Have you ever chosen a book to read because of its title? I made that decision when I discovered "The Art of the Wasted Day" by Patricia Hampl while browsing in the library here at Mary's Woods. There have been so many "wasted days" since our lives abruptly changed in March of 2020 and I wondered how they might be considered a form of art.
It proved to be a good read ... at least for me. Patricia Hampl is from Minnesota and I, being from Iowa, consider her a fellow Midwesterner. She mentions several places in Minnesota and Wisconsin that I relate to, as well as her being a University of Iowa graduate. In her book, Hampl is having an ongoing conversation with her late husband as she recalls events and travels they experienced. Their boat trip on the Mississippi was especially poignant.
Her bio calls her an "American Memorist" and I am hoping to read more of her work as it is the type of writing I enjoy reading, as well as writing myself — the Essay. There are many references to Michel Montaigne, the French philosopher in the 1500s who is considered the inventor of the essay. As one of the most important writers and thinkers of the Renaissance, his genre of writing seemed more modern than anything that had come before. Hampl is so intrigued with him that her travels to Paris include a visit to the tower where he retreated from his public life as a nobleman and spent "long wasted days meddling with words" writing his perspective on the life he was experiencing. As all of us who write essays, he wrote about himself, from himself and tried to make sense of his world.
In the beginning, Hampl reveals how she attempted to organize her life with extensive to-do lists, meeting deadlines, and ignoring the advice of just saying "no." This led to insomnia and panic attacks which she eventually overcame with the help of her husband. Then, as she enters what she calls the third stage of her life, "when more of your life lies behind than ahead of you," she becomes aware of the pleasure of leisure. As she approaches the other side of Real Life, she discovers the best to-do list is to waste your life in order to find it.
Those of us raised to believe time should not be wasted find this difficult to do. I grew up in an environment of hard-working farm people whose workdays were endless. Both of my parents were children of German immigrants whose work ethic was to be productive and time was not to be wasted. Fortunately for me, they did not strictly adhere to the idea that life should be all work and they carved out time for leisure and activities with friends they enjoyed.
After reading the book, an article in the Oregonian by Angela Haupt states that research proves our having too little free time isn't healthy, but having too much also diminishes our well-being, something many of us discovered during the pandemic. It suggests things you can do if you have too much or too little leisure with the key answer being Moderation — finding enough time to relieve stress while being mindful in choosing what contributes to your happiness.
The "art" of deciding what we choose to do with our leisure, or "wasted day," will differ with every individual and change according to their needs. Some will take up a new sport or hobby, hiking or just sitting on the beach, volunteering, or renovating a house, mastering a new language, etc. As for me, I will continue with my favorites of "meddling with words" and finding and reading books with intriguing titles.
Jo Ann Parsons is a member of the Jottings Group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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