How to be Idle

Two weeks ago, my friend Cathy gave me a book called How to be Idle: a Loafer’s Manifesto. I can’t remember what prompted her to lend it to me, but I must have been fretting about my tendency to be over-busy, even to the point of being short with friends, short with my time at the piano, short with Brent, short with pretty much everything I care about. Without saying a word, she got up from her couch, walked over to the bookshelf, pulled out the book and handed it to me. I laughed when I saw the title, then told her I’d bring it back as soon as I was done. She smiled, knowing it was just the right thing.

Despite the book’s title and the cartoon of a guy sitting at a table with a cigarette and a pint of beer, the content of the book is serious. The author, Tom Hodgkinson, advocates for all of us to slow down, take a nap, quit our jobs if they’re boring you us death. He argues that most of us are spending too much time doing things we don’t enjoy. It’s Buddha talk in 21st century language, and exactly the message I needed to hear.

I decided I would dedicate last week to seeing what it felt like to only do those things I really enjoyed, and only do them when I felt like doing them. Tricky business when I’m finishing up a new recording and there are a million things left to do. But guess what I learned (and was reminded of as I began to delete the ‘million’ in the previous sentence): that I exaggerate to myself the number of things I have to do; and, I always, like just now, use language in my head and with others, that reminds me, incorrectly, that I have a million things to do when in fact, I do not. I have much to do, like we all do, but I don’t have a million things to do. All last week, I stopped myself from being busy when I wasn’t really busy, and all last week, I was happier and much, much easier to live with (according to both my husband and my self).

To be honest, I missed writing my blog last week. The reason I did was because I was doing some other writing that was floating my boat so I let it go for a week. It was a good feeling to adjust in that way. I’m not sure I recommend Tom’s book to everyone, but if you tend to overwork, and especially if you tell yourself you have so much to do when you don’t, it might be worth your reading it. The idea I found most powerful that he writes about is that better creative work is done when a person has time to reflect, to rest, to dream and contemplate. I think that’s true. It was nice of Tom to give me permission to take that time.

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