On the delight of taking one’s time

Extraordinary Routines

Words by Madeleine Dore


“The quality of life is a proportion, always, to the capacity for delight the capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.” – Julia Cameron

If delight blooms when we pay attention, then we must give ourselves time to pay attention – we must allow ourselves to linger in the moment.

At a recent event, a few friends and I noticed we were the only ones left chatting, laughing and lingering after the talk had finished. Where did everyone disappear to so hurriedly? I felt slightly deprived of the certain variety of spontaneity that only opens up when you are aimlessly in the company of others. What conversations might you bump into, what new friends might you make? It’s a delight to linger and see.

In a recent episode of On Being, host Krista Tippet interviewed writer Ross Gay about tending to joy and practising delight, particularly ‘non-productive delight’ as Gay describes it.

To share an example of non-productive delight, Gay reads an excerpt from his story ‘Loitering’, which begins with him spotting a sign in a café that said ‘no soliciting, no loitering’. Gay then goes on to list the definition and synonyms for this behaviour:

Linger, loaf, laze, lounge, lollygaggle, dawdle, amble, saunter, meander, putter, dillydally, and mosey.

As Ross continues:

“All of these words to me imply having a nice day. They imply having the best day. They also imply being unproductive. Which leads to being, even if only temporarily, nonconsumptive, and this is a crime in America, and more explicitly criminal depending upon any number of quickly apprehended visual cues.” 

Lingering, lazing, or dillydallying are simultaneously joyful and ‘unproductive’. In some instances, they can even be deemed unwanted – as the sign in the café would suggest, and as Ross also articulates, how the behaviour is judged can also be tied to racial discrimination:

“It occurs to me that laughter and loitering are kissing cousins, as both bespeak an interruption of production and consumption. And it’s probably for this reason that I have been among groups of nonwhite people laughing hard who have been shushed.”

Interrupting productivity is discouraged externally by those who police it in Gay’s description, as well as internally by ourselves. The lack of guests left after the talk might speak to our busy and hurried lives, but also how awkward we feel in a spare moment, how we have been taught to rush, and how difficult we find it to do nothing but linger.

As Ross defines, there is another view of lingering or loitering that affords us a certain autonomy with our time:

“For while the previous list of synonyms allude to time, taking one’s time makes it kind of plain, for the crime of loitering, the idea of it, is about ownership of one’s own time, which must be, sometimes, wrested from the assumed owners of it, who are not you, back to the rightful, who is.” 

For varied reasons and circumstances, we fear being shushed, we fear being told to move on, we fear being the only one left. But to broaden our capacity for delight we must broaden what we pay attention to, and to broaden what we pay attention to we must broaden the moment. Lingering broadens the moment by encouraging us to take our time.

What would happen if you disrupted the productive flow, and took a moment to linger, to pay attention, to find glee and delight. What would happen if you took your time?


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Madeleine Dore