The art of wasting time

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National Tulip Day in Dam Square, Amsterdam

This weekend, as with every weekend, I had a mental list (sometimes it’s even a written list) of things I wanted to get done. For instance, this weekend I wanted to clean the bathroom, hoover, do laundry, revise for a Dutch test, work on an essay I’ve been writing, write a blog post and make a start on reading a report for work. There’s also the food shopping that needs doing, that dreaded chore that we usually end up leaving until late on a Sunday. That’s a lot of stuff to get done in one weekend, especially considering writing can easily swallow up an entire day.

So, its Sunday evening and how did I do?

Well, Saturday morning I picked up the copy of H is for Hawk I got for Christmas and started reading. I was still reading at 1 o’clock when my boyfriend and I decided to walk in to the centre of Amsterdam to pick tulips as part of National Tulip Day (of course there’s a National Tulip Day). The queues were long and we didn’t end up getting any tulips (and I’m not, dare I say it, a huge fan of tulips anyway), so we slowly meandered back home, taking quiet side streets, stopping to play on a swing set, enjoying a break from the awful wind and rain we’ve been getting lately and marvelling at this beautiful city. By the time we got home it was half four. I made a cup of tea and got straight back into reading. I knew this would happen, I thought to myself, I knew if I picked up this book I’d be hooked and nothing else would get done. I thought about my to do list and all the things not done and felt guilty.

But then I read a passage in H is for Hawk that made me pause. Helen Macdonald is describing a picture she drew when she was six years old. It is a picture of a kestrel and Macdonald describes how all the scales and talons on all the toes are delineated with enormous care. I thought of the many hours that must have been spent on that drawing. I thought of myself at that age and how I loved drawing and how I never draw any more, there’s never enough time. But I know that’s not true. I know I don’t draw because I have decided that it is a waste of time, it is not productive and there are more important things to do.

I thought about how as a child I was very good at wasting time. I remember spending hours lying on my bedroom floor, just thinking or talking away to myself. How wonderful is that? What a wonderfully luxurious waste of time. Just lying on the floor, thinking. I hardly ever give myself time to think any more, I’m not sure I know how. I don’t know how to not be doing something. When I’m on the train to work I sometimes force myself to leave my book or laptop or phone in my bag and just look out of the window. I always enjoy doing it, but I always have to force myself not to fill those precious few minutes with productivity.

Now it’s Sunday evening. Dinner is cooking and we are struggling to make the most of those last few hours before bed and the beginning of a new week. And what have I done today? Mostly I’ve read H is for Hawk. This morning I spent about 20 minutes watching a pair of bullfinches in the brambles behind my apartment. I watched them fill their beaks with dried old blackberries, trying to find something edible there, and tried to see all the different shades of grey and blue in the female’s wings, breast and belly. In the afternoon I went for a long walk in the rain. I walked through the park and poked one ear out of my hood to listen to the rain dripping from the trees. But mostly I’ve read because this book has hooked me, because I’ve let it and because I love reading, probably more than anything else.

I need to waste more time. I suspect, in the end, it might be a better use of my time.

0 thoughts on “The art of wasting time”

  1. I remember being bored as a child. It was the previous step for creativity. Now with this permanent access to information we don’t get bored anymore. It’s a shame.

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