Leisure and Existence and Specificity and Gratitude and Dangerous Games: a Birthday Post

Matthew Peterson on Facebook just now:

Sometimes I think the most sickening symptom of the disease of our era is boredom, especially among the young. As people get older they simply habituate themselves to addictive distractions or to the idol of work and thus they lose the symptom of boredom without curing the underlying disease. But young people haven’t fully corrupted themselves yet, and thus they still feel bored.

I can’t imagine ever being bored, and it breaks my heart to see young people who say they are. To the extent they are truly bored they are vulnerable to enslavement to addictive distraction or to lives of meaningless work for others. The whole point of education (never mind religion) is to develop a consistent interior life – to develop a mind that has woken to the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty on its own no matter what the “day job” or lack thereof, and therefore could never be bored.

And he quotes Josef Pieper:

The code of life in the High Middle Ages [held] that it was precisely lack of leisure, an inability to be at leisure, that went together with idleness; that the restlessness of work-for-work’s-sake arose from nothing other than idleness. There is a curious connection in the fact that the restlessness of a self-destructive work-fanaticism should take its rise from the absence of a will to accomplish something.

This is just right.  Being bored=a kind of lack of appetite. The intellectual hunger is in my experience a distinctive thing that wants to eat books– not just single interesting-at-the-moment books, but books that taken together help you master a body of knowledge, help you start to see the overall pattern of the world.  This is something specific.

But for me it’s somehow related to and combined in a nearly indistinguishable way with the insatiable hunger to write and to explore my own city and to travel and explore other cities and to make things and to plan parties and to have people stay at my house and to have conversations with friends and to find out their stories and to do all the “leisured” things that one wants to do– this is just a hunger to be human, I think– to DO human; to learn and to make and to do projects and to explore.  The good of work is something else, and it is good; and there are aspects of non-work life that don’t really fall in to what I’m talking about above: family obligation that is obligation, and is good for being so; following through on commitments even when you’re not really in the mood, which is also a good.

But I’m talking about something else here: the appetite for the varied world– for the whole city, the appetite for finding out; the appetite for short- and long-term projects; the appetite for delight.

And it is an appetite that, like others, grows by what it feeds on. This is a birthday post and I am feeling grandiose because I am on my way to Boston and traveling, even just to Boston,  is one of those things that both satisfies and feeds this desire, and so, in my expansiveness and grandiosity I invite everyone to follow these instructions– this is my hobbit-like birthday gift to all of you.

Here it is: if your life feels flat or closed off or you feel as though you are missing something– you are. Pay attention to that! It’s good news– it’s a feeling like pain that motivates action; like a cramp that comes from sitting still for too long; it is your body and your soul telling you to be human, to do human.  So start.

Read something– not something to distract you but something that will take all of your commitment to understand.

Or read something that is so well done and beautiful that it makes you astonished and grateful that you are at the right time in history to be able to read it, and that you speak the right language to be able to understand it.

Write something that comes easily and fluently but that you had never given yourself time to write before: The fairy tale about a pair of children whose mother is sick, and while she is at New York Presbyterian with the doctor, they take a walk in Central Park and find that there is a wood there that is not on any of the park maps, and that that wood is in fact part of the Forest of Rhetoric, and in order to get back home they have to find the Tree of Porphyry, which is a real tree, and pick a single leaf from it which is their mother’s leaf, and which cannot be subdivided because she is an individual and not a species or genus…and that this somehow saves her; they bring her the leaf and she eats it and it saves her from non-being; it re-instantiates her in the world.

Tree of Porphyry

Or write something that is hard and that you are worried about getting wrong and while you are doing it, enjoy the fact that you’ve found out that there are things you can be wrong about, that your opinion is not as good as anyone else’s, that there are things to find out that take work and care.

Go walk to a new place in your city and stop in a non-chain store and find someone who has lived in that neighborhood for his or her whole life, or at least for fifty years, and ask that person to tell you a piece of neighborhood gossip that is at least fifty years old.

Participate in a new game that members of your family and their friends have invented called Red Hot Chain in which you take a chain attached to a hollow metal tube and heat it in a bonfire and then dip it in the lake to see what happens. (This game complements other games which my family has invented, the details of which I’d be happy to share, called Open Chest and Under the Raft) (Not clear what Josef Pieper would say about this.)

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Find out the back story behind an old family photograph.

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Help out with a friend’s birthday.

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Meet some French sailors.

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Play Giant Jenga.

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Find buskers, or become one.

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Text a friend to set a date for a party you will plan together, in which you will play victorian parlor games and invent new ones and make sure that your friends with kids are invited too, and that the kids have something to do; if they are old enough they can join in the tableax vivants and if they are homeschooled they will want to.

Identify, with the help of a friend, pro-Vladimir Putin graffiti in the loo of a restaurant in Gramercy.

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Walk out your door and find out where your feet can take you.

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And then take all the good and all the joy from everything you’ve done from the list above, and start a magazine, and write about it all, and I’ll write for you too, and what are you going to do with the gratitude you have for the world?  You’ve got to thank God; he’s the one who made it and made you and made you “capable of” him, and of the world, and who bought you back so that you could do your humanness right and not miss out, and if you don’t believe that, find out whether it’s true– because it might be, it might be, it might be… find out.

What is the thing you say when it is your birthday but you want to say happy birthday to everyone else?  Happy existence day to you all.  Happy haecceity. L’chaim.

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One response to “Leisure and Existence and Specificity and Gratitude and Dangerous Games: a Birthday Post

  1. Beautiful. This was just what I needed to read.

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