A D Jameson, 99 Things to Do When You Have the Time, Compendium, 2013
Reviewed by Nathan Goldman
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—99 Things to Do When You Have the Time
In"Art as Device," literary theorist Viktor Shklovsky champions art's ability to vivify our world: "to make us feel objects, to make a stone feel stony." To articulate the danger of deadened, habitual lives, Shklovsky quotes from Tolstoy's diary: "if the complex life of many people takes place entirely on the level of the unconscious, then it's as if this life had never been." We find ourselves today in a world busy with bustle and routine. We might worry that our lives veer dangerously toward the automatic. Days go by productive yet unfelt. But what can be done about it? Where to find the time for anything else? Time is of the essence, we say, but we always seem to be running out of it.
In 99 Things to Do When You Have the Time, A D Jameson declares: "You Have the Time." An inspirational tract-cum-art object, 99 Things is an illustrated catalogue of actions, small projects alien to most of our daily routines. In the introduction, Jameson writes, "The goal of this book is to clear some space, to provide a reminder of who you are and what matters to you." Jameson, who has written extensively on Shklovsky, perhaps had him in mind as he developed this list of ways to regain the feeling in our limbs, our thoughts, and our selves.
"To whom it may concern," the book begins, the phrase printed where a standard dedication might go. In most contexts, this phrase leaves one of the most impersonal, blank, unfelt impressions possible. Here, though, the reader quickly sees that the category—those whom this list may concern—truly includes every living human. Jameson thus thwarts the line's banality; the once anonymous and empty words become personal and uniting.
The entries range wildly in tone. They are whimsical: "1. Draw a picture with your eyes closed." They are altruistic: "84. Get rid of something you no longer need. Give it to someone who needs it." They are contemplative: "29. Relax, rest, stretch. Breathe deeply." There's a playful, dialectical quality to the suggestions, many of which complement or oppose one another: take, for instance, entry 69 ("List the best meals you've ever had") and entry 70 ("Fast"). As a whole, the list encourages a spirit of creativity and exploration, whether the proposed expeditions are geographical, personal, culinary, or epistemological. Many of the the suggestions involve interpersonal interaction: with friends, with family, and with strangers. This pattern demonstrates the connection between inner and outer worlds. To be reminded "of who you are and what matters to you," 99 Things implicitly argues, you must search beyond as well as within yourself.
An early form of the text of 99 Things originally appeared as a post on HTMLGIANT. But in the hands of the editorial and creative team at Compendium, the book has emerged as a beautiful piece of art. Vibrant, carefully selected illustrations make every page worth dwelling on. The 99 entries, generously distributed over more than as many pages, leave space around the text that summons calmness and confidence. The space invites the reader to peruse leisurely—to repeat the words and to believe them.
99 Things encourages us to rethink time and what we do in it, to ask what it is for something to be, as we so often say, a good use of time, or a waste of it. Jameson does not ask us to dismiss the value of productivity. Instead, he urges us to expand our notion of it. The list includes tasks that we might think of as "work" and thus productive: "7. List the projects you want to work on. Set a deadline for completing one of them." But then there are entries like this next one: "8. Write down everything you can remember about a place you once visited." This juxtaposition, along with the whimsy of the design and the concept itself—such a simple format for such a serious purpose—invites us to rethink the harsh lines we draw between work and play, and to see how such rethinking might help us become our better selves.