Hurry Up and Wait: Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman’s Whimsical Children’s Book for Grownups about Presence in the Age of Productivity
“It feels so good to go someplace. Except when you want to stay right there where you are.”
By Maria Popova
“Hurrying and delaying are alike ways of trying to resist the present,” Alan Watts observed in his magnificent meditation on the art of timing half a century before our paradoxical modern mecca of ever-multiplying procrastination options amid a Productivity Rush in which we’re mining every last frontier of sanity and stillness for the tiniest nugget of precious efficiency. “Of all ridiculous things,” Kierkegaard wrote in contemplating our greatest source of unhappiness nearly two centuries earlier, “the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work.” Somehow, even if we know that we habitually miss most of what is going on around us, we rarely break our busy gait on the hamster wheel of goal-chasing. And yet when we do pause — be it by will or, perhaps more commonly, by accident — the miraculous reveals itself in the mundane.
That’s what longtime collaborators Maira Kalman and Daniel Handler explore in the immensely wonderful children’s-book-for-grownups Hurry Up and Wait (public library) — the second installment in their collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art, following their quirky Girls Standing on Lawns.
It feels so good to go someplace.
Except when you want to stay
right there where you are.
Once again, Kalman and Handler wade through MoMA’s impressive archive to curate a set of unusual, whimsical, and purely delightful photographs that capture the osmotic relationship between motion and stillness. The images come from the middle of the twentieth century, the heyday of the Mad Men era that set the hedonic treadmill of consumerism into motion and ripped the modern psyche asunder by the conflicting pulls of doing and being.
This is the history of the entire world.
People are seen striding and strolling, racing and ruminating, dashing and daydreaming — living testaments to the counterpoints of disposition by which we orient ourselves to the same mundane daily actions and to the present moment itself. We are reminded that even something as simple as a walk can be, as Thoreau believed, “a sort of crusade” — but we get to choose whether to crusade for productivity or for presence.
Jump right in, or wade in slowly.
Advantage to one, it’s over quickly.
Advantage to the other, it isn’t.
Handler’s meditative writing is a kind of aphoristic prose poetry, at once irreverent and wholehearted and profound, partway between Mark Twain and Rumi, with a touch of Virginia Woolf’s perfectly placed commas to punctuate attention into reflective pause of just the right duration.
The accompanying paintings by Kalman — herself a patron saint of “the moments inside the moments inside the moments” and an unparalleled noticer of the magic in the mundane — reimagine the historical photographs through the raw material of Kalman’s art: that delicious dialogue between representation and response.
You’re supposed to stop and smell the roses
but truth be told it doesn’t take that long
to smell them. You hardly have to stop.
You can smell the roses and still have time to
run all those errands before the sun goes
down and it’s dinner time.
What emerges is a contemporary counterpart to Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life, a Walden for the modern metropolis reminding us what it really means to be awake, yet wholly original and scrumptiously singular in spirit.
I’m just standing still, and then suddenly
I think I am waiting for something.
Once I’ve decided I’m waiting it’s like
I’m not standing still anymore.
If you go too fast you might not notice
everything. On the other hand, you don’t want
to be late. So allow at least half an hour to do
everything. Minus sleeping and staring
out the window that’s maybe ten things you
can do today, and you already woke up.
Somewhere in the world, always,
somebody is twenty minutes late for something,
and I am annoyed at them.
Some people, surely,
die on the way to something.
Then we call them
the late so-and-so.
I was going to say something more about
hurrying, but why take up your time? You
have things to do. You can flip through this
and go on to what it is that’s waiting for you,
the next thing.
And by this I mean everything.
All childhood long they told me to
hurry up, and now all this
later I can’t imagine what the rush was.
But every morning my child never puts on
his shoes on time, and we have to go,
we have to go.
When I was a kid my father would say,
if you get lost, don’t look for me.
Stay there. Stay there an I will find you.
He’s gone now.
Complement Hurry Up and Wait, to the magical totality of which neither screen nor script does any justice, with Pico Iyer on the art of stillness and this wonderful wordless celebration of the art of noticing.
All photographs courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art; all paintings courtesy of Maira Kalman
Published April 7, 2015