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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wasting time and Kahlil Gibran

I've always liked the days between Christmas and New Year. When I was at the university, these were regarded as the days off. The university was like a tomb.

  We were granted four weeks annual leave. The sad truth is that I, like many academics, never took four weeks off in any year. We were so busy teaching and filling in forms and assessing essays and theses for the remainder of the year that four whole weeks in a row were beyond the pale as time off. That was research and writing time beyond what we could squeeze in during term. Publish or perish became the imperative - and, it seems looking at the way universities are going, so it remains.

  That's another story.

  Anyway, at the end of December, I always tried to take that little break away completely from professional matters, but the compulsion to work was strong. Even worse was the feeling of guilt when I wasn't working at an academic task. Many will recognise that.  It's an obsession; an addiction - and it can wreck your life.

  Once, when I was a young schoolteacher, my mother and youngest sister and I went on holidays to Currumbin Beach on the Gold Coast. It was and still is a glorious spot. The house we rented was just across from the beach itself.

  It was, in fact, the time when a rather sad romantic interlude occurred that I wrote about some time ago.

  I felt a compulsion to be on the beach at all times, though late teen hormones helped generate that. But one afternoon, as I looked out on that idyllic beach, gentle breeze blowing so that the ocean became choppy, I rebelled.

  Right then, that's not what I wanted to do. I wanted to lie on the bed and read my book, and listen to Linda Ronstadt singing Different Drum.

  I wanted to 'waste time'. So I did. And I enjoyed it immensely.

  'Wasting time' to me meant doing exactly what I felt like, no matter what it was. It didn't necessarily mean doing sweet bugger-all, though that would have been all right too.

  It's a pity I didn't take enough notice of that precept and apply it to more of my professional life in subsequent years, even though I chose to work because  I enjoyed that too. But 'wasting time' is something, looking back, I ought to have done more of.

  This morning I said to my net-friends:
I always think the days between Christmas and New Year are the best if you're on holidays. Let the old year mellow out. Waste time.
  I had to add, 'if you're on holidays' because I know not everyone can be.

  An old friend (and I mean that in the nicest way, Grant Winkler) responded: 
"A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou...." Well, not exactly thee, Denis…
  I knew what he meant. He's entitled to quote Kahlil Gibran at me in the circumstances. It was pretty much what Kahlil was on about.

  Debbie Green wrote back:
Indeed Denis. We sometimes feel our days must be filled with purpose and intent, when sitting still is what is best for us and the universe.
  I responded:
If you've lost the capacity to enjoy 'wasting' time (meaning doing just what you want), you've lost the art of living.
  Another friend, a lawyer (and we know all too well that lawyers generally spend way too much time in their offices) added:
Indeed. It's very lovely to have 'shaggy dog time'. It seems to me we had more of this time in the past, but I may be dreaming.
  I don't think she was dreaming. I think we did make more time in the past for 'doing nothing', even if, for too many of us, it was much less time than it should have been.

  Don't make that mistake. 'Shaggy dog time' can turn out to be the most important time in your whole life. If you have the next few days free, then do what you want, even if it's sleeping in a darkened room half the day - or ... well... hang-gliding. Maybe.


  1. Having had the supreme luxury of time to waste for an entire year, I can say that, though it took me most of year to work out how to do "it", that is, actually relax, it was a fantastic exercise. I know I am as mellow and as able to chill out, fritter away minutes, for my own well being, as I have ever been. Now that I have "it" back, I will never let it go again. I promise.

    1. That's wonderful. Here's what should go with it. The recipe is in the article.

      The magic island

      Actually, it's not magic at all. It's pure sanity. :)


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