May 15, 2014

HOW TO BE IDLE

Here's a question for you:
Is there a way to have your work, your career, to climb that ladder of success, AND to enjoy your free time, your moments of solitude, family, and nature simultaneously?
Can you have your cake and eat it too?

I can hear my mother saying "all things in moderation", 
but that idea doesn't seem to go over too well in the 21st century. We are way too busy working way too hard in an effort to obtain every single thing under the sun. Every single thing, that is, except the time to actually enjoy any of it. 

As an artist who has owned several businesses throughout the years, along with trying to run my household, take care of my daughter and focus on my artwork at the same time, I have seriously pondered this one.
The answer seems to me a resounding NO. You cannot live two or more lives at once and actually have time to enjoy them all. One or more items will have to be shelved, forfeited, neglected. There are just not enough hours in the day. Here's the part I think about a lot: which parts am I willing to neglect? and more importantly whose rule book is telling me I need to even want all these things simultaneously?

illustration from The Idler 
Now let me refer you to the amazing work of Tom Hodgkinson, his Idler Magazine, and specifically his book from 2005, How To Be Idle: A Loafer's Manifesto. I cannot say enough about this book. They should be teaching it in every poetry class in the country along with every business, liberal arts and fine arts program as well. It's such a simple message that it flies right over most heads with hardly a thought, and it is this:

Take the time to actually Enjoy Living... and stop feeling guilty about it. 

According to the Idler Magazine web site, also known as

Literature for Loafers:



The Idler magazine was founded in 1993 by Tom Hodgkinson and Gavin Pretor-Pinney in order to explore alternatives to the work ethic and promote freedom and the fine art of doing nothing. In that time it has passed through many incarnations, and inspired thousands of people to cast off the shackles of corporate or bureaucratic life, and find freedom. It now exists as an annual collection of essays, published in hardback book form. The current issue is a compilation of twenty years of interviews from the Idler, and includes David Hockney, Damien Hirst, Terence McKenna, Jeffrey Bernard and many more.
It is astonishing how relevant this book is right now, and I bring it to your attention because there are a few items I've touched on here at the Art Wrestler that you might recall. It was just about a year ago that I wrote about my affair with a lounge chair and learning to relax without the guilt. There was also my post on solitude and needing time to think for yourself, being in the moment with my artwork, and most recently enjoying the pleasures of good food and drink. Although I can't agree with ALL of Tom's thoughts on rioting and debauchery, mixed messages about the bible, etc., I can concur with 99% of it.

Let's put it this way, there's a whole chapter on how to enjoy a good hangover. The man is a genius! 


Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

Artists are usually the dreamers, idlers, and starers into space of society, and there is a lot of animosity that goes along with that. More to the point there are things about being an artist that society is constantly trying to make us feel guilty about. Things that I have learned to accept about myself- like not having a job because I would rather stay home and paint and take care of my family. Things like spending more time reading and writing in my journal than cleaning my house, going for long walks to think about the day, not for the exercise, a glass of wine before 5pm, and spending whole days in the middle of the week lying on the beach. 
I do not frequently drink my coffee "to go" as I enjoy it in a real cup with a real saucer. I do not wear a watch because no one is waiting for me. I get most of my best work done alone, in complete silence and often seemingly staring into space, and I do not use a cell phone because I don't want my silence or staring to be interrupted. Yes, I do not use a cell phone. I admit I have one, but it stays in my bag for emergencies only. Does that count?

Anyway, How To Be Idle has a whole chapter dedicated to almost every one of these things. It is laugh out loud funny and has wonderful references to almost every historical genius from ancient to modern times. It has taught me a lot about history's warped ideas of progress, and where my own thoughts of progress and success fit in. Art is often considered a leisurely activity, a hobby, an unnecessary luxury. I of course consider it a necessity. I would much rather luxuriate in my own space with my own creativity on my own time than lend myself out to a boss who could never give me enough time or money.
photo by Stacey Kath


As I mentioned my mother, it turns out there's a few things the mothers were right about after all. Mostly all the things that required us to be patient and wait our turn, like being sent to our rooms to "calm down", like not running or talking with your mouth full, or sitting down to eat and not getting up until everyone at the table was finished. I've also heard the phrase "sit there and think about what you just did!" My mother would make us sit next to her and not move until we behaved. These days they call that a time-out. How To Be Idle is all about giving our adult selves a whole lot of time-outs,

and who couldn't use a moment to sit completely still in the midst of the turbulent tantrums of life?

I think time only goes as fast as we allow it. There are moments that desperately need to be "savoured not endured", as Mr. Hodgkinson puts it, and look at it this way, your boss is not willing to give them to you, neither is your babysitter or the daycare center. You're certainly not going to get back the time you've wasted on your cell phone, computer or TV set either.

There is no going back- so enjoy the moment right now!







5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Samantha! Thanks again for a good post, now commenting directly here in the source. This book has been also one of my favorites for years, it was translated here quite fresh. I remember it gave me a lot support to be idle and be proud of it. Me neither do not wear a watch, my cell phone stays in my bag, and I get my best work done alone seemingly staring into space in complete silence. But there´s more! Since 2006 I have not had a TV! Don´t miss it at all. It was surprisingly easy to get rid of that gadget! -Tiina Hölli-

Samantha Palmeri said...

Awesome! thanks Tiina. I love that you are idle and proud of it! the TV thing is something I think about and talk about with my husband all the time. haven't gotten there yet though...

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Travis Smith said...


I'm impressed, I have to admit. Seldom do I encounter a blog that's both educative and amusing, and let me tell you, you've hit the nail on the head. The problem is something too few men and women are speaking intelligently about. I'm very happy I found this in my hunt for something regarding this. aol mail login

Samantha Palmeri said...

Thank you for your comment Travis Smith. I haven't looked at this blog post in a long time. I may need to repost it! It was still relevant when I wrote it 9 years after the book came out and now 4 years later.