Following on yesterday’s post about rest and leisure…
One of my favorite bedside books is The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang. Lin gained popularity as an erudite Chinaman in the 1930’s but, to my knowledge, none of his fine books are in print today.
Lin was a great believer in leisure as a means for refinement and reflection. He states that,
It is clear that only in a society with leisure can the art of conversation be produced, and it is equally clear also that only when there is an art of conversation can there be good well-written essays.
…both the art of conversation and the art of writing good prose…is possible only in a life of leisure.
Is this true? Can you grind away at your job for twelve hours a day and then rush into your home office and dash out sensitive haiku or enlightened prose? Lin thinks not:
Businessmen who are busy the whole day and immediately go to bed after supper, snoring like cows, are not likely to contribute anything to culture.
But we have quashed most leisure out of our culture. We take our work home each day on our iPhones and computers. It takes two parents working full time to pay the family bills. We order dinners, groceries, and dog-walkers on-line. And conversation? How? How to break through the surgically attached headphones or the stare that never swerves away from the phone screen?
It’s fascinating and prescient that Lin connects art, writing, and conversation with leisure. He argues that it takes time laying about to develop these skills. They can’t be crammed into a busy brain. It’s a kind of play, really. Playing with words, or ideas, or paint. Play rarely happens under pressure.
So take a few minutes this weekend to be a bum. A layabout. A lolly-gager. You’ll be better for it.
See here for a Kindle download of The Importance of Living.