The Wasted Hours

Phoebe Cramer

The middle of the day has become non-existent.

1 – 4 pm are The Wasted Hours. Sandwiched between mornings of fresh motivation and evenings of panic-driven productivity, the middle of the day dissolves into nothingness. I cannot work. I cannot do the other things that need doing and are decisively Not Work. I cannot even really socialise. It’s not procrastination because of a complete lack of intent. It is simply a time of pure, irrational unproductivity.

It is both frustrating and strangely satisfying to know that you are wasting time – a precious commodity in Cambridge – but below that there’s an underlying feeling of melancholy, a familiar sort of gloom. These are the moments in the day when I am at my lowest. Every single day – without fail. I’m usually tucked away in my room after braving a morning at Sidgwick, (although not at the moment, due to the strike) and though I’m lucky to not feel lonely here, it is an inexplicable sensation of isolation. Just in the middle of the day, between 1-4 pm.

It is tiredness. And resignation. And the realisation that this is an insanely relentless place. It is an overload of work and jobs that need doing, and the ease of not doing them. For me, it is grief. And longing. Missing home and missing things in Cambridge that feel slightly out of reach. Not insecurity, but a quiet examination of myself: my attitude, my creativity, my body, my relationships.

It is a difficult thing to articulate, this simple feeling of middle ground that comes with these hours. Do other people do this? Waste time in the same way? Feelings of insecurity and mediocrity are far from rare in Cambridge, and provide most of the ‘jokey’ bonding between me and my treasured ‘gal pals’ here. In Britain, typically the only socially acceptable answer to ‘How are you?’ is ‘Fine, thanks’, but in Cambridge I have come to realise it’s not too honest to just say, ‘Exhausted’. It seems to do the same job. Both answers just mean average, the usual – we signed up for this exhaustion so cannot really complain.

It only takes some basic self-examination to realise that wasting this time is just another expression of insecurity – anxiety that feels better left alone. It’s simple, casual self-sabotage as I lose hours in the days that could otherwise be utilised. It’s the ‘I-Haven’t-Revised-For-The-Exam’ excuse that most of us have told ourselves when we are conscious of the possibility of working hard and still failing. Failing with the knowledge that you could, actually, have worked harder is more comforting.

Wasted hours makes my incomplete to-do list less harsh in the evenings: it’s okay that this and that didn’t get done, I wasted those hours, but if I hadn’t I definitely could have achieved all this. Definitely.

This week I wrote down some of the things that I did within these hours:

  • Rearranged the posters on my wall. Then arranged them back again.
  • Ate two Twix bars, one quickly and one slowly, to see which way was better. (This is subjective, but the satisfaction of a quick crunch may outweigh longevity).
  • Tidied my room, other than washing my plates. My room was already very tidy, the plates needed washing.
  • Looked up cinema listings are my local cinema back home despite being physically a two-hour train journey away from the cinema.
  • Realised that after having pitched this article, I should probably write it. Added it to the to-do list instead of starting it.
  • Felt my heart rate increase as I thought about how much work I need to do. Decreased my heart rate by deciding to think about something else. (In this case, the Pixar film Ratatouille).
  • Who knew my old primary school’s website could be so interesting?
  • Googled, studied and worried over the side effects of taking the Pill despite having never experienced any in the slightest.
  • Drew a highly artistic Twix wrapper on my forearm and genuinely debated whether getting this as my next tattoo would be arty or ridiculous. (Currently undecided).
  • Discovered ‘Bullet Journaling’ blogs. Spent a long time reading these. Made my own bullet journaling blog. I do not have a bullet journal.

I would not particularly recommend writing down the things you do when you waste time – unless you can spare an afternoon of existentialism.

Of course, wasting time is also pretty therapeutic. It is different to self-care, it’s not scheduled self-reflection or tea or face masks. But it is a period when time just slips by, and ultimately that is a uniquely relaxing feeling. Stress comes, goes and fades. Using this time would probably help me face that, and everything that needs doing. But as I continue to waste time and yet somehow tick along, it is reassuring to know that not every single hour of the day has to have a purpose.

featured image via instagram | @sophiaviggiano

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