April 20, 2010

Creating and Recreating

Following a train of thought from my last entry, it occurred to me that doing is an imperative not limited to matters sporting. Indeed, purposeful activity runs through every facet of the life of any manly man. One of my historical heroes, George John Romanes, hated the idea of the man who did not work, and averred that being rich was no excuse. Recreation exists to refit us for work, and through work the active man creates. Without work, therefore, what is play? Please pay attention to dear old George:

There is not much to be said on the recreation of men belonging to the upper classes. That most objectionable of creatures, the gentleman at large without occupation, has a free choice before him of every amusement that the world has to give; but one thing he is hopelessly denied – the keen enjoyment of recreation. Living from year to year in a round of varied pastimes, he becomes slowly incapacitated for forming habits of work, while at the same time he is slowly sapping all the enjoyment from play. For although variety of amusement may please for a time, it is notorious that it cannot do so indefinitely. The intellectual changes which are involved in changes of amusement are not sufficiently pronounced to re-create even the faculties on which the sense of amusement depends; the mind, therefore, becomes surfeited with amusement of all kinds, just as it may become surfeited with a tune too constantly played – even though the tune be played in frequently changing keys. For such men, if past middle life, I have no advice to give. They have placed themselves beyond the possibility of finding recreation, and their only use in the world is to show the doom of idleness. They, more even than paupers, are the parasites of the social organism; and we can scarcely regret that their lumpish life, being one of stagnation self-induced, should be one of miserable failure, to the wretchedness of which we can extend no hope.
George John Romanes, ‘Recreation’ (1879).

Winslow Homer, Croquet, 1864

True, for most of us, the pitfalls of idle wealth are – and shall remain – an unknown sin. But GJR can scarcely have imagined a time when leisure would have become so thoroughly democratised as it is for us. To all intents and purposes, the average man now lives like the aristocrat of yore, and therein lies a danger. For if work is simply a place to which you travel on a daily basis, a chore to endure for the requisite period while planning your next binge, then you are – it grieves me to say – already incapacitated for forming habits of work, real work, and are in fact in a state of self-induced stagnation. If you do not work, so much as merely turn up; if your occupation is utterly meaningless and valueless for you; if you have ceased to ‘save it up’ for Friday night, but rather spend it on a daily basis; if you contribute nothing to the common good, i.e. you fail to create – then how can you hope to recreate? Your leisure is reduced to consumption; fun equates to a superficial routine, much like your idle day job.

Unlike Romanes, I do not abandon all hope. For, unlike the idle aristocrat whose birth came replete with the indelible imprint of status, the leisured classes of the twenty-first century can change course. Most of us must work; but all of us should desire it. This probably entails a reorientation of life goals: Who am I? What do I want? Of what am I capable? What can I give? The answers aren’t prescribed, but it is striking that most people do jobs they don’t like while fantasising about jobs they would like. The people who actually do those jobs don’t like them, and so on. A thorough reshuffling is in order. Whether you choose to work with your back or your brain, your gut or your graces, at least make sure you actively choose. The purpose with which you will thusly endow your life will give greater meaning to the pleasures you seek, which in turn will fit you better to fulfil your purpose. If, my dear readers, any of you have recognised yourselves in these descriptions, I exhort you: take your life in your hands, before the wretchedness of indolence consumes you!

15 comments:

  1. You speak of the horrors that linger vaguely at the back of my mind! You didn't mention those of us who are unemployed due to lack of job rather than surfeit of money, but if you contribute nothing to the common good, i.e. you fail to create – then how can you hope to recreate? is a troubling question.

    I count myself lucky that (by pride I call myself "a creative" and) that by nature my urge is to find leisure in art rather than in, say, gambling? But sometimes the things you mention as to be avoided seem to loom.

    (for anyone in a similar situation, I find that reading Tove Jansson's Moomin strip helps to soothe and repower)

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  2. Ah Claire, I am not sorry to speak of horrors if they arouse self-reflection. You know, 'unemployment' has two meanings: being out of a job is no excuse for being un- or underemployed. I can say this with the certainty of a man who was last paid in June 2008! Yet I work ten hours a day, and I recreate by chatting to the likes of you (in addition to the other simple pleasures I have mentioned in these pages). Knowing your blog, as I do, to be a veritable treasure-trove of industry and creativity - 'tis the very emblem of an active mind - I feel you have precious little about which to worry!

