Articles

But I DON'T WANT the new leisure

What's the use of the long week end, asks Bob, when everyone he knows is worn out trying to relax?

Robert Thomas Allen November 23 1957
Articles

But I DON'T WANT the new leisure

What's the use of the long week end, asks Bob, when everyone he knows is worn out trying to relax?

Robert Thomas Allen November 23 1957

But I DON'T WANT the new leisure

What's the use of the long week end, asks Bob, when everyone he knows is worn out trying to relax?

Robert Thomas Allen

Like most people trying to put in the time left over from the five-day work week. I’ve gone in for a lot of hobbies. I’ve collected butterflies, book-match covers, stones, bits of driftwood and everything but little bits of string, trying to put in the week end. I’ve identified trees, rocks, birds and bugs. I’ve made hundreds of things at my workbench that I had no more idea what to do with when I was finished than with the other forty-six hours until Monday morning.

My friends and neighbors seem just as bored with their hobbies as I am. They bring out collections of shells, stamps and coins, look at them dully, yawn, jiggle their car keys, put them back again and start looking for bottle openers.

I happened to be watching one of my neighbors the other day as he bored a hole through his window frame for a TV lead. This took him about five minutes. Then he wandered around with his power drill, looking for something else to drill a hole through, gave up, and slowJy worked his way back into the house like a kid on summer holidays trying not to step on cracks in his sidewalk. A few doors away another man looked at an English sparrow through a new pair of binoculars. He lowered them with a frown, as if wondering if this was really all there was to bird watching, then began focusing them on passing cars, TV aerials, his feet, and finally on his wife, who was watch-

ing him as though she were wishing somebody would invent a seven-day work week.

These people all claim, with a straight face, that they can completely lose themselves in their hobbies. A friend of mine who works in a bank told me a while ago, “You know, every man should have an interest outside his work. Take me—know what I like to do?” His voice got far off and dreamy. “Just play around with cooking.” He smiled whimsically. “I’m never happier than when I get the old chef’s cap on, cooking for a gang.”

I pictured him chuckling and basting sides of steers, his worries left at the bank, until one Saturday at my place he brought over his portable brazier. He hauled it through the front door, nodded absently to my wife and kept going right out the back door. Then he set up his brazier, poured some Jiffi-Starter on the briquettes, lit the fire with a blinding explosion, and had all the hamburgers broiled black while his wife was still unloading the car of salads, cakes, Cokes and pickle sauces. Then he put on a chef’s cap, yelled, “Come and get it!” turned to me with a worried look and said, “You know, all they need to do is put on a couple of extra tellers.”

I thought he was talking about a barbecue sauce at first, until I realized that he was still going over the day’s totals. The fact is, the only interest this continued on page 63

But I don’t want the new leisure continued from page 27

“Most people go at hobbies convinced they’re having a lot of fun — and drop them in a week”

man had in cooking was that it might help him forget his work, a process about as realistic as kiting cheques. You don't get interested in cooking by trying to forget a bank.

Most people start hobbies for reasons just about as realistic. I’ve known only one person who had no illusions about his hobby. He was a man who worked in a plaster plant near Needles, California, in the middle of the Mojave Desert. His hobby was prospecting and he saw right from the beginning that it would never get him anywhere, so there was no point in making a big deal of it with jeeps, burros and water bags. He did his prospecting at noon, with a sandwich in one hand and a Geiger counter in the other, right outside the main factory entrance, with a joyless, deadpan expression that exasperated his fellow workers.

“Look, how do you expect to find uranium around here?” they'd say in disgust, their idea of a hobby being something picturesque, at least. “1 mean—why don't you get out somewhere?”

“This is ‘out’ to people who don’t live here,” he’d say, unenthusiastically. “If you were in Buffalo or New York you’d think this was hell-and-gone.” He’d step outside the door with his Geiger counter and start prospecting, a fine powder of plaster settling over him.

The Home Craftsman at home

At least he stayed at his hobby, which is more than 1 can say for most people who, unlike this man, go at their hobbies convinced that they’re having a lot of fun, and drop them within a week. If that’s all the fun man is going to have when technology turns him free to do whatever he wants to do, l think he should go back to work. So far he hasn’t raised enough enthusiasm for home projects to justify the invention of the wheel and the lever.

A salesman I know, who used to spend his Saturday afternoons busily between the Brown Derby and Bowles Lunch, bought himself a whole power-tool outfit, complete with The Correct Clothes for Home Craftsmen, which he saw in an advertisement showing a man laughing at his lathe, steel shavings curling over his shoulder. He started spending all Saturday at home.

I’ve been in his house three times since he bought his workshop and each time he was dressed in blue denim coveralls and a blue denim engineer's cap, looking as if you could have hit him with hot rivets without even scorching him. But he was nowhere near his lathe. The last time, he was still sitting in his living room at eight o’clock, holding a drink, watching TV and about as close to being asleep as he could get without spilling a drop. He looked like an engineer having a quick snooze while waiting to take out a train.

Not that 1 blame him for having a sleep. But the point is, when a man stops on his way somewhere to pour a drink, watch Robin Hood and fall asleep, whatever he’s going to do when he gets there doesn’t matter. This man didn’t drop his hobby: he just never picked it up.

“That’s the wonderful thing about it,” people say. “You can really relax with a hobby.”

The last man I heard say he could really relax at his hobby told me, a year

ago last Christmas week, while he was loosening ice cubes out in the kitchen, that he was just nuts over making home movies. Later in the evening he showed me one he had just made, a color film of a little girl in a blue snowsuit who ran

down a sidewalk, stopped as if she’d run into a window, stared into the camera, made flying motions with her hands, and ran off the side of the screen, while my host looked as if he were waiting for the same thing as 1 was—the end.

