Jun 12, 2016

The Art of Leisure

I just came across a post in my Facebook feed called The Lost Art of Leisure, which I didn't have time to read but which I have bookmarked for later. I think I know what it says though, and the title struck a chord with me.

When I was younger, and the world was not yet digitised, I had ample time for leisure and I used it for the most part wisely - reading, walking, visiting art galleries, trawling bookshops, dinner with friends (we didn't do coffee or breakfast or brunch back then), going to see bands at pubs.  I had a big music collection and listened to it. I did painting classes. I sketched, and wrote poetry.

In short, I was probably an insufferable young idiot, but I did know how to enjoy myself.

When Y. and I lived in Santorini, many years ago, we spent our precious free time coasting around the winding roads on his bike, lying on the beach and drinking coffee or beer in cafes. This was high quality leisure time.

When I lived in Twickenham, my favourite activity was to walk the towpath to Richmond and back, snug in my army-surplus parka, a Kate Bush or Blur cassette in my Walkman, headphones on.

When I lived in St Kilda, my favourite activity was to go to the Espy with my boyfriend to see a band, and wander home in the early hours of the morning to his untidy flat, feeling happy and at home.

When I lived in Auckland, I loved cooking up dinner parties with my university flatmates and the sorts of long, honest conversations you only have at that age.

Growing up in Auckland, we were conscious of being at the outer limits of the world, and we lapped up everything that visited our shores. We saw every visiting art exhibit (though I only remember Monet), and every band or singer (Billy Idol, Bryan Ferry, America, David Bowie, U2 - it didn't matter who, in general if they came, I went to see them - though I did draw the line at Dire Straits, and was pleased to have my decision borne out by everyone's judgement the day after that "the laser show was really good").

But of course, as everyone knows by now, that all disappears when you have kids. And honestly, you don't mind. I didn't miss any of that stuff. Well, except walking on my own, and reading in a quiet corner - I could do both of those things forever.

When you have kids you grab your leisure where it's available, and when it's available you're not always ready. Or you only have a few minutes or half an hour, or a two-hour block, or whatever - not enough time to really sink into a full leisure activity and enjoy it without an eye on the next obligation.

Nina Cheng / Flickr CC

And of course we're all so busy. Kids, no kids - we're all busy with work and with keeping up with all the ceaseless household, personal and digital administration that is part of modern life.

All of which creates the situation we now find ourselves in, where leisure time is a five minute break huddled over your phone playing whatever dumb game is your secret shame, or strapping on your exercise shoes and convincing yourself that the 20-minute power walk you are forcing yourself to take at lunchtime is "relaxing" instead of a guilty workout.

We don't seem to have time to enjoy proper leisure, doing activities that absorb us and bring us joy, often enough.

Well, maybe this is only me.

But my guess is that an article called "The Lost Art of Leisure" means that it isn't.

The reason this article struck a chord was that I found myself, one day last week, quite unexpectedly enjoying some leisure time, that was actually leisurely.  I set myself the task on Sunday of doing nothing much, except beefing up my Spotify playlist and cooking a good winter meal for the kids.

I used to have a lot of CDs and a stereo, and I listened to music all the time. Then I had an iTunes account and listened to music on my iPhone. Then I changed to a Samsung phone and converted my music to Google Play, and.... I sort of forgot to listen to it. Or maybe I got older and music just gradually fell down the priority list, competing with podcasts and reading articles and watching Cracked videos on YouTube?

Phil Mike Jones / Flickr CC

But recently one of my daughters set me up with a Spotify playlist (it needs some work, but you can check it out here) and I have suddenly rediscovered the joy of music.

Jake Kitchener / Flickr CC

I dug out a couple of CDs and played them while cooking on Sunday. Then when they were finished I put on my Spotify playlist and listened to that. As I stirred a slow-cooking meat sauce and chatted easily to my daughter, with nothing else planned for that afternoon, I felt a strange sensation. It was a sweet surge of joy - a simple, swelling happiness that lifted with the music and reminded me that these moments, while fleeting, should be more than just gaps in a busy life.

I liked it.

Do you possess, or covet, the art of leisure?


  1. Jackie I agree with you too many personal issues ow. Take care

  2. I love music as well. In my leisure time, which is plentiful, I make my own music on the guitar...well I call it music, many might disagree.

    1. I love music so much, but am not at all musical. I can't even imagine how to play a guitar. Whatever gives you pleasure, I say.

  3. Covet. Definitely covet. I make time for leisure - but feel guilty. Which is wrong. And real.

    1. Of course you shouldn't feel guilty. But me saying that won't make any difference of course :)

  4. I find myself going on long YouTube journeys - it's wonderful! Leisure is the best.

    1. Yes it is! I've been spending more and more time there lately.

  5. My partner can sit in the lounge chair without the tv on or any similar distraction and be lost in his own thoughts. I cannot. I am missing something that I could be doing. I begrudge having to sleep because I could be doing something. I suppose my leisure time is walking and taking photos, but I agree with Pandora, getting lost in YouTube is pretty good, especially in the comfort of your bed.

    1. I'm the same,I can't easily switch off without anxiety about what I could or should be doing instead. Agreed though, YouTube is great distraction.

  6. Lovely post Jackie, and so true. Why is it so hard to switch off? Why do we try to cram so much into a day - and leave the good stuff out? The stuff that makes us happy. I think doing nothing or having a day when you allow yourself space and time to enjoy a few simple pleasures, is seriously underrated. Still, even though I know this, and know I'll feel better for it, I'm not good at allowing myself time out. Silly really. Your gentle, cooking day sounds lovely x

    1. I don't know. Is it a woman thing? A mother thing? A modern life thing? Whatever the reasons, we make relaxing needlessly difficult!



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