In Praise of Anti-Work

If you’re doing nothing, you can’t stop to take a break. Or can you? Let’s give it a try.

Illustration by Tom DejaFor those of us who still have jobs in this so-called “globalizing economy” September is the month we celebrate labor. The reason is not because we like to work. After all, we celebrate Labor Day by taking the day off. No, what we celebrate about labor is the freedom it gives us to enjoy things besides work, like mowing the lawn, washing the car, painting the house, mulching, waiting in traffic jams and attending school plays.
In short, we tend to work at jobs we don’t care for in order to do the things we absolutely can’t stand. Any time left over is devoted to garage sales.
For all our well-earned reputation for work in this country, we’ve never grasped the concept of leisure. At its simplest, leisure means “freedom from time-consuming duties, responsibilities or activities.” Yet everything we do relating to “leisure activities” is filled with time-consuming duties and responsibilities.
We may go to the beach for a week to relax, but we’ve also taken a 900-page book that we vowed we would finish by the time we were sitting in gridlock again at the end of that week.
Fishing may come closest to the ideal of leisure time. What could be more akin to bringing time to a mind-numbing halt than casting a slimy invertebrate into a void of gray, then staring at that void, watching a cork bob for hours on end? Yet even here not catching fish is considered a failure and a total waste of time.
The ultimate leisure oxymoron, though, may be the family vacation. Having finally coerced surrender from four people who each wanted to go to a different place—and preferably alone—most families return with only a memory stick of digital photos as CSI evidence to remind them never to attempt anything like that again. It was Teddy Roosevelt and his “strenuous life” approach to near-death vacations that got us off track. Nero and his fiddling more closely capture the ideal I’m after.
What’s wrong with doing nothing in the pursuit of leisure? “Nothing,” after all, appears to be at the heart of existence. Many scientists believe anti-matter is the glue that holds the cosmos together. Perhaps a better term for capturing the essence of leisure is anti-work. That certainly takes the duty and responsibility out of it.
Pursuing anti-work as leisure will take this nation of over-achievers time to adjust to. No more working up a sweat and calling it recreation. No more do-it-yourselfing, rock climbing, marathoning, eco-touring, beachcombing, camping, cliff diving, snorkeling, lifelong learning, ice fishing, sailing, stamp collecting, antiquing or birdwatching.
We’ve got to learn how to put nothing into our leisure if we want to get anything out of it, learn to squeeze every ounce of effort out of anything we do with the goal of approaching an Absolute Zero of caloric activity. True nothing. Like watching “Seinfeld” while hooked up to a respirator.
Let’s really work on it.  
Reid Champagne denies once waking up from a nap to find Last Rites being administered to him.


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