I figured he’d just really started his hobby and hadn't got the hang of choosing interesting subjects. 1 forgot about it until a week ago when 1 was at another party at his house. He set up his projection apparatus and I sat there looking

forward to seeing the progress he had made. In a few minutes I was watching a picture of a lake with a distant motorboat moving back and forth on the horizon, apparently with a man in it, who, my host said, was his brother-in-law from Cornwall. Then he showed me the picture of the little girl again, ran the whole thing backward, turned on the lights and said that making home movies didn’t seem to occupy all his spare time and he thought he might start drawing up blueprints for building a dinghy.

He might as well. He might as well start drawing up blueprints for building a subway. The way he goes at his hobby he’s got all the time in the world.

Having all the time in the world at hobbies is one of the reasons why they never get anywhere.

Quite a few people I know have chosen writing as a way to spend their leisure time, and they all begin by reading books on writing, most of which stress in the early chapters, “Never be satisfied with anything but the exact word.”

The week-end writer puts down a word, asks himself sternly, “Is that the right word?” and right away it looks wrong. He stares at it and, as there’s no rush, he’s still staring at it half an hour later. It dawns on him that he has to write 4,999 more words like this and, not quite as relaxed as he was, he reaches for his cigarettes and a Roget’s Thesaurus, which gives every word but the one you want, including a lot you’ve never even heard of. He comes up with a lot of words like, “feel, handle, finger, thumb, paw, poke, fumble, grope, tickle, twitch, swoon, spitball, appendectomy.” Then he begins to wonder what his wife is cooking for supper and wishes something would happen to get him away from his typewriter, like an invasion from Mars. He decides maybe he’ll put the whole thing aside till next week end, when the right word will occur to him.

Fidgets with Faust

What will actually occur to him, of course, is a psychological block the size of From Here to Eternity, and he’ll write more and more sentences that sound like one I composed one time out of Roget’s Thesaurus: “I evinced that I disembogue myself.” The only thing that will happen next time he picks up his manuscript will be that he’ll want to disembogue himself of the whole idea of writing.

Lack of motion not only blocks the processes of the mind, but murders the nervous system. Last summer I stayed at a cottage opposite a diesel mechanic who had decided to use his summer holidays to enrich his life with good reading. He brought along one of the most scholarly translations of Goethe’s Faust, which makes even professors of literature, who are experienced at reading poetry, feel like getting up and stretching. The last time I saw this man sitting in a deck chair determined to make better use of his free time, he was so jumpy he looked as if he were on a short leash.

He was a muscular, energetic little man who occasionally used to fascinate the kids on the beach by walking on his hands. He would take his good-reading program in ten-minute stretches, then come out of his deck chair, find a couple of kids and stand on his hands for them. When the kids wandered off, he’d just stay upside down for a few seconds, figuring it was better to stay that way than to lock horns with lines like:

Think not, as in our German bounds, your chance is

Of Death’s or Fools' or Devils’ dances:

Here cheerful revels you await.

He would have done a lot better to make walking on his hands his hobby and let it go at that. In fact, sometimes I think we should all just go back to being frankly bored over the week end in a stiff, dull, motionless way—the way we used to be on Sunday when we were kids, when we couldn’t hammer, saw, shout or get dirty. It was a form of prayer, did us infinite good, and when Monday came around it released us at our arithmetic as if we’d been shot out of catapults. The way it is now, we do neither one thing nor the other. We can’t sit still for thinking of all the things we should be doing in our free time, and we can’t stay at our hobbies because they require effort, discipline and some idea of what we’re trying to do.

After ten or fifteen years of hobby magazines, do-it-yourself kits, self-help books and adult vocational classes. I’ve never gone into a home and surprised anyone pursuing a hobby, although I’ve surprised people looking at TV. getting drunk, or fighting with their neighbors —and one time, when I visited an old friend, doing them all at once — while pretending to work at their hobbies.

The wife of this old friend had served us supper outdoors and when we Were having coffee, he lit his barbecue, which he had built himself as a hobby but never used. He took careful note of the wind and began putting lawn cuttings on the fire, watching the smoke curl over his neighbor who was sitting on his patio and with whom he had been feuding for a year and a half over fences, driveways and kids. His neighbor, a hi-fi man who only listened to music to see how loud he could get it, went into the house, came back with his equipment, rigged up his speakers outside the house and turned on full volume. He sat there listening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which E. M. Forster described as “the most sublime noise that has ever penetrated into the ear of man,” and watching us try to communicate by sign language. He was wearing the first holy expression that had ever been brought to his face by great music.

If we’re going to keep shortening the work week, I think we should start realizing that we can’t fill up the other end with hobbies, as has been made clear by the fact that the popularity of the whole idea has been accompanied by a sharp upswing in TV and tranquilizers. Relaxation is a lot like happiness: the harder we chase it, the farther it moves away. Peace of mind comes only when we turn our attention from what we can get out of a thing, and begin thinking of what we can put into it. We can’t escape the world through a hobby or anything else. Magically curing boredom with a power saw leaves out the fact that we are members of a community, related to life, our fellow man, the world and its work— something that is being discovered every year by thousands of retired people.

We can’t escape the world, but we can do something much better, something completely unexplored in Western civilization: we can contemplate it. It would be more dignified, more rewarding, and a lot cooler, and I suggest it as the next big Do-It-Yourself. ★

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