One of the most trying things about simplicity is its resistance to being showcased. It takes tremendous effort to whittle life to the bare essentials—at the very least, one would hope for something tangible to flaunt.
But what does it all amount to—all the reducing, removing, discarding and disposing? At the very worst, the incredulous pity of friends; at the very least, a polite detachment. After all, to answer that most barbed of questions “What do you do these days?” with “Not very much” is to risk stopping the conversation entirely.
I come from a world where doing nothing is a vice, where being productive is a virtue, where the definition of time well spent is time well accounted for. The accounting is necessary because the commodity is finite. Every second of every minute of every hour of every day must establish its significance, yield its value, bequeath its legacy. One must have something to show for: a possession acquired, an ability gained, a task accomplished, a lesson learned, a victory won. The worth of every moment lies in the monument it leaves behind.
(The result of all this, of course, is the tireless proliferation of time-saving tips, techniques, devices and tools which none of us, sadly, have any time for.)
None of this is about denying the appropriateness of a determination to make the best possible use of an all-too limited resource. But there is a very thin line between seizing the day and throttling it senseless. We can squeeze so much out of the “unforgiving minute” that we wring ourselves dry.*
At the end of the day, there are occasions in life—very many occasions in fact—when the best possible use of time is its complete and utter waste. After all, a lifetime of unforgiving minutes simply adds up to a very unforgiving life.
* This very handy and often quoted phrase comes from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.”