I WISH people would stop dinging at me to improve my spare time. Dale Carnegie says Emily Post carries stationery around in her handbag and writes to her friends while she’s waiting for trains. All I can say is, it may work for Emily Post but it doesn’t work for me. I tried it last week and I got a reply right back: “Was that supposed to be a letter I had from you yesterday? It sounded as if you wrote it in a railway station.”
The suggestions of Robert Updegraff in his “Time Enough for Everything,” a piece in The Rotarian, were far more intriguing, but scarcely more profitable. He advised hanging up a slate on which members of the family might scribble chores that need doing by a man. So I hung up a slate.
The first scribble read, “Porch door blows open. Button.” It cost me a thumbnail (and, I’m afraid, my chances for heaven) but I made a button.
“That button was a big help,” my wife said that night.
“Why?” I said. “What’s wrong
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you, you don’t nail the button on the door?” she
After that they didn’t seem to take my little slate very seriously. There’d be remarks like: “I wrote on your slate, I love you Joe, when we were a couple of kids.” And the morning after the memo read, “Fix washer. Goes plongplong all the time,” and I fixed it. Then the washer started going zippetydo-dah and a bunch of unidentifiable screws turned up in the pocket of my daughter’s satin housecoat, and the slate bore a single injunction: “Drop
This same Updegraff suggests you hear your son’s spellings while you
Well, maybe he can keep calm when his son gibes, “Daddy doesn’t know how to pronounce ‘phthisis’ and he’s old enough to shave” but I can’t. I didn’t mean any serious harm to the child, I just forgot to lay the darn thing down; but you can imagine what the gossips made of it: “Chasing his
son around the yard with a razor!” Updegraff knows more enterprising people! He knows a lawyer who learned three foreign languages by conjugating verbs as he walked along the street and translating advertisements as he rode in trolleys. I tried that too. Not after I heard what my best friends were saying, though. “What’s struck that bird—chasing his son with a razor and going around muttering, ‘Amo, amas, amat ’ ?” What’s more, if I have to go through life sitting in a streetcar translating “Only genuine Flusho will keep you regular when Nature forgets” into Spanish I’ll stay unilingual.
As for his injunction to spend a few spare moments every day (a) “scribbling your impressions of the world about you,” (b) “sketching a scene that has caught your fancy,” or (c) “letting your fingers think with a piece of clay,” these things may be all right if you’re single, but they’re no good for a married man.
The other night my wife came in from pressing my suit with two slips of paper in her hand. I knew her face wasn’t that red from the electric iron. “I’d like an explanation of two things,” she said. First she quoted from my scribbled impressions, “ ‘There’s a real dish passes the corner of Bloor and Spadina every day about noon’ then she held out my sketch of Effie Windermere hanging out clothes. “It better be good,” she said. It wasn’t.
That was the same evening I snitched the gob of young Herbert’s plasticine. “What are you doing?” my wife asked.
“Letting my fingers think with a piece of clay,” I said.
She came closer. “Ernest!” she said. That was all. But I’ve never touched any plasticine since. I think the guy that did Venus de Milo must have been a bachelor.
Married or single I’d also caution you against Updegraff’s recommendation to “sharpen your blunted senses by closing your eyes a few seconds each day and listening to (a) the lazy hum of nature in the country or (b) the dynamic hum of life in the city.” The net result in my case was (a) I fell headlong into a sink drain and (b) I got a nervous condition from the sudden screech of brakes and a cabbie shouting. “You deaf or blind? Whadja think I was layin’ on this horn for? I ain’t Shostakovitch ! ”
The part that really gets me, though, is this. Right in the same breath with all this eager - beaver bushwa they exhort you to spend every whipstitch you can “relaxing.” That’s what they call it. It sounds more to me like work. You know the general formula. Lie down, stretch both hands above your head, place the heel of your left foot under your right armpit, rotate your buttocks in a counterclockwise movement, inhale slowly, and “think black.”
The “joy through relaxation” boys, Drs. Peale and Blanton (“The Art of Happiness,” Prentice Hall Inc.), throw in a few complications like making circular motions with your clenchgd fists, stretching your toes upward and then outward and whapping you.stomach with your knees.
“That part of your lung which was dormant will begin to participate more fully in your breathing,” Karin Roon in an article, “How to Live on 24 Hours a Day,” assures me, “and your heart will be grateful for the flexibility
Yeah? Well, I wasn’t taking chances like that with my old sacroiliac. Not beyond thinking black, anyway. I did lie down and think black. “Coal” was the first thing that popped into my head. Seventeen tons at $19 a ton. Nine sevens are 63, nine ones are nine and carry six . Look, I shot off that bed and into the skylight so darn
Geraldine Farrar, Dale Carnegie tells us, used to slump down and let her mouth hang open every chance she got. He mentions also a celebrity who deliberately haw-haws over nothing whenever he feels himself getting taut.
(I omit this guy’s name. I’d want him to do as much for me.)
Then there’s “palming” — that is, pressing the palms of your hands against the eyeballs.
And there’s that famous diagram with the six pillows in perhaps the most strenuous of all manuals, “How to Relax” (Dr. David H. Fink, Simon and Schuster). 'I’his is the one where you lie down and hypnotize each muscle individually, starting at the head and continuing right down to the heel tendons
Yesterday I decided to combine all four of these techniques in one last attempt. I arranged the pillows (one under my neck, one under each arm, one under the small of my back, and one under each knee), dropped my lower jaw, grinned like a Cheshire cut, palmed the old eyeballs, and started to relax my muscles. I was out cold down as far as the umbilicus when a recalcitrant tendon around my left clavicle started to twitch all over again.
“Down, Fido,” I hissed at it just as my wife stalked into the room.
“Well!” she exclaimed. “What goeH on here? You take those pillows right back where they came from and act your age. Tearing up every bed in the house ! ” (Or words to that effect which no magazine could print.)
“I’m relaxing,” I said.
“Relaxing?” she said. “Relaxing? Listen, ball-of-fire, you don’t need to relax. You need to pull in your slack and Hmarten up a bit."
1 wonder how I should have improved all the time that went down the drain reading those articles.
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