Lightning in the area had closed the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit – the Bachman-Wilson house that had been moved from New Jersey to Arkansas, rebuilt, and restored – one of the reasons I was there. I chatted with the gate keeper, a young intern finishing her Masters in Museum Studies; I bought a book about Wright’s vision, and I hoped for the storm to wear itself out.
Ahead of everyone when the storm finally passed that afternoon, I was the first to wander through the narrow entrance, getting the house to myself for five minutes before the world crowded in behind me, mostly teenagers on a field trip. I imagined sitting on the built-in bench, looking out at the woods – my pilgrimage complete.
The quiet space reminded me of Patricia Hampl’s The Art of the Wasted Day. I had been prompted to find her book after reading her essay in the New York Times Sunday Review section – Scrap Your To Do List. Following Hampl’s advice, I was doing nothing for the moment – just quietly staring out a window and wondering. In her book, she identifies with Montaigne, her hero – and mine, redefining happiness as daydreaming, not afraid to do nothing, not even meditating – just reflecting and being open to insights that can only come in quiet solitude.
Like Hampl, I was trained by the nuns to always be productive, eschewing idleness and daydreaming as devilish pursuits. Hampl writes:
“The idea of constantly doing something, of always accomplishing something, seems to be woven into the American DNA…while life and liberty are guaranteed, happiness isn’t, only the job of seeking it. The essential American word isn’t happiness. It’s pursuit.”
Sitting alone and quiet can be cathartic, and I am determined to do it more often. Hampl advises:
“Loafing is not a prudent business plan, not even a life plan, not a recognizably American project. But it begins to look a little like happiness, the kind that claims you unbidden…wondering, rather than pursuing…for once you don’t really need to have a to-do list.”
The Art of the Wasted Day was a good purchase, and I will go back to it often. With references and excerpts from Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, and Montaigne, Hampl forges her thoughts as an essayist into a travelogue of places, people, and memories, successfully convincing the reader that wasting time is not a waste after all.
Go ahead – daydream a little, waste a little time…who knows where it might lead your mind.
Related Review: Sarah Bakewell’s Montaigne – How to Live