Au Revoir, Ennui

Originally published in Idler 67.

Since quitting my job — escaping, hopefully forever, the world of conventional work — the main change I have noticed in myself is that I am rarely, if ever, bored.

I may be less busy (and certainly less hurried) than when I had a job, but what rushed to fill the so-called void left by the absence of full-time wage slavery could hardly be said to be boredom.

As idlers, you’re probably not surprised by this, though I suspect most people would be. “What would I do if I didn’t go to work?” is the big question asked (directly or through implication) by careerist dullards and slavish Muggles who do not have the imagination to fill a day without being cattle-prodded into service — any service.

By contrast, filling a day is unlikely to tax the imagination of an idler worth her salt. In the event of not having anything to do at all, “nothing” is a perfectly acceptable stand-by. The wise idler knows, of course, that “doing nothing” and “being bored” are hardly the same thing. Who is bored when blowing smoke rings, mixing a drink, walking around the block, or fingering the veins on the underside of a leaf? Life is interesting, stimulating, unboring by default.

Having “nothing to do,” merely means “having nothing productive to do” and, let’s face it, the worker-consumer mindset promotes a narrow band of what it means to be productive. When the idler has nothing to do, we default to something pleasant like flipping through a book containing some nice pictures of ducks: hardly productive in the industrialist scheme, but we know otherwise.

In this hopefully-handy guide, I have itemised the ways I find myself occupied post-job. This has, quite simply, happened, and was not the result of some grand masterplan to escape boredom. It could, however, be repurposed as such if you would like to tear out this page and give it to someone you have noticed struggling to do nothing.

Multiple creative projects. I all but live for my creative projects now, some of which are lucrative, others not. The “multiple” is the key. Leaving a day job to manage a creative monoculture — to write a novel, for example — risks falling out of the frying pan and into the fire. It is the single drone-note that kills. Instead, I have several projects on the go, flitting between them all in a single day, advancing some of them a little and merely tapping on the glass of others. This should be the new work ethic rolled out en-masse by our next government: the gains in productivity, though considerable, are of less interest than the gains in escape from boredom. Bliss.

Reading and walking. Reading and walking, for me, have become the idle standbys. When I have nothing productive to get on with (or when deciding to honor the sabbath or to symbolically squander a Monday) I find that I entertain myself either by reading or walking. I do the former when I feel at home in my head and the latter if I’m in a more outgoing mood. I’m sure you need neither activity recommending to you, dear idler, but it’s useful to keep “reading and walking” in your armory for the next time you are asked what the Hell you do all day when not busying yourself in some white-collar hellscape. Through walking, I have internalised a high-resolution model of the landscape of my local area and I have exchanged atoms with it through the soles of my shoes, all but becoming one with it. Through reading I have expanded my knowledge and walked in a thousand other worlds, which is quite a trick to perform in your pajamas. Me: millions. Boredom: nil.

Domestic improvement. It is risible that people draw a red line between domestic and professional labour, that one should be seen as menial while the other is apparently the very meaning of life. The division is ridiculous and leads to boredom in both departments. Why is looking after one’s home and kit, as a trillion women (and millions of soldiers) have done since time immemorial, seen as servile compared with the apparently highly-desirable and exhaustingly tedious task of going out to earn money? Whatever the answer, only domestic labour (or perhaps a little of each) is so diverse and directly-useful enough to lose yourself in and fend against boredom. The happy, idle, useful hours I have spent polishing boots or scouring tiles or cooking spaghetti with The Thieving Magpie or Blue Train playing relaxingly in the background are not something I will regret.

Obliterate the enemy. A way to remain entertained and never bored is to hone your wits against the enemy, like a soldier might do in her barracks or the Predator might do in a handy tree. This sort of thing is a byproduct of idling and there is no real need to go out of one’s way to do it. It just comes naturally as you become widely read, familiar with your surroundings, have embraced meditative domestic labour, and have become properly satisfied through diverse creative projects. When you do these things, you will defeat any foe in political debate, and obliterate any pub quiz team with the cheek to go up against yours.

Whatever argument may be put against the idle life — that refusal to work will sink the oh-so-important economy, that infrequent showers leads to smelly nether regions, that decadence leads to hangovers, that inactivity doesn’t consume or pollute enough of the world to be taken seriously — let it not be said that it is boring.

If this resonated with you, you’re probably already doomed so you might as well buy my books Escape Everything! and The Good Life for Wage Slaves for additional wisdom from the goblin king.

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