The pendulum is starting to swing back to where I have more time on my side. I am able to take my morning walks again and to sit down and read. For me, there is nothing more luxurious than to be able to kick back on the sofa and loose myself in a good book. And this last book has been a charmer. Jayde-Ashe over at The Paperbook Blog reviewed and highly recommended How To Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson. You can read her wonderful review here.
Mr. Hodgkinson takes the reader through the hours of the day in the life of an idler. His work is sprinkled with personal anecdotes, interviews, and previous works from other famous idlers. While each and every chapter offers insights in how to live a better, less stressful, idle life, I’m going to focus on four of my favorite chapters.
The day starts at 8 a.m.: Waking Up Is Hard To Do. Who doesn’t want to simply turn over and go back to sleep when that most annoying appliance, the alarm clock, goes off? Personally, I have never been able to really fall back to sleep, but the few minutes I would sometimes sneak in just laying in bed always felt like a vacation. Of course there is also a certain amount of guilt that goes along with this bit of sloth. The rushing to get ready for the day always seems to happen because the apparent minimum amount of time is usually factored into the setting of the alarm and taking away any more of that time becomes a stress inducer. Hodgkinson uses probably the most famous quote, that by Ben Franklin, “early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” to show how we have gotten to this horrendous place where we need to get up before we are ready. However, at the end of the chapter, the author shows that it is not the healthy, wealthy and wise that are up early commuting to work, but the “sickly, poor and stupid”. The healthy wealthy and wise are still abed.
I am sure, along with Hodgkinson, that there was a time when lunch was a time and a meal to be enjoyed, not woofed down in a few minutes while sitting at a desk still doing work. In the chapter, 1 p.m.: The Death of Lunch, we are reminded that not too long ago lunch was something to be enjoyed, away from the office and work, and to include an alcoholic beverage. He even refers to former US president, Gerald Ford, as one who extolled the virtues of the three martini lunch. But more importantly, we as a puritanical, capitalist society have forgotten this bit of sage French advice, “Travailler moins, produire plus. The less you work, the more you produce”. Hodgkinson is advocating that there is no need to waste an hour and a half to do work that only needs a half hour. This way more time is available for long leisurely lunches. “A proper lunch should be spiritually as well as physically nourishing. Cosy, convivial, a treat; lunch is for loafers”.
There is no better time for us idlers than when we get to enjoy the first adult beverage of the day. In 6 p.m.: First Drink of the Day, Hodgkinson writes how “with one drink, the wage slaves of the day are transformed into thinking, feeling, laughing, independent human beings.” A very dear friend is often heard saying that one should never eat on an empty stomach, meaning that a cocktail should always be had before eating. Hodgkinson, I believe, agrees, calling that feeling of alcohol on an empty stomach “sublime.” In addition to the physical feeling of alcohol, Hodgkinson explores the visual sensations associated with having a cocktail: the Polynesian decor interspersed into the mid-twentieth century American homes. These little pieces of art allow us to visualize a place where toil and hardship are nonexistent and all there is to do is lie on a beach and savor a rum infused concoction. In fact, Hodgkinson provides a recipe for a very popular cocktail of the time, the Zombie. How can any book not be a best seller that has such useful information.
Now if you are thinking that I am but a single faceted individual, let me introduce my favorite chapter in this book, 2 a.m.: The Art of Conversation. “Talking, sharing ideas and stories with friends old and new, this is the lifeblood of the loafer.” This quote from Hodgkinson, is my manifesto. To sit with someone and share a deep conversation is the most important thing in my life. We have gotten so crazy in this dog eat dog world that we no longer sit down and listen to each other any more. We spit out information as quickly as possible without really finding out what the intended listener thinks. My partner and I have long conversations daily about any number of topics. It is how we connect to one another, how we share ideas, and disseminate information. Over the past couple of days we have been conversing on a topic that seems to be very touchy to some. But one of the more lighthearted aspects of this ongoing dialogue is that we have a very famous song by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show stuck in our heads. If you can figure out the song you will figure out the topic. Anyway, Hodgkinson, extolls how a good conversation is about both speaking and listening. It is also okay to become impassioned when conversing, just so long as one does not overpower those around him/her. And finally, conversation is when ideas are hatched, when they are cradled and fed, when we allow our spirits to be free.
For anyone needing to feel vindicated for their choice of shaking off the shackles of consumerism, capitalism, religious fervor, Tom Hodgkinson’s How To Be Idle is a must read.