On Leisure Time
WRITTEN BY Rachel McBath
DESIGN BY MICHAELA DEVETTER
I told Amy I was interested in contributing to her newsletter. I congratulated myself, deeming this pursuit proof that I’m fighting the good fight against the demise of my cognitive abilities. Apprehension reared its ugly head as I then considered that I haven’t written original (or coherent) material in ages, that my only recent writings to claim are half-intelligible iPhone notes— consisting largely of particularly compelling pay-per-view porn titles I’ve scanned— or critiques of papers I’ve edited. A train wreck of thought ensues. Cue the inane Carrie Bradshaw direct address and descent into hysteria.
Why is this my first attempt at doing something constructive with my time in recent memory? Yes, I have a flair for the dramatic— but all hyperbole aside, the question as to why I haven’t used my education is a valid one. Catastrophic thinking escalates, assuming a life force of its own: Why am I not only allowing, but encouraging my brain atrophy? Why haven’t I benefitted society in any meaningful way? More alarmingly, why haven’t I so much as tried? Am I paralyzed by deliberation, or am I just fucking lazy?
I find myself confronting these pangs of existential panic while semi-watching my sixth consecutive episode of Law and Order: SVU, which I’ve already seen forty-seven or forty-eight times, and I can’t bring myself to change the channel because it would require either making a decision or committing to something that doesn’t render me completely mindless. I am the problem, is my answer. I am the culprit of my inaction and have chosen vapid television and/or late-night social media trolling to occupy my time more often than I care to admit. It’s pathetic. I’m aware of this, and still, I have yet to act. A guttural, borderline animalistic sound escaped my throat as I typed the previous sentence, I think, because I know how Hamlet ends. Am I laughing or crying right now? I can’t be sure.
“Good topic,” my go-to offers when I first run the ‘godforsaken leisure time’ question past her. Of course, I had to secure her opinion. I am a validation-seeking individual, through and through. This friend, however, requires neither validation nor affirmation. She, for lack of a better phrase, has her shit together. She dabbles in stocks, for fuck’s sake. I’m still rambling on about her because I’m still shocked that she empathizes. Someone I’ve long admired for her volition, antithesis to my fruitless contemplation, expresses a similar angst over wasting time and opportunity, over little-to-no action. So I’m not alone, I think. This is no longer an agonized (agonizing for you, I’m sure) soliloquy.
“Charlie [her boyfriend] and I talk about it a lot—how our generation/group of friends has no real interests outside of working and going out. No one really has hobbies anymore,” she begins. “Everyone’s shortlist of interests would include fitness, politics, travel—which everyone knows is bullshit. But God forbid we actually put what we spend the majority of our time doing on there.” She then poses a series of questions concerning plausible causes, effects, and implications of this problem. I tell her that I don’t have an answer, only more questions. “Fine,” she answers coolly, proceeding to caution me against talking too much about myself in this endeavor. I can feel her rolling her eyes at me from here.
This brand of malaise is not mine alone. At present, I’ve discussed the subject with several friends, all in varying stages of life, and all have conceded a like concern. Many, I’ve noticed, cite fear as both cause and symptom in their respective narratives. Fear of what, exactly, has proven difficult to define. Change, failure, rejection—these are the usual suspects, but each seems reductive. This fear is more sinister somehow, more pervasive.
H.G. Wells asserts in The Time Machine, “we are kept keen on the grindstone of pain and necessity.” These words are the refrain of my inner monologue, and they have haunted me since I first entertained this inquiry. I initially attributed their resonance to a series of knee-jerk hypotheses: that perhaps, as millennials in a postindustrial society, we inhabit a world in which technological conveniences have waged total war on any semblance of hustle, we are devolving, or that we as a generation lack some sort of metanarrative or unifying call to action, etc. My efforts to avoid writing a self-serving, insular piece by aggregating the opinions of others, however, prompted the realization that my sample population is highly unrepresentative. The friends I consulted are white and hail from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. I know the following conjecture is a can of worms I’m not even remotely equipped to open, but this self-pitying thought train screeches to a halt at the reality that many of us take for granted the leisure time with which we wrestle so wearily, and worse, at the expense of others’ pain and necessity.