You don't need workaholics to redeem the loafer

I used to beat myself up for not working out enough, or having one beer (or five) too many. Simpler times, those were. Job stress? Not really. Ten extra pounds? Whatevs. Not accomplishing things -- that's what's killing me lately. Forget gorging on a cheeseburger and fries followed by a slice of cheesecake. These days my greatest indulgence is doing nothing.

Things I currently need to do but can't quite make myself do include: adjusting the contributions to my 401K, networking, finding a new health insurance plan, getting new tires on my car, catching up on unread New Yorkers, writing overdue thank you notes, washing my bed skirt, flipping the mattress.

It's not that I don't enjoy idle time. I love it. But I can't escape the feeling that I should be improving my life right now, getting organized, simplifying my routines, creating platforms for future income, educating myself, getting smarter, getting better.

[. . .]

The sad irony is that I don't even have a full-time job. Oh sure, I work for a living, but as a freelance public relations consultant for Internet companies, I sometimes log as few as 10 hours a week. I should have plenty of time to get tasks done. But I lose so many hours to lollygagging. A longer-than-anticipated hike on a sunny afternoon. A morning drinking coffee and reading blogs. An hour outside reading a magazine.

My habits stand in stark contrast to those of my father. At 65, he can't bear to be still for more than five minutes. This has become especially clear lately, as he recovers from knee replacement surgery. For the first two weeks, he barely left his bed. After that, he could only move with the help of heavy painkillers. I've never seen a man more miserable in my life.

You'd think a major surgery like that -- where they actually shaved off the bottom of his femur and the top of his tibia and drilled holes in them to insert titanium screws -- would focus a person on what matters: getting better. But his to-do list is as long as ever. It fills the front and back of three index cards, getting longer every day. My father has been a runner and an athlete all his life. He's raised nine children, six of them boys, and worked up to three jobs at a time for the last 40 years. But it seems there is one thing he cannot do: relax so that he can heal.

My youngest sister, Caity, discovered this recently when she took a leave from work to provide emergency care. After two weeks, my father had made no progress in his recovery, and on the surface, it didn't make sense. He only had to do five sets of 15-minute exercise intervals per day. What was going on?

From the minute she arrived, my dad bombarded Caity with directives. Run the sweeper. Restack those magazines. Wash the sheets. Wipe down the granite countertop with the special granite countertop cleaner and dammit don't use regular Windex. Dust in the dining room. Sort the mail. If Caity wasn't up by 8 a.m., she'd hear him banging his walker around at the bottom of the stairs. There was work to do, dishes to wash, breakfast to make, trash to be taken out. Having Caity around to do these chores -- my mother couldn't be bothered, but I'll get to that in a minute -- was what ultimately put his mind at ease enough to concentrate on his therapy. Before he could settle down and do nothing -- he needed to know that something was getting done.

The story was a revelation to me. I grew up thinking I was lazy. I berated myself for not having accomplished more, for not being in better shape, not being as financially disciplined as I could be. My dad was the model against which I judged myself. He created a formidable family, climbed to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder. I'd admired and resented him for his ruthless efficiency and ambition. But it struck me that his success might not be due to discipline so much as a kind of helpless workaholism. In other words: He's not trying to be like this; he just is. If my father isn't constantly productive, he starts to go a little nuts.

Is that the kind of personality required to be "successful"? I used to be one of them, sort of. By the time I was 31, I was a vice president of public relations at one of the world's largest banks. I could scarcely believe it myself. Eleven years of climbing the ranks, being on call at all hours of the day. Fifty-plus-hour work weeks. Countless exercises in crisis management, anything to keep a client happy.

But in the summer of 2009, almost 11 years to the day after I started working, I crashed.

[. . .]

But I took a break. And I discovered that left to my own devices, I could pass the time doing nothing more taxing than reading, going for long walks or hikes, thrift store shopping, sleeping and embarking on pet projects like painting my living room or trying my hand at writing a screenplay. I had some compulsion to get things done, but nothing like my dad's. In fact, what I began to realize was that I was far more like my mom than I'd ever realized.

