For many of us 21st-century worker drones, the pursuit of productivity often takes precedent over the pursuit of happiness. Hurry Up and Wait, a new picture book for kids and adults alike, is something of an anti-productivity manifesto in this age of “lifehacking” and addiction to busy-ness. Ironically, it comes from one of the more superhumanly prolific artist-writer duos working today: Maira Kalman, who has illustrated 25 books and countless New Yorker covers, and Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events. It’s the pair’s second collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art, after their 2014 book Girls Standing on Lawns.
To make the book, Kalman and Handler culled the MoMA’s photographic archives for mid-20th-century images by some of the world’s most famous photographers: Dorothea Lange, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Yves Klein, and Walker Evans, among others. Kalman then created 10 dazzling gouache-on-paper paintings inspired by these photographs, which Handler narrates with prose poems that read like anti-productivity tips. Together, the photographs, paintings, and poems amount to a meditation on our relationship to time, reminding us to stop and smell the roses. In the end, the message of the book, according to Kalman, is “when you’re in a rush, slow down. The way to get things done is not to rush, it’s to slow down.”
But how does one learn to slow down in a world of speed demons? Here, some tips from Kalman and Handler in Hurry Up and Wait:
“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 10 things you can do today, and you already woke up,” Daniel Handler writes in the book.
“I talk a lot about how to really stop time and look at the moments inside the moments, and walking in the park is one of those ways,” Kalman says in a phone interview. “I also do Tai Chi, a mindful meditation flow. Another way of slowing down time is to draw with a pencil on paper. It’s the best way to encourage imagination–letting your mind wander, almost to the point of a scribble or a doodle.”
“When you get older, you can really focus your energies and never stop working,” Kalman says. “There are always so many projects to do, and it’s always so interesting. But understand the balance between being really productive and focusing and working, and knowing that this is not the time to work, and knowing that those [non-working] times are sacred to you.”
“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,” Handler writes.