I found myself savoring the period of idleness mandated by having both medial knee joints replaced, and so felt a resonance with this opinion piece by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins "Homage to the Idols of Idleness."
Our struggle against the clock is ancient. As far back as the 2nd century B.C., the Roman playwright Plautus lamented, “The gods confound the man who first found out how to distinguish the hours!” as he railed against the city’s central sundial, which served to “cut and hack my days so wretchedly.” Thousands of years later, what would Plautus make of this ringing, dinging world full of productivity apps that hack ever deeper into our days and nights?
Devices that constantly keep us on course, fixed in place and in time — from the GPS to Siri — ruin our ability to get lost, eradicating randomness and its magic in their wake. Perhaps no one knew this better than France’s early-19th century flâneurs, the idle walkers who happily unspooled their days into the unknown, or the flâneurs’ lowbrow American confreres, the tramp poets of the early 20th century, who surrendered to their surroundings with even more conviction than time-bound monks. In the summer of 1912, the poet Vachel Lindsay set off tramping in a corduroy suit, walking and “meditating on the ways of Destiny,” while preaching the “Gospel of Beauty” to everyone he met...
Our worship of time-management denies the courage these aimless wanderers and idlers demonstrated when stepping out of time. They made the crucial tradeoff: reduced output for liberation. When he died, Henry David Thoreau had published only two books, and “Walden,” then out of print, had been only moderately successful. In the Massachusetts woods, he not only sought solitude, but followed an utterly unconventional timetable, hoeing his beans at 5 a.m. and quitting by noon in order to pursue “other affairs,” like befriending squirrels or lounging next to a spring while reading Homer or the Bhagavad Gita. He chose to “live on the stretch” in order to better savor every moment. “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”
The stupefying modern obsession with productivity denies the whimsy and the freedom that living fully demands. We must dare to relax our grip on time for a day, or even for an hour, throwing clocks, watches and iPhones over the housetops, untethering ourselves solely for the thrill of not knowing what happens next.
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