Wednesday, May 18, 2016

On Being Idle

Chair on the Porch, 2016 - Impossible 600 film 

For the past month or so I have only been "working" (and by this I mean a traditional day job) three days a week. In the years since I graduated from college I have pretty much worked full time, with the exception of a few weird months here and there. Even in college I often worked three jobs in addition to school. As I'm thinking about it now, I realize I haven't had much idle time since my summer breaks in high school. During this period I find myself with the luxury of doing whatever I want four days of the week, a privilege I dreamed about often in the past year.

All in all, this is a strange time to be idle. In the winter idleness is a given. But in the spring and summer, idleness is a resistance to nature as the heat creeps in and speeds everything up. With warmer temperatures, people start to venture out of their homes. Riverwest, which feels dead in the winter, is suddenly teeming with vibrant people. Instead of joining them I feel like I'm watching as they take part in some secret fun I know nothing about. I have my own fun coming up this summer, but not much to work on until that point. My roommate has moved out and I have the apartment to myself, with the exception of my curious cat who is less of a companion and more of a doting scoundrel.

Often I will sleep til 9 or 10, a blissful feeling that I vow never to take for granted again. I wake up slowly, exercise and eat breakfast, and read a chapter or two in a book. My most beloved activity is walking. I've walked along the river dozens of times now, each time finding or seeing something new. I've gotten better at photography during this time, or so it seems. I've driven up to the Ice Age Trail and Harrington Beach State Park and walked until my legs are aching, taking pictures with Polaroid film or my phone the whole day. I also walk through my neighborhood, and appreciate its charms more and more as I embed every weird crack and crevice, twisting alleyway, and watchful alley cat into my brain.

I've connected with a few friends who live nearby who I didn't see much while I was working. I've realized the importance of living close to supportive friends, and being available when friends want to come around.

I've been writing a lot more, working on large projects that made me sweat with anxiety, and taking a writing class. I've learned that it's impossible to write all day long, as nice as that sounded when I was still working a 40-hour week. Breaks are needed, and they don't always have to be filled with something substantial.

I've also been reading. I read a book of essays by sixteen authors who chose not to have children. I read a collection of short stories by Barbara Kingsolver. I've read a lot more articles on the internet, and discovered some new publications to follow.

But mostly I've been thinking. It's odd; when I worked full-time, I would spend a lot of time dreaming about what I would do if I didn't have to work all day: go to more art galleries, start running long distances again, write a book, volunteer, get back into painting, take a spontaneous trip to Minneapolis. But now that I have endless time to do whatever I want, I mostly spend it reflecting and pondering rather than physically doing anything at all. This reflection often comes unexpectedly, in moments when I am on the couch with the cat or walking to the store to buy lunch or cleaning the apartment. I feel as though I am finally processing the last three years of my life, which were full of change, rejection, surprise, and work. Lots and lots of work.

I'm starting to think, in this time of freedom, that working leads to work and being idle leads to idleness. When I worked I felt so oppressed I compensated by scheming for fulfilling activities. Now that I am free I feel like it's okay to just be free; to enjoy life for the very simple pleasures it has to offer - a cup of coffee on the porch, a hot shower after a long walk - and not worry about making things "better."

Over the winter, during that bleak time when my job was so miserable I felt I could barely lift my feet to leave the house, I came up with some big plans for my future. Now I'm not so sure about them. If I go through with my plans, I'm enslaving myself to a life of work with no idleness. I would constantly be thinking of ways to work less, and would revert to my old habits of scheming and dreaming for something better. As I idle, I wonder: does life really get better than this?

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