When I was younger I went to a relatively posh private school in
, full of high-achieving daughters who had DJ boyfriends and started nightclubbing at the age of 12. Despite their busy social lives, they always did their homework, and always lied about it. “Oh god, I haven't looked at my notes for months,” they would sigh prior to scoring 97% in a French vocab test. Or, “I did this at breakfast this morning,” right before handing in a 10,000 word dissertation on plate tectonics. I never understood it – when I said I hadn't done my homework, I really hadn't done my homework (remember the desperado who offered you a lifetime's supply of Twizzlers in return for your quadratic equations five minutes before math class? Yeah, that was me).
Things didn't change much when I matured into adulthood and decided to become a writer. My nemesis – the demon they call Procrastination – became an ever more malignant presence in my life. “The story will be ready really soon!” I'd assure my editor, who had inconveniently called right in the middle of Jerry Springer as I was painting my toenails. Add a healthy two or three hours a day of Myspace page development plus research trips to the local coffee shop – frankly, I was baffled as to how so many people manage to find time to actually do their job.
But last night, someone gave me hope. He said that slackers, loafers, sloths – whatever you want to call us – are not useless wastes of space. We are, in fact, the unsung heroes of American Society, and that those who appear to be the hardest workers are often the biggest sloths of all. The revelation came care of Tom Lutz, former pothead and freight train hobo turned college professor, who has just authored a fascinating new book called “ Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in
Lutz, who looks like a salt-and-pepper version of Bill Maher, was at Skylight Books in Los Feliz last night and told us some very interesting things – for example, Benjamin Franklin, purveyor of the 'work=success=money' Protestant work ethic, was actually nothing but a big lazybones. He even invented something called “the air bath”, which involves taking off all your clothes and lying on your bed in the afternoon for several hours.
regularly espoused the therapeutic properties of the air bath in his writings, Yeah, nice try Benji. Like his latter-day counterpart Ferris Bueller, Franklin was so darn good at pretending to work hard, no-one ever questioned him, even when he retired at the age of 42 and noted in his autobiography: “It's much more important to look busy than to be busy.
Lutz went on to talk about 'professional slackers', those who have what Lutz describes as a “principled aversion to work”. Huh? Anyone who preaches principled aversion to work – and believe me, I've dated a few – is full of shit as far as I'm concerned. But Lutz told us there are actual websites dedicated to those who wish to dedicate their lives to bumdom – check out whywork.org, for example.
Everyone in the room was captivated by Lutz. Not surprising, as nearly everyone in the room was a writer. We writers are often branded lazy by those who don't buy our whole “just being alive is research” thing. Research, of course, may entail lying on the couch. Or getting free pedicures. Or simply sitting under a tree in a flower-filled meadow contemplating the meaning of life. Believe me, it may look like we're lounging, but in the writer's world, these activities fall under the definition of a hard day's work.
I didn't buy the book (as well as being terminal slackers, we writers are also incorrigible misers), but I did leave the reading feeling happy and empowered. “Finally, someone who understands,” I thought, switching off my phone before settling into a well-deserved air bath…
Posted by Caroline Ryder