My mom is a loafer. Now that she's settled into retirement, I feel like I'm finally seeing her true essence. She reads at least five books a week. She plays games like Scrabble and slot machines on her iPad. She stays up late watching '80s movies on cable and TV shows like "The Closer" and "Justified" and then sleeps till 10. She occasionally goes to lunch with a friend or attends a meeting of her book club, but otherwise she's happy staying home and waiting for one of my siblings to come visit with the grandkids. Any chores she's responsible for get tackled at the absolute last minute, when they can't go another second undone. This is not a person who would be frustrated while recovering from surgery. She'd be excited at, say, the chance to reread all the Sue Grafton alphabet mysteries back to back. I'm not saying she's lazy -- having raised nine children, she was far from it -- just that now that she can, she prefers to chill out.

I sometimes wonder how her people survived evolution. I don't wonder this about my father. He comes from tough, wiry and determined folk. They are survivors. Hunters and gatherers. But my mother's lot is sedentary. She and her siblings enjoy sitting around my grandmother's living room in Kentucky, eating potato chips and telling stories, happy to be near each other and jawing away a few hours. These are round people. People who know their baked goods.

[. . .]

I don't know that I'll ever stop feeling bad for not being a Type A personality. Or worrying that I'm not accomplishing enough. After all, I do want to own a home some day, and to retire when I'm old, and not to stress about how I'll afford kids. But maybe for now, I should enjoy my idle time. Sit around talking to my aunts and uncles about the absurdity of it all. It may not get me anywhere. But maybe for right now, at this second -- here is where I'm meant to be. (Sara Campbell, “Tales of a reluctant loafer,” Salon, 30 July 2011)

Well, there are several issues here

For starters, Sara Campbell is apparently home on MEDICAL leave (her doctor enabled her to do this, possibly unethically) for "stress" or something similar. So she's using her long-term DISABILITY insurance -- which most folks (me) don't even have -- for a LONG, long vacation from reality. Very few people can do this, stress or not.

If she had small children to support, or a spouse in school (all realistic possibilities at 32), she couldn't "take off" like this, or work 10 hours a week. She'd be STUCK, like most adults humans are STUCK -- having to support herself and her family.

So this is a privilege and a vacation, and I guess she feels "she deserves it" after 11 years, even though most of us don't get this even after THIRTY years in the workforce. As Babylonian correctly says "blah blah blah". Or boo hoo hoo.

If Sarah wasn't drawing down some serious disability pay plus her part-time hours, she'd be in sh*t city, because Los Angeles is one of the nation's most expensive cities. If you don't work, sweetheart, how does the rent get paid? How do you keep the lights on? What do you for GROCERIES? (Forage? where in LA? on the freeway?)

This is a child's fantasy of how you want to live -- no responsibilities, no spouse, no elderly parents to care for (her sister Caity has that duty), no children, no house (with a yard to cut, and repairs to make).

And she strangely conflates this with her mom's RETIREMENT -- which her mom EARNED by working for nearly FIFTY years. Yes, you earn the right to sit around reading mysteries and sleeping late when you spend decades raising NINE kids and all that entails (it's 4 times the national average number of offspring, so a really heroic effort). Just thinking about all the laundry your mom had to wash, Sarah, and all the meals she cooked (tens of thousands) over 30+ years you kids were small makes me tired.

But you, sweetie, have done ZIP to earn her retirement. Not to mention, retirement is a pretty sure sign you are finished with living, and lining up to go to the Big Retirement Home in the Sky. I shudder to think what kind of gormless young'un you are that you WANT that kind of passive lifestyle, all sleeping and reading books, with most of your life in the PAST. That's no way for a young woman to be looking at life.

