Making leisure your labor, an elaboration of “working from home,” can be a profound comfort. Collapsing the public and private can mean protection from both realms — stripped of some of the obligations of traditional professionalism, your public life can be more intimate and casual. And when you “be yourself” for a living, your private self can be infused with the armored posturing of a public persona. This elision can also, truly, drive a person crazy.
SIMON: Is there something you’re taking more time for now that…
ROTH: Yeah, naps. Let me tell you about the nap. It’s absolutely fantastic. When I was a kid, my father was always trying to tell me how to be a man. And he said – I was maybe nine – he said, Philip, whenever you take a nap, take your clothes off and put a blanket over you and you’re going to sleep better. Well, as with everything, he was right. And so I now do that and I come back from the swimming pool I go to and I have my lunch and I read the paper and I take this glorious thing called a nap. And then the best part of it is that when you wake up, for the first 15 seconds you have no idea where you are. You’re just alive. That’s all you know and it’s bliss. It’s absolute bliss. So, I suggest – you’re still working but your time will come.
SIMON: That sounds like great advice.
ROTH: And take your clothes off.
We have always sensed that free time, time not dedicated to a specific purpose, is dangerous because it implicitly raises the question of what to do with it, and that in turn opens the door to the greatest of life mysteries: why we do anything at all. Thorstein Veblen was right to see, in The Theory of the Leisure Class, not only that leisure time offered the perfect status demonstration of not having to work, that ultimate nonmaterial luxury good in a world filled with things, but also that, in thus joining leisure to conspicuous consumption of other luxuries, a person with free time and money could endlessly trapeze above the yawning abyss of existential reflection. With the alchemy of competitive social position governing one’s leisure, there is no need ever to look beyond the art collection, the fashion parade, the ostentatious sitting about in luxe cafes and restaurants, no need to confront one’s mortality or the fleeting banality of one’s experience thereof. Even if many of us today would cry foul at being considered a leisure class in Veblen’s sense, there is still a pervasive energy of avoidance in our so-called leisure activities.
Work hones skills, challenges cognition, and, at its best, serves noble ends. It also makes the experience of genuine idling, in contrast to frenzied leisure time, even more valuable. Here, with only our own ends and desires to contemplate—what shall we do with this free time?—we come face to face with life’s ultimate question. To ask what is worth doing when nobody is telling us what to do, to wonder about how to spend our time, is to ask why are we here in the first place.
Previously in Mark Kingwell tumbles.
I stay in. Hooked. Is this leisure – this browsing, randomly linking my way through these small patches of virtual real-estate – or do I somehow imagine that I am performing some more dynamic function? The content of the Web aspires to absolute variety. One might find anything there. It is like rummaging in the forefront of the collective global mind. Somewhere, surely, there is a site that contains … everything we have lost?
Oldie but a goodie. William Gibson in 1996.
Today, in its clumsy, larval, curiously innocent way, it offers us the opportunity to waste time, to wander aimlessly, to daydream about the countless other lives, the other people, on the far sides of however many monitors in that postgeographical meta-country we increasingly call home. It will probably evolve into something considerably less random, and less fun — we seem to have a knack for that — but in the meantime, in its gloriously unsorted Global Ham Television Postcard Universes phase, surfing the Web is a procrastinator’s dream. And people who see you doing it might even imagine you’re working.
Post-industrial creatures of an information economy, we increasingly sense that accessing media is what we do. We have become terminally self-conscious. There is no such thing as simple entertainment. We watch ourselves watching. We watch ourselves watching Beavis and Butt-head, who are watching rock videos. Simply to watch, without the buffer of irony in place, might reveal a fatal naiveté.
Claiming to be busy relieves us of the burden of choice. But if you’re working 50 hours a week, and sleeping eight hours a night (56 per week) that leaves 62 hours for other things. That’s plenty of hours for a family life and a personal life — exercising, volunteering, sitting on the porch with the paper, plus watching TV if you like.
We cannot bear toil or pleasure or ourselves or anything very long.
Leisure is as much about our pleasant fantasies as it is about what we’re actually doing.
The history of the weekend and how it’s changed our culture of leisure:
For many people weekend free time has become not a chance to escape work but a chance to create work that is more meaningful—to work at recreation—in order to realize the personal satisfactions that the workplace no longer offers.
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