This Is Leisure?

My job wore me out so much today that if we had other access to healthcare, I would put in my notice and never look back. Driving to my daughters' school to pick up our youngest I gladly left the job behind and in favor of family time. My girl suggested we go for coffee. We picked up her older sister and drove to the coffee shop. Along the way I asked if they would help me clean the dining room later. We're having people over soon and the house isn't Martha Stewart clean. After the day I'd had at school, it was tough to imagine doing the cleaning at all, so it was a relief when they both said, sure, no problem.

(When they were babies and toddlers, people warned me about how difficult girls would be. They weren't. As they moved through middle school, I was warned how terrible they'd be as teens. Nope. Trust your kids, not people's warnings.)

We came home and my older daughter went to work on the dining room. It's where we dump bags, coats, mail, and most everything else. She cleared all her stuff. I swept and dusted and then my younger daughter cleared her stuff. My wife would clear hers later. Finished in the dining room, I took garbage down to the basement, saw the vacuum cleaner, and remembered that the den carpet really, really needed cleaning. Oh, and the washing machine reminded me of the clothes waiting to be washed. I carried the vacuum up to the first floor, got the laundry from the second floor, brought that to the washer, went up and vacuumed the den, and brought the vacuum back to the basement. I took the broom from the dining room and was about to put it away but instead swept the stairs.

Somewhere in all this I got wondering what happened to being tired from my awful job. I scanned my body and mind. Yep, still tired. But instead of collapsing, I was cleaning the house and somehow feeling less tired. What the hell?

For dinner we were set to have eggplant parmesan. I began prepping while still wondering how all this work was energizing me. It came to me that all of it, strange as it still seems, was a kind of leisure, perhaps the best kind.

Leisure is doing what I want to be doing. It isn't collapsing on the couch. It sure as hell isn't browsing the web, reading the news, or flipping channels. My current job doesn't fulfill me because I can't do things I want to do. Coming home to clean, do laundry, and make dinner doesn't sound like a good time, but I chose to do those things. I wanted not just to have them done but to be doing them. Along the way I got time with my girls, time to think, some solitude and peace. The dining room and den are clean, the laundry is washed and dried, and dinner was delicious.

Here I am now writing, listening to New Chautauqua by Pat Metheny, and thinking about the differences between being a vegetable and enjoying real leisure.

Much of the thinking about leisure draws on "Reclaim Leisure" which is chapter six of Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism. It's a book I recommend.