In Praise of Wasted Time

We’re in New York City, probably through the rest of October, visiting family on the Upper East Side and making plans for a new project. While Adam manages his Northampton activist campaigns from afar, I have been “doing research for the novel”, which to the untrained eye might look like shopping for clothes. Fortunately, here is novelist Nick Hornby, in an interview on the literary social-networking site Goodreads, to ease my guilt:

GR: The idea of wasting time is a strong theme in your work. The characters of your novels often share a disability to engage fully with life—a motif that can be traced back to your memoir, Fever Pitch. Do you see this as one of life’s primary challenges?

NH: The trouble is, of course, that it’s a challenge one can never win. I refuse to accept that the people who have never wasted a second of their lives in the conventional sense, the people who climb mountains and run for high office and find cures for diseases, have succeeded in engaging fully with life. They’re the ones with the damaged relationships and the piles of unread novels, the people who don’t know what Little Walter sounds like…I’m frustrated by how much time has slipped by in my own life, and I’ve wasted more time than most, but I’m not sure I’d feel any better if I’d been more productive. For a start, my first couple of books were a product of all the times I’d wasted at football matches and in record stores.

in the interview, Hornby’s nostalgia about his intense relationship to his small record collection reminded me how I felt about the few poetry books I owned as a teenager.

NH: I think I used to obsess over albums simply because I didn’t have very many. Back when I started listening to music, your record collection began with one album. And then, a couple of weeks later, when you’d got the pocket money together, it became two, and so on. And that meant you had a pretty intense relationship with the albums you owned in your teenage years. Now it’s different. My nieces and nephews ask me to fill up their iPods. I give them a couple hundred albums with the flick of a mouse. I can’t really imagine what that is like, being presented with the history of rock ‘n’ roll like that.

The books that somewhat randomly fetched up on my
shelf, which I reread more closely than anything I’ve bought since,
included Diane Wakoski’s Emerald Ice, the collected poems of Auden, Eliot, and Sexton, the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, Robert Hass’s Field Guide and Praise, Gregory Corso’s Gasoline, and Robert Kelly‘s The Mill of Particulars.
This last, which I received as a 16th birthday gift from Alissa Quart,
fascinated me even though (or because) I didn’t understand much of it.
I was a real high-modernist in those days; Allen Ginsberg gave a reading at our high school (!!) and I commiserated with my friend Nick about what a poseur the great man was. Now Nick is a priest and I am writing the great gay Christian novel. “I saw the best minds of my generation…”

In honor of life’s unforeseeable twists and turns, and Hornby’s passion for rock music, I’ll close with a favorite song from one of the few non-classical cassettes I owned in the 1980s (see “high-modernist” above). It’s still so very true.

Well baby, there you stand
With your little head, down in your hand
Oh, my god, you can’t believe it
s happening
Your baby
s gone, and youre all alone
And it looks like the end.

And youre back out on the street.
And you
re tryin to remember.
How will you start it over?
You don
t know what became.
You don’t care much for a stranger
s touch,
But you can
t hold your man.

You never thought youd be alone this far
Down the line
And I know what’s been on your mind
You’re afraid it’s all been wasted time

The autumn leaves have got you thinking
About the first time that you fell
You didn’t love the boy too much, no, no
You just loved the boy too well, farewell
So you live from day to day, and you dream
About tomorrow, oh.
And the hours go by like minutes
And the shadows come to stay
So you take a little something to
Make them go away
And I could have done so many things, baby
If I could only stop my mind from wondrin’ what
I left behind and from worrying ’bout this wasted time

Ooh, another love has come and gone
Ooh, and the years keep rushing on
I remember what you told me before you went out on your own:
sometimes to keep it together, we got to leave it alone.
So you can get on with your search, baby, and I can
Get on with mine
And maybe someday we will find, that it wasn’t really
Wasted time

(Lyrics courtesy of Lyrics007)