I was recently intrigued by the title of a book by Patricia Hampl, The Art of the Wasted Day. I’ve spent an hour or so each morning for the past week or so, reading it. For two years I’ve been loving focusing on waist-training coaching, and being semi-retired, now able to spend a day or two of every week, as I choose, to do random tasks or non-tasks such as reading, gardening, photographing/documenting corsets I’m ready to pass on and sell, portraiture, or practicing watercolors (see the unfinished kitty I’m working on after attending my first watercolor class last Saturday). Today I read the title of today’s blog in her book. “The anxiety to do well” struck me as relevant to my entire life — until a back spasm laid me low over two years ago, and stopped me in my tracks. If one can no longer “do well” and must lie down for a while, what comes next? I surely wasn’t wearing corsets. But I did start all of those marvelous new projects mentioned above, things I always considered to be sort of, well, wasting time.
My blog before this one talked about our national obsessions with striving and suffering, which I’ve concluded does no one much good, even if it results in better accumulation of things and titles during one’s mid-life. Since I’m into the phase of home remodeling and down-sizing, I certainly suffered a lot, judged by all the things I realize I now own and of which I now want to rid myself.
Once I was proud of owning over 70 corsets, most of them custom fit to my body –things of beauty and function of which I was, and can still be, proud. Some I treasure as true works of antique craftspersonship, art-for-wear as I like to call corsets, but that does not credit them with the inherent and potential psychological, physical and spiritual elements of well-being that some of us corset enthusiasts experience when we wear them, or corset waist train and experience the added demands of ultimate restriction or physical endurance.
Reading Hampl’s book, I finally realized that one reason I don’t like reading fiction, is that it always seemed irrelevant to me, self-indulgent, not “striving” and “not accomplishing anything useful.” Bingo! The concept of being useful, doing the right thing, being good, being diligent–all the things my Calvinist upbringing and my mom and dad taught me to be. Today I only read non-fiction. And now, Hample’s book. I guess I’m lightening up.
I chuckle remembering my dad–at the time me in high school in the late 50s with the existential threat of Communism taking over the world and Communists blowing everyone to smitherines with their bomb–concluding that my theater teacher had fallen victim to politics and was putting egalitarian, Communistic ideas into her student’s heads while she coached us in acting. Where dad picked up that belief–a rumor is most that I can make of it–remains a mystery to this day, but regarding a Communism threat, he and many others were fervent believers. I refused to withdraw from acting class or holding the lead of Julie in “Carousel,” our senior play. Besides, my first teenage crush and One True Love at the time, won the role of the carnival barker, so how could I give it (him) up? So dad told me one night at dinner, in total exasperation with my independent nature, that “if you are going to be a Communist, then be the very best one you can be!”
Quaint. It was his dad-ly message to an errant daughter, reflecting his core values of striving (and suffering) when I would not cow-tow to his political beliefs. We would go on to see the eventual fall of the Russian empire and its real or imagined world power. I often wondered what dad thought when his absolute conviction of possible destruction by the Communist evil simply disappeared some decades later and he was left with—what? Striving? Suffering?
One of the reasons I adore corsets has to do with nostalgia. Hample, in writing about Lady Eleanor and Sarah, says that “the pacific slowness of ages past” is a nostalgic notion. (Those two were Irish ladies of great fame in Victorian times who retired to Wales to live out their long lives in quasi-seclusion yet with some notoriety for their suspected amorous relationship.) Besides the point and who cares anyway? There are a hundred reasons to enjoy corsets and another hundred ways to benefit from wearing them. One of them is appreciating history and nostalgia, and also appreciating the best of past lifestyles and the re-birth during the past five years or so of true craftspersonship in custom corset crafting.
The curious concept of forest bathing from Japan, and earthing (walking bare foot on soil) as nouveau ways of enhancing well-being and reliving modern stress, somehow go along with corsets. Two new health strategies I must investigate more, as I’ve turned away from corsets as restrictive garments, more toward them as emancipative instruments of boundless creativity.
As Hampl says, perhaps the best way to attain balance in one’s life today is to withdraw, just stop. Re-train the brain, re-wire the brain are concepts I’ve heard in my Alexander Technique classes, and also today on CBS news where Professor Laurie Santos discussed her most popular class ever at Yale, on how to be happy. Turns out we all know the answer and it has mainly to do with our brain, and how we conceive of a thing. I’ve often said that the biggest challenge in corset waist training, and key to reaching our goals in figure shaping, is how we think about it, not the actual discipline of it.
But I found it curious that her message was contradicted by one question in a “happiness inventory” she gives her students, one that I just took. Question 20 asked if I spend most of my day doing “things that are important”?
Who knows? What is “important” today is not the same as what was important yesterday. As I mature (I hope), nothing much of what I do seems “important” in the sense of being earth-shaking, trend-setting, or money-making. And anyway, what’s the value of being earth-shaking, trend-setting, or money-making?
For sure I no longer want to strive or suffer if I can help it. I do however, want to learn and adventure, sometimes even experience the discomfort of having to grow and change. Often I want to just sit outside and listen to the birds and soak in the warm sunshine. I guess that’s part of “The Art of the Wasted Day.”
If I’m wearing my corset at the time, I guess I would call it: “The Art of the Waisted Day”!