Idleness

This seems worth pondering during Holy Week:
I.

How To Be Idle: An Interview with Tom Hodgkinson, by Katie Renz in Mother Jones, June 8, 2005.

I’ve saved this to read and blog about for almost 2 years just to feel like I’m not alone — aside from Wally, my laziness hero — in my belief that idleness is a very good thing (and not just in moderation!). It begins:

“Ten a.m. is for sleeping in, three in the afternoon for a nap (waking fresh for teatime). Then a rambling stroll followed by the first drink of the day. Ten in the evening: pints at the pub; a midnight contemplation of the celestial sphere; meditation at four in the morning.

“Who the hell lives like this?

“Tom Hodgkinson, for one. His book, How to be Idle … is a treatise on living a life of leisure and should be required reading for the Western world’s workaholics — and especially for Americans, who with their collective 415 million unused vacation days last year and pathetic 53% job dissatisfaction rates could evidently use some edifying pointers on successful loafing.”

What I really like in this interview is the historical perspective on work and idleness — which isn’t equivalent to doing nothing all day, but is rather making up one’s own way of living that is focused on what’s of interest; it’s appreciating “the value of a good portion of doing nothing in your day — for your mental health, your physical health, your relationships” — and his practical advice for being idle:

“If you can stop feeling guilty, then I think it’s easier to start doing what you want to do. The way to stop feeling guilty is to read stuff — I’m not saying my book, but works by Bertrand Russell or Oscar Wilde, people who weren’t losers but who didn’t believe in the work ethic.”

II.

In another interview, with 3:AM magazine, Hodgkinson names more famous idlers: Jerome K Jerome (English author who had a magazine called The Idler at the turn of the 20th century and wrote essays titled “Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow” and “Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow”…), Robert Louis Stevenson (wrote essay “An Apology For Idlers”), a heap of ancient Chinese poets, Samuel Johnson, prodigious idler Will Self, Keith Allen, early 20th century Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang, and artist Damien Hirst.

(Hello! Where are the women? I’m here to say that being female is no obstacle to idleness, although being a mother might be … Though why it would have to be, after the last child isn’t nursing anymore, stumps me, if all these men, some of whom also fathered children, can be idle …)

I find that reading about the lives of eccentrics (some of whom work very hard but generally for their own pleasure) and anti-establishment types is very inspiring. Monks, for instance. And Oscar Wilde, Oscar Levant (I think reading his Memoirs of an Amnesiac, 1965, at an impressionable age strongly influenced my life choices), and other Oscars.

You can read a long essay by Hodgkinson, The Virtue of Idleness, here (probably an excerpt from the book), and check out his magazine, The Idler. (Why are all the best magazines published not in the U.S.?)

III.

I found this excerpt about the idleness of the Middle Ages, from Hodgkinson’s latest book, How To Be Free, fascinating, particularly that it was derived in large part from the Sermon on the Mount:

“Surely the medieval age was a time of bad diets, corrupt priests and abject serfdom? Well, no. This view is actually a calumnious caricature. When I started to write How To Be Free, I decided to read Mutual Aid by the great 19th-century anarchist Prince Petr Kropotkin, described by Oscar Wilde as one of the most cheerful men he had ever met. In Mutual Aid, published at the same time as Darwin’s Origin of Species, Kropotkin argues that cooperation is an essential part of animal and human life and development. He also reminds us that it was in the medieval age when the great free city-states such as Florence were created. The medievals, he says, valued craftsmanship, cooperation and justice. Mutual Aid led me to read other books on medieval customs and culture, and what I found was a society that made a sustained and conscious attempt to live fairly and justly.

“The two great influences on the development of medieval ethics were Christ’s sermon on the mount and Aristotle’s Ethics, which had come to Europe via Arab translations. From this material they developed an approach to life which was eco-friendly, neighbourly and based on cooperating rather than competing. So here, briefly, is an introduction to 10 important medieval values, all of which seem radical to us: Anti-capitalist, Anti-work, Anti-competitive, Eco-friendly, Self-sufficient, Hospitable, Charitable, Party-loving, Chivalrous, and Neighbourly.”

Sounds good to me!

IV.

Dilbert creator Scott Adams’ blog is a hoot, besides sometimes offering real food for thought. I recommend it, and the Dilbert books (especially What Would Wally Do?), for fresh perspective.

These are the Wally cartoons I return to again and again:

dilbertwallycombinesthings

A character flaw isn’t a philosophy [or is it?]

dilbertnonurgency
I’m trying to develop a sense of non-urgency

V.

Late Addition: Dave Pollard blogs about endless summer and idleness today:

“How much say do we have over our own lives? If our lives are movies we script ourselves, who is producing and directing them? … Perhaps the answer is to walk away to right where we are. All we need is love, food, and, in harsher climates, collective warmth and shelter. How much can that cost? In an affluent nation, I calculate it at $14,000 per family, which, for an extended community sharing space and facilities would work out to about $3,000 per person. To be free, happy, and totally in charge of your own life.”

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