The Lost Art of Lingering
As summer is upon us, hopefully you will take a vacation and have time for lingering. Lingering is a lost art for most of us. To linger, you must have time, company, and nothing more pressing or distracting than paying attention to the person you are with. Lingering after a meal, over a cup of coffee, or over a mug of beer, provides the ideal setting for conversation. Lingering gives time for personal interaction without an agenda. Be it at a park bench, beach, coffee shop, or cafe, lingering is taking the time to simply sit around and notice what is happening around you. Lingering allows for the unexpected, the leisurely; it is to do nothing, but with company.
The first enemy of lingering is “the schedule.” Though much can be blamed on an honest lack of time, we have a cultural problem due to over-scheduling. Lawyers especially fall prey to this pitfall. When so many of us are trained to value and bill time in 10 second intervals, it is no surprise we have lost the ability to linger. We watch the clock, always. Wherever we are – in meetings, on the phone, or in court – we keep track of time.
Even when the workday is done, or the weekend is upon us, we simply cannot stop paying attention to the clock. I noticed this recently, when I had dinner with my daughter who had just returned from Europe. We finished eating and were chatting, and I got up to leave. She looked at me and asked, “Are we going?” I said, “Yes, you’re done, aren’t you?” She replied she was finished eating, but, “I thought we were talking.” Yes, we are talking, and here I was being called out by a 20-year old, who had not looked at her watch or phone once the entire evening. My daughter casually replied, “Oh, I guess I got used to lingering . . . .” This made me stop and think. Where was I going? Why, although I was enjoying her company and our conversation, was I in such a hurry? When had I lost the art of lingering?
As lawyers, we are paid to communicate. The time we spend talking to others is always on an agenda and usually with a time sheet to fill out. To learn the art of lingering for those of us who are so time-conditioned will require conscientious efforts to stop looking at the clock. Vacation is the perfect opportunity to practice lingering. If you must, schedule for yourself some unstructured time. Then, move on to the next step: No schedule at all.
During the unscheduled time, beware of the mobile electronic device, a.k.a., the mortal enemy of lingering. The mobile device has two features that thwart lingering. The first is the conspicuously displayed clock, drawing our attention back to time. The second, and more insidious, is the personalized and distracting alerts that draw our attention away from our surroundings and human companions—those little red dots telling you someone has noticed and commented on something you posted, or the news alerts, or myriad of other distractions programmers have been paid to create. To appreciate the art of lingering, the mobile device should be put away unseen and unheard, to allow for the unscripted, unstructured to take over.
Gina Darvas is a Deputy District Attorney in the Consumer Protection Unit of the San Diego D.A.'s Office and her practice includes civil and criminal cases.