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  3. An excellent post, I really enjoyed it and have taken it to heart as a warning against idleness. While I thoroughly enjoy what I do as an academic it is too easy enough to become a creature of idle habit.

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  4. And I'm not sorry to read of them, for the same reason!

    Thank you for the compliment. Treasure-trove! Likewise.

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  5. But if men must have their purpose, they must know or have a pretty good opinion of what is good - lest they attempt what is not. I suppose one gets one's first bearing by one's upbringing, one's second by the laws. What further compass do we follow, do you think?

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  6. Quite Kravien, quite. If only it were so simple as magnetism, but alas. The bearings you mention are doubtless the principal ones, but then we must look to history in many forms - of ideas, of morality, of civilization, of religion, of culture - and stumble forwards. I do not dispute that finding one's purpose can be like so much fumbling in the dark. However, to abdicate from this process because it is difficult is to fail utterly. Your further thoughts are welcome, of course.

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  7. Kind Sir,
    I am a most ardent disciple of your countryman: a Mr. Tom Hodgkinson of "The Idler" fame. I imagine you are well acquainted with this gentleman's books and website. I understand he will contribute a future column to "The Chap". However, with an ever growing fondness for the way that your minds works and civilizing influence on the American Neanderthal man, I must in due course give your article fair consideration.

    ~Hilton

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  8. My dear Hilton,
    I am aware of The Idler, and think it cunningly subversive (rather a lot of effort goes into it, after all). The Chap will no doubt benefit from Mr. Hodgkinson's presence.

    I am grateful for your growing fondness, and am always happy to read your comments. I confess I am confused by your last clause on this occasion. Would you be so good as to elaborate?
    VB

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  9. Sir, due to a tragic injury inflicted upon me by anothers carelessness, I have found myself in a long state of idleness.
    In short as an Anglophile and your clear embodiment of the quintessential English gentleman, it is with reverential deference that I give your post its due consideration. Kindly excuse my insult towards my American brethren. However, if I were one of the fair sex, I due believe the gumption would be mustered to quit this country for good.

    Best,
    Hilton

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  10. I'm most sorry to hear that you have been unfortunately afflicted. Since I know not about the circumstances, I will not preach resolution and pluck - such words can ring hollow, I know - but instead leave it to your good self to test whether they can be mustered. It is clear that your mind - a man's most powerful tool - is tip-top. Bonne chance!

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  11. Thank you. In 2007 I was involved in an automobile accident in which an uninsured motorist struck me resulting in the complete knackering of my left foot and ankle. My doctor's recommendation was to amputate my leg below the knee. After over a dozen surgeries including the fusion of my ankle, I am trying to muster the courage to have the procedure done. Additionally, I am at times haunted by the desire to avenge. I shall keep your post The Face of Adversity close to heart.

    ~Hilton

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  12. If anything I have written gives you courage, then I have already achieved more than for which I could have hoped. I cannot imagine what you must have been through, but your calm and gentle demeanour does you enormous credit considering the adversity. Keep that chin up, and remember: defiance!

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  13. Hello from Melbourne. I'm one of your growing fan club. Congrats on a blog that, for me is a joy to read. I was impressed with your thought-provoking article on work and liesure which, as usual,was well written. However, don't you think the vast majority of workers are stagnating by being in jobs they hate?! I absolutely hate what I do; it gives me no satisfaction whatsoever. In short, I am a wage slave with little choice. I could leave but a previous long period of unemployment has left me with no delusions about my market worth. I know envy is an unworthy characteristic of a gentleman, however, I envy your situation as I do anyone else who enjoys what they do in order to keep the bailiffs away. Enough whining, all the very best and may you keep blogging for a long time to come.

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  14. My dear Ian,
    Welcome! Thanks for the compliments. Do be a brick and spread the word to your fellow antipodeans.
    Indeed I do think that the vast majority are stagnating, but I also think that the majority allow the 35-40 hours they spend per week in their job to define their whole existence. There's so much more room in life than that: room to try to define what you really want to do, for example. I wouldn't ever suggest leaving with nothing in mind. But leaving for something better, having planned, pursued and committed to it - that is worth doing. In short, stagnation is a choice. It is by no means obligatory.
    The best to you too. And thanks for reading.
    VB

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