On the way to work this morning, my husband said this: “I don’t like just sitting. I feel like I should be doing something. It seems to me that I should have something tangible to show for my time.” This made me angry. Not at him, but at the American ideal of relentless productivity that broke him. Broke all of us. From where I stand…No, no, strike that. From where I sit, most other parts of the world understand the art of doing nothing.
I’m being too hard on our dear Union. Perhaps the poison of productivity is only most concentrated in–but not entirely unique to–the United States. It disperses itself in a fine mist over all the earth, slowly permeating the porch swings and couches of the western hemisphere and working its way to the rest of the world via mis-guided missionaries and industrialization. I must be honest, though. I have little-to-no hands-on experience with relaxi-taxi cultures, so any observations I make about other countries are made while looking through very rose-colored View-Master slides. However, it does seem that other countries have made much more valiant efforts to stave off the idea of the “human machine.”
I took French for two years in high school. My mind was filled with corny textbook pictures of rock awesome living room dance parties complete with boom-boxes, baggy t-shirts, side ponytails and pizza with a fried egg in the middle. I remember watching a video explaining a day in the life of a typical French person. It explained that in addition to many-a-living room soiree dansante, the French enjoy two-hour lunch breaks. None of this crazy “work through lunch” nonsense. Go home. Kick your shoes off. Eat brie. Rest. Sit. Do nothing. Just be. Travailler moins, produire plus.
You see, sitting is more than just being idle–it’s a necessary cog in the wheel of wellbeing. There’s an art to it that I have not yet mastered, and I, like my dear hubs, feel a pang of guilt when I don’t have something to show for an evening of free time. But! I refuse to turn my pursuit of guilt-free puttering into work.
I’ve heard great things about the book How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto (see below for details), and I’ve read several interviews of its author, Tom Hodgkinson (who also has a stunning publication called The Idler). In an interview with 3:AM Magazine, he explains the following:
Idleness is not something that I should beat myself up about. It can be something positive…It’s about how to live – it’s a philosophy about what people are really thinking. So I suppose it is dissenting. In 1991 I asked why are Idlers frowned upon and the answer was that an Idler is a thinker [sic]. Thinkers tend to be malcontents. And anyway, a thinker is not a welcome addition to most social situations. They get in the way. They won’t be bossed around. So I like the idea that [The Idler is] creating a home for people who are independent in thought.
Hodgkinson, Tom. How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto. New York: Harper Perennial, 2007.
I’m planning to run to my local library today (or this weekend…no pressure) to pick his book up and dive in. I may also purchase a few copies of The Idler. Or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll just sit. And that’s okay.