But today I want to talk about something else.
There's been a slow dawning in me over the past, uh, mumble (because it just takes embarrassingly long for me to get a clue), brought finally to a head by this article and this article. This slo-mo epiphany has finally peaked at the point where I have convictions about my lifestyle that I can support and defend.
The first article is a thoroughly pleasant and fun read, and posits a philosophy that I couldn't believe in more strongly if it was a religion.
On the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day.
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.The second article is a little more difficult to read. It's Harper's all the way - kinda over-intellectual and snooty and unenticing, and written so that reading it in Bette Davis's voice would enhance it. But I urge you to read it, read the whole thing. There are wonderful thoughts within.
Sometimes, I want to say, money costs too much. And at the beginning of the millennium, in this country, the cost of money is well on the way to bankrupting us. We’re impoverishing ourselves, our families, our communities – and yet we can’t stop ourselves. Worse, we don’t want to.
It is this willingness to hand over our lives [to work] that fascinates and appalls me. There’s such a lovely perversity to it; it’s so wonderfully counterintuitive, so very Christian: You must empty your pockets, turn them inside out, and spill out your wife and your son, the pets you hardly knew, and the days you simply missed altogether watching the sunlight fade on the bricks across the way. You must hand over the rainy afternoons, the light on the grass, the moments of play and of simply being. You must give it up, all of it, and by your example teach your children to do the same, and then – because even this is not enough – you must train yourself to believe that this outsourcing of your life is both natural and good. But even so, your soul will not be saved.Toward the end of his essay, the author turns to reflect upon George W. Bush in a way that strikes me, eight years after its publication, as...immature? Inconsiderate? Overly ranty? I'm not really sure, but even though I didn't much disagree with his points about Bush, it soured the piece. So, fair warning. So much intense yesyesyes comes before that whole Bush section that I still recommend the piece wholeheartedly.
Anyhow. I realized the other day that the worst thing that could happen if I worked a little less, and took a little more time for reading and movies and sitting outside on my patio to watch the hummingbirds, was that I wouldn't pay off my credit card debt particularly fast. That's it. That's the catastrophe. We are living pretty well within our means at this point, so although more money would be nice, I've discovered -
I am not trading money for time anymore.
Time is more precious. A lot of people would agree with that automatically without thinking about what it may mean in their lives. There are lots of people who can't afford to make the choice between the two, of course - minimum wagers, single mothers, etc etc. But there's a big ol' swath of the population who probably have the means to choose: who could work one less day a week, or drop back to half hours, or even get a different job. But they don't. Money matters more. Partly because they've been convinced by this culture, on a daily basis, that it does.
I'm not going to get all evangelical about this and claim that everyone must agree the life of a loafer is a superior life, that it should be our ultimate goal as a society. There are all sorts of people who are suited to all sorts of lives. The thing I'm trying to say is that the sort of life which I prefer, and the sort of life to which I'm suited, is a slower-paced and less work-focused life. Not a life you can live in America without askance judgement and the pervasive feeling that You're Doing It Wrong.
But I'm doing it right. I'm doing it right for me. It is so hard to come to this conclusion! It's been serious effort, through inadequacy and despair and all manner of therapy-needing emotions, to figure out that a life with enough space for idleness is not only a choice that it's possible to make, but that I can be healthier and happier than I could ever have imagined if I have the guts to go on and live that way. Guts which I've finally accessed.
Hence, I'm not gunning for a better job (except as a novelist). I'm not longing for more security. I'm even content with our smallish apartment in an unglamorous neighborhood. Because around 2:00, I'm finished with my work for the day. For the rest of the hours before dinner, I write paragraph after paragraph of fiction that I love and believe in. Or I take a walk and feel the sun. Or I just fiddle on the internet, or watch Mary Tyler Moore. Doing some of those things every day is more important to me than virtually anything else except the people I love. And I'm not going to hide from that anymore. I'm not going to be ashamed, or consider myself freakish or disappointing.
It is okay to choose not to be busy. It's okay to walk away from the money church. I swear, nothing horrible will happen, no one will spit on you or eat your brains. Such a life may not be for you - that's something you have to learn for yourself, knowing who you are - but it's a legitimate, possible potential choice, much as it may not seem to be.
Disclaimer: If this post sounded too self-satisfied, or too WOW THIS OBVIOUS THING IS TOTALLY AMAZING, I apologize, but there are no refunds. See you in the park, or at the movies.