Flying and Fishing: Thinking about Nothing

Fishing is King of the World of Leisure. It is a great excuse to do Nothing. Unlike other sedentary activities, where you might see the sitter with book in hand, you will never see an angler reading. He might stare blankly into the water; he might daydream; he might talk to a friend to pass the time; perhaps he will mutter to himself about not catching anything. In an honest moment, he will admit that catching something really doesn’t matter. It is the act of fishing, the act of doing nothing. I remember seeing a bumper sticker that said “A bad day of fishing still beats a good day at work.” That summed it up.

Flying for me has become like fishing for others. After more than 100,000 miles in two years I find myself pondering and nodding off, rather than pecking at my computer, reading, or poking the screen to find the newest movie, as many fellow passengers seem to be doing. There is actually something calming about sitting in one place for a long time without having to do anything. I mean without being expected to do anything but sit. It seems to me flying is just like fishing, without the pole and the bait. (Well, it isn’t as comfortable, as we are increasingly wedged into ever-smaller seats.)

If I did the same thing at home as a youth, my mother would yell at me and tell me to do something productive. I can hear her voice telling me “Get up and do something. Don’t just sit there.” She was a Boston Puritan. Puritans never whiled their time away; they were always engaged in something, always moving. I don’t think that Puritans would ever put the bumper sticker on their cars.

Fishing and flying have a place in the world. So does lying on the grass and looking at the stars and walking slowly through the woods or your neighborhood park. They can all inspire the imagination, an all too seldom used faculty in today’s world.

Imagination is connected to education, especially online education, where more time is spent in front of a computer. (Education is not only about taking tests and doing assignments.) You need time to do nothing, to reflect on your life, to stare into the distance, to imagine doing something other than what you are doing. You need to be able to see yourself climbing a mountain, running a mile in world record time, speaking a language you’ve always wanted to learn, writing a story that can inspire. In short, imagination is thinking about the impossible. It is wondering what would happen “IF?”

Take some time to sit and reflect, or even just to sit. Find your own imaginative space. Your imagination can lead to learning, to discovery. Just don’t get carried away and spend all day reflecting when you haven’t finished one assignment. That is not imagination, but avoidance. Perhaps we should have an Imagination Elective?

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