On the Indelible Joy of Skipping Class

We want so much to be productive. We fill hours with tasks and chores and efforts, knowing all the time that there are infinitely many other tasks or chores or efforts we will never reach. I just read a work log of an adjunct faculty member, a research diary kept for a scholarly project. Five hours of e-mail, within the context of an eleven and a half hour work day. And what did this person do at home? Likely make dinner, chat with a partner, kiss a child, and respond to more e-mail.

Do you remember? Do you remember time left alone, time to discover something unimaginably, privately perfect? To not be under the demand of discussing it later in seminar? To have it be your own, a private treasure you might review in a quiet moment?

We idolize the busy person. But the endless quest for activity, for productivity, can hollow us out. I have dear friends I see only rarely, with whom I can’t spend an entire meal without the intrusion of the telephone and its distant obligations.

Can we make space—within higher education and the scramble to acquire credits? within our work lives and the limitless demands of organizational churn? within the well-meaning reach of friends and family?—to be alone, quiet, unproductive?

I took the day, in the face of a manuscript to write and downloaded research articles to read and phone calls to make and a town budget to prepare, to read a book. And now my heart is broken, both because of the aching beauty of the book itself but also because college and work have no place for woolgathering, for the unproductive hours that make us rich in heart.

I will not share with you the name of the book that wrote this blog entry; that’s mine. But I will say that I’m writing it with my headphones on, listening to the Latvian Radio Choir. So here’s my gift: five minutes and forty-one seconds of near perfection, the Latvian Radio Choir singing Valentin Silvestrov’s The Lord’s Prayer.

How can we make room for this? How can we make room for our students to stumble across bliss?