I'd almost say "maybe at heart, you are a bum". After all, some people ARE -- we all know one or two. They just have zero ambition and don't care if they have to sleep in their car, because the very idea of "doing thing" is repellent to them. So long as they don't mooch off relatives or Uncle Sam, that's their right.

But it does not compute, because you have had serious jobs in the past, great professional success and your "loafing" has gone on a few months whereas your hyper-careerism seemed to last at least since high school and into your first several (very high ranking) jobs.

So I imagine your therapist ALSO TOLD YOU that you are depressed. However, she did no favor for you by giving you a fake permission slip to go on disability. People tend to get better faster from depression when they have meaningful work (and meaningful relationships) -- you won't have either if you spend all day watching soap operas and sleeping till noon.

Also, in our modern era, people date and socialize around work (assuming you are old enough to be out of school), and having no real day job means you aren't meeting a lot of folks and when you DO meet someone, you get to say "I slack all day, and work a few hours here and there", which isn't going to impress a really decent guy that you'd make a very reliable life partner. (Will you get bored raising kids with him, then decide to run off and "find" yourself"?)

So, in short, you might want to get your act together. Go back to work. Find something you really like to do, which apparently IS NOT PUBLIC RELATIONS.

I recommend you look into getting a teaching certificate. Public school teaching is a very secure job (you can't be fired for ANY reason) and the days are only 6 hours long, and you get all summer off, plus two weeks at Xmas and another week at Easter. Sweet! It sounds like it would suit you very well.

I also recommend you look into moving somewhere OTHER THAN LOS ANGELES. The very high cost of living in LA means you are pressured, very hard, to make a lot of money simply to pay rent. Taxes are very high, too. And the culture of So Cal is such that people feel pressured to have fancy cars and clothing. All this will tend to make you unhappy with a real middle class job or moderate wages. Unfortunately, in THE REAL WORLD the trade off is between very high wages (your job at the top of the heap, at the world's biggest whatever) and free time. The jobs that offer reasonable hours rarely pay in the high six figures.

Scale your ambitions to your nature, and move out of the fast lane. And take your Prozac. And go back to work. You'll be fine, in a few months. (_bigguns)

Not ease and play

Where does creativity come from? Foremost from those who work, work, work, or those who dally around a little bit -- maybe more than a little bit? If the latter, it's not hard then to find a possible source of evolutionary fitness that accompanies those who come to find something unfit in those who never seem to be comfortable slowing down sufficiently to truly take in the smell of the roses.

Also, with people like _bigguns/laurel, can you imagine them EVER believing life should be about ongoing comfort and play? Even if benevolent aliens arrived on the planet and gave us every indulgence, without limit, guaranteeing it without recompense and for eternity, _bigguns and her like would still see day-to-day relaxation and ease as something that had to be EARNED, not as something which leads to greater things, not as something surely you're shown up as crazy for, with impetus removed, not just immediately sitting back and enjoying; and would find some excuse to explain why everyone still needs to delimit themselves, their day, and most of their lives with driven effort, duty, purpose, and labor. Without such, and against all evidence, people like her will insist the world will fall apart, and in this context mostly show the real concern all along was that without it they themselves would.

Mothers have kids because kids focus themselves entirely upon them -- they make the MOTHER feel loved and central, something someone who has nine children clearly hadn't known enough of elsewhere previously. This is primary; the rest, all their mountains of efforts selflessly, witheringly taking care of children without break for spans of years and years make them feel as if they've made life sufficiently about suffering that they shouldn't be punished for the indulgences they've permitted themselves before they've parked themselves in the feedlot that disposes one out of the world. This backbreaking work is PRIMARILY selfish too, that is. Please don't nobody back down too readily to the ever-looming, chastising, overworked Mother.

That we haven't been loved enough to believe that life SHOULD be about ease and comfort and creativity, continues to be our key problem as a species. Maybe evolution's too hard at work to notice its essential stalling.

Link: Tales of a reluctant loafer (Salon)


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