus stimulations of the day. Without that pause, life seems a blur. We fall into our beds each night exhausted and perhaps frustrated by our failure to have completed our “to do” list. Without time for reflection, keeping busy is simply filling the space between the blinking of an eye. Thoughts are wild creatures, shy to reveal themselves except in the silences.
One wastes time at the mall, in a pub or watching The Big Bang. Idle time is found in only in the mind.