On Idleness

Written by Mike Parish, Illustrated by Dan Tarnowski
On Idleness

There are mornings like today’s when I realize I basically sit inside all day and write. Good thing it’s raining. I wouldn’t call the current state of my life “idle,” but that is what most like to call it.

I work each day and my work is tough and challenging and satisfying. Each day I write, I learn something. Some days, though, no matter how much I write or feel I accomplish, I feel like I’m missing something, too.

A Henry Thoreau quote comes to mind, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” This is troubling. How does one know when they have sufficiently “lived” and what does it even mean to do so?

I am the opposite of most people I know in that I would rather hibernate all summer then constantly be outside. While I do enjoy iced tea and beaches and shady breezes when I’m sweating, most afternoons, it’s just too damn hot.

There’s an old man that lives behind me. I see him out my back window. Everyday, he sits in the shadows of the vegetation creeping up his fire escape. Wearing a weathered Yankees’ cap, he tilts his head to the sky and listens to the sounds the birds make. I see him, and feel we have a lot in common, wonder what thoughts may be flowing through his mind. Is he reflecting on days past, thinking about breakfast, or attentively, just listening for sparrows?

While his days are filled with the idleness of old age, mine are filled with the idleness of youth. I could easily go out and run down the block, see the world; I have my youth to go places and inexperience to guide me. But right now, I’d much rather live in worlds I create.

Idleness can be fulfilling if one knows how to fill the space. So much of life is determined for us; as a baby, we’re taken care of until we’re ready to go to school for 14 years and then we either go to more school or get a job. School and jobs provide a structure that most people become used to. And there’s often a lot of idle time spent in these institutions that is cleverly disguised. At many jobs, one would be hard pressed to find an employee who works for every minute of the eight hours they get paid. For some reason, when idleness involves money, it is the preferred means of spending time.

Most people say they “hate work or wish they didn’t have to work” but they continue to do so because they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they stopped. They may also value money or have a hard time ignoring the social stigma that comes along with not having a job. They value “normalcy.”

There are two ways to look at life then. In the first, it can be seen as a challenge to find the balance between what one wants to do, (i.e. creative endeavors), and what one needs to do to survive, (i.e. money making). The second, more traditional way of looking at it, is to give up passions completely once you hit 23, forget that you even liked to do anything in the first place and get a job and go to work and pay the bills and convince yourself there’s a sense of purpose and fulfillment in doing so. There’s nothing wrong with either method. They both lead somewhere. It’s just a matter of being satisfied with where that somewhere is.

Jobs aren’t genetically programmed either. Just because your father’s a shoemaker, doesn’t mean you have to be one, too. But people placate feelings of insecurity by getting comfortable by any means necessary. That’s why a lot of people seem to have regret; they chose the more clear cut road over the one that needed to be hacked. Everyone at one point wants to find their route but doesn’t know where to start. And if one isn’t willing to put the work into finding a direction, then there’s really no reason to regret.

Idleness is a dangerous state but also a powerful one. Idle time can be used to appreciate what’s in front of you rather than always living for what is to be seen. The nature of what it is provides its own sort of stability. It can be a valuable time to wander and seek. Then, like a car whose engine is revving but awaiting movement, all one needs is the proper change and they’re ready to take off.

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