Leisure as a civic pursuit is old– even ancient archeological sites reveal public parks, sports arenas, and performance venues. Closer to modern times, reducing the wage commitment for working people was a huge, important and vital fight in reclaiming human dignity from the excesses of the industrial revolution.
For so-called working families, the work didn’t really stop; it just became the kind of domestic work we talk about here at Not Dabbling. For the new middle class of professional/brain workers, the hard-fought “leisure” time was spent in family pursuits from the worthy to the frivolous–reading both solitary or out loud, in places of worship, or public parks. Playing team sports, or working around the home or the farm.
And then someone figured out that if society could fill our paid hours with ways for us to make money, it could fill our unpaid hours with ways for us to spend it. They realized that not involving “working” families in “middle class” pursuits was leaving a giant bank account unturned. So the model has turned from “family time” to “spending time,” literally, as we spend our money to fill our time. Now, like everything else, it’s mildly suspicious to engage in leisure activities that are productive and creative rather than solitary and consumptive, giving us the modern phenomenon of family time where no one in the family is actually communicating with anyone else in the family.
I think about this because a lot of my “leisure” time is spent gardening, sewing, cooking, blogging, (and now, making cleaning products). When I tell people about this, the near-universal response is awestruck (sometimes patronizing) admiration, followed by the statement “where do you find the time” or “well, that’s great, but I don’t have the time for that.”
Modern middle class wage work tends to be narrow and specialized, task-oriented and confined, both literally and figuratively. We carry that training into our leisure, so that we seek time-defined, stationary activities like movies, or single-tasks like video games. Our days are spent staring at a screen, and now our leisure time is, too. We buy our leisure these days, and forget that real leisure can be “work”-creative, productive activities infused with meaning, grace and ritual. It can give you what leisure is supposed to give you–respite from the grind.
The people who are telling me that they don’t have time to change their lives for the better have swallowed the leisure shiboleth whole–
It isn’t leisure if you aren’t consuming something.
We’ve been convinced that idle consumption, especially consumption that costs us money, is the only thing that counts as leisure. The people who don’t understand where I find the time aren’t looking. So where do you find the time?
Stop time shifting
If you can’t watch it in its regular broadcast slot, don’t watch it. You will be amazed at the hours this saves. You’ll just have to live with your guilt when that really good show gets cancelled because no one watched it.
Get rid of cable
A lot of the TV we don’t watch is because we don’t have cable so our choices are limited, and also our reception is terrible, making TV annoying. If you really can’t bear to miss those cable shows, there’s always Netflix, Hulu, and Xfinity (except you’ve stopped time shifting!).
Spend your time making something instead of just consuming something. Even making household needs like a garden or food or cleaning products is incredibly satisfying. Do it with a friend or spouse or offspring and it’s even better. Stop the poisonous idea that if Madison Avenue hasn’t defined it as “fun” it’s not a proper use of non-wage hours.
Let the kids play
Can we stop with the soccer leagues and just send the kids to the park? If I hear one more parent tell me that “it’s too dangerous to send Suzy to the park in my low crime, racially homogenous, traffic-free neighborhood” I will lose it. Now that we’ve locked ourselves into this 24-hour cycle of scheduling, we’re forcing it on our children as well. I have a four year old skating student who has 3 to 5 hours of classes A DAY outside of preschool, including on the weekends. This is where all of mom’s time goes. Plus, we’re teaching the kids that if it isn’t organized by some outside entity, it can’t be done.
Find the leisure in every day
Stop working during the commute. Turn the cell phone and the news off. Put the computer away (if you’re a train commuter, that is. If you commute in the car, this is a no-brainer). Read a book (um, on the train) or listen to your favorite band or classical music, NOT the radio- give yourself a break from the ads. This is in fact leisure time–I used to love my hourlong commute on the train, because it was time when I had permission to do nothing. Stop working through lunch. If you concede all of your day–from stepping out the door in the morning to stumbling back through it at night–to your boss, then you really are a “wage slave.”
I like to be lazy as much as the next person. I still spend several hours a week watching tv or movies (probably with that unflattering, slack jawed, glazed eye expression that you get), or going out with my husband or kids, or sitting around talking. I go shopping with my daughter for fun. But I also spend a lot of time writing, and cooking and gardening. I don’t spend a lot of time, well, spending.
So what do I want you to do?
Stop “spending” your time. Start living it.