See things in a different light.  Waste a bit of time.




© Pierre Maré,
2004 - 2007


Offbeat 28

You get friends, and you get the other sort of friends. Friends are people who give sensible advice and offer sympathy, even when the situation involves a really stupid practical joke, police alerts and a nationwide manhunt. The other sort of friend is usually there whenever you need to waste time, most notably while ensuring the financial viability of your local bar.

In my role as responsible father and caring husband, my other friend is currently a computer, more specifically a well developed collection of patience games, a couple of old role playing games and shoot-em-ups. My sincerest regrets go to the owner of the place I used to call my ‘local’, although I haven’t been there all that often recently. If you ever decide to reopen, I will be back in about twenty years when my daughter is all grown up. Have that beer waiting!

Unlike the regulars at my local, patience games do not add anything to my life. There is no conversation involved, slurred or otherwise, just mechanical clicking on cards and cold calculation of odds. However I still play for ten or twenty minutes a day hoping for the right sequence to emerge so that I can beat the odds. Perhaps the most skill I exercise is in choosing a game that I know I can win.

I come from a time and place where wasting time was ‘unproductive’, a sin only exceeded by some of the more interesting transgressions involving worship of farm animals, and possibly murder, though only if unprovoked. We were expected to obey, achieve and wear our hair at least one inch above our ears. Approved relaxation involved wholesome activities such as putting up fences and hours spent on the shooting range preparing for the foreign invasion and unwanted passers-by. Afternoon naps were frowned upon.

Although I wish I could bring myself to uninstall the mindless games of patience, years of practice have taught me to appreciate the value of a few well-timed unproductive moments. Rome was not built in a day, nor did Michelangelo pick up a chisel and whip up (or carve out) a couple of Davids one afternoon.

If a management committee designed a human, it would be for productivity. Childhood would be short, we would all be able to work sixteen-hour days without complaining and our lifespan would probably be in the region of fifty-nine years on the dot. Imagination would be in very short supply, and unproductive moments would be scarcer than a Columbian drug lord at a police convention.

The result of this productive human’s endeavours would be that everything was filed in the right place, and that the bureaucracy of business would run smoothly. Rome would have straight streets and David would have neatly combed hair and at least a pair of boxer shorts in order not to offend the customers.

Productivity is obviously in the eye of the beholder.

If not for the empty moments between doing this and fixing that, the world would be a much poorer place. History is littered with examples of great men goofing off and coming up with ideas that shook the foundation of our lives. Consider Isaac Newton’s rude awakening as he lazed under an apple tree, Einstein possibly misfiling a patent as he wondered what the weight of an atom was and the Wright brothers idly sketching strange flying machines and asking themselves if there wasn’t more to life than bicycles repairs.

The ultimate proof of this theory lies in the public sector. In spite of phenomenal amounts of dubious productivity by vast armies of unmotivated bureaucrats, the public sector still manages to prop up entire countries and regulate the affairs of everyone in the private sector. For a bunch of people who can’t even find the form you need, they manage to get a massive amount done, and still find time to obstruct everything else.

Slacking off is nothing more than clearing up the head and taking stock of what is happening and what can still happen. If ever someone tells you something needs to be done now, don’t do anything immediately. You will find it pays off.

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