What I Really Meant to Say About Leisure Time


Something has been bugging me about my “leisure time” post for the last few days, but I didn’t want to admit to myself what it was.  Today I did.  Even though it was a perfectly fine post, it did something that I would like to stop doing:  it took the easy way out.  I complained about something (again, perfectly fine, because saying that working women have 30-40 hours of leisure time per week is ridiculous), but I didn’t take my thinking to the next level.  I didn’t offer anything new in place of what I was criticizing.  This is kind of lame. 

Anyone can criticize, and some things deserve to be criticized (did I mention that saying that working women have 30-40 hours of leisure time per week is ridiculous?).  But writers worth reading don’t stop there.  They think, and imagine, and envision new ways to see what is ordinary and commonplace.  There is so much stuff to read out there, and I made this commitment to myself and to people whom I asked to read my blog that I would try my best to be a writer worth reading.  I learn more about how to do that every single day. 

What I really think about leisure time is that the whole idea of it is stupid.  (Look at that–sometimes I’m so insightful, I amaze even myself).  No, really, I do think it’s stupid.  I think anything that chunks up our time into any version of “work” and “not work” only fosters the sense of being beleaguered and besieged by our lives that most of us already have.  Of course there is “work,” and of course there is “not work,” but the bottom line is that all of what we do is our life–all of it.  And if we are walking (or dragging) around feeling besieged by our own lives, then what on earth are we doing with our time?

Time is the most precious resource that we have because it’s so obviously finite.  You only get what you get, and you don’t know when it’s going to run out.  But more important than that fear-based observation, our lives are what we GET to do.  Sometimes when I am having a bad hour, or a bad day, or a bad month, I repeat to myself, “I get to do this, I get to do this.”  I get to be alive, in this life, at this time.

Lance Armstrong tells a story about a time in his life when he was insanely busy and found himself completely unable to handle all of the commitments that he had.  He wasn’t a “schedule” kind of person, he says, not really a big planner.  Until someone he considered a mentor said to him, “Schedule is how you make your intentions manifest.”  In other words, how you use your time is how you live out, every single day, what is truly important to you.

“Leisure time” should not be considered some kind of Holy Grail in the embattled and rocky terrain of the rest of our lives, because it diminishes everything else that we do.  However, neither should we try to convince ourselves that all of the tedious tasks of life should be bliss-inducing and sacred (well, maybe we should but I couldn’t pull it off).  The reason is because both of these attitudes makes us FEEL BAD about ourselves, that we are not doing it right.

Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.”  Every single thing we do matters, the tedious and the mundane, the repetitive and dull, the taxing and demanding, and the leisurely and wonderful.  And sometimes, these are all the SAME things!

David Whyte has addressed this whole issue of “work/life” balance, and how lame and unhelpful it is in The Three Marriages: Reexaming Work, Self and Relationship, and I talked a little bit about it in an earlier post on balance.  Anything that we do that boxes up pieces of our lives and weighs them against one another is not useful.  Anything that seduces you into the depressing belief that your responsibilities are only weighing on you, only dragging you down, only besieging you does not allow you to start envisioning yourself as the source of energy in your own life.  It makes you the reactor instead of the agent, the victim instead of the decider.

I have felt for many years that my job is a giant black hole, but it’s really not.  It’s just one of the things I complain about because it’s an easy target that I feel ambivalent about for a variety of reasons.  But something that has really changed my perspective on my job is Summer Pierre’s The Artist in the Office, which I’ve mentioned here before.  In particular, she has one activity that asks you to consider what your work provides for you.  Really provides for you, in detail.  For me, that would include being able to live in a house I love that will soon be painted yellow, working in the most beautiful, light-filled office I’ve ever seen, being able to take my children to the doctor without worrying about how much it will cost, living in a city that offers me a quality of life I could not afford elsewhere, having kind and hard-working colleagues, free notepads and pens, and sometimes leftover box lunches from Michael’s Catering.

Thinking about how we spend our time doesn’t necessarily entail changing how we spend our time.  But it certainly may entail changing how we see our time.  Doing Summer’s activity helped me to see my job as something that provides for me, not something that takes things from me.  That shift in perspective has changed everything.  

So have songs such as Carrie Newcomer’s “Holy as a Day is Spent,” in which she sings, “Holy is the familiar room, and quiet moments in the afternoon, and folding sheets like folding hands, to pray as only laundry can.  Holy is the place I stand to give whatever small good I can, and the empty page, and the open book, redemption everywhere I look.”  And Minnesota folk singer-songwriter Peter Mayer’s “Holy Now,” which is the “poem” for today.  You can hear him sing it, which is way, way better, here.  Everything is holy now.  Now and always.

Holy Now

When I was a boy, each week
On Sunday, we would go to church
And pay attention to the priest
He would read the holy word
And consecrate the holy bread
And everyone would kneel and bow
Today the only difference is
Everything is holy now
Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

When I was in Sunday school
We would learn about the time
Moses split the sea in two
Jesus made the water wine
And I remember feeling sad
That miracles don’t happen still
But now I can’t keep track
‘Cause everything’s a miracle
Everything, Everything
Everything’s a miracle

Wine from water is not so small
But an even better magic trick
Is that anything is here at all
So the challenging thing becomes
Not to look for miracles
But finding where there isn’t one

When holy water was rare at best
It barely wet my fingertips
But now I have to hold my breath
Like I’m swimming in a sea of it
It used to be a world half there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now
Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

Read a questioning child’s face
And say it’s not a testament
That’d be very hard to say
See another new morning come
And say it’s not a sacrament
I tell you that it can’t be done

This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now
It used to be a world half-there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now

Peter Mayer

11 thoughts on “What I Really Meant to Say About Leisure Time

Add yours

  1. Jeanine,

    Well, I’m glad it wasn’t just me (and my mother)! Thanks for reading, for your honesty, and for reminding me what good writing should do. I like the “quest” metaphor!

    Leslie 🙂


  2. I have been struggling a great deal lately working out of the home at a job I am not fulfilled by (okay, I hate it), working part time on my own business which I love, and finding the time in between all of that to be a part of my family filled with soccer season and karate tournaments, and potty training. Your post was beautifully timed and has given me a whole new outlook that I hope will carry me forward with more grace than I have shown lately!


  3. I have been so busy lately between ‘work me’ and ‘mom me’ that I haven’t made much time for ‘me me’. I was feeling exhausted and a tad grouchy. Ironically tonight, I was able to sit and quietly read your post. It was perfect. Just what I needed. Your words give great perspective. It is so easy to get caught up in the schedules of life and feel annoyed at the lack of time, but as you said if you look at these schedules from a different angle, you can better embrace what we have at this moment. Thank you for that (and I know my kiddies will thank you too!).


  4. well said. Sometimes it’s also helpful to distinguish between work and Work. There’s the work we do in our jobs or other duties, and there’s the Work we do as souls who have chosen to evolve in the greater universe. In that sense we’re always working, not only when we’re at our place of employment. The Work is to learn, to become more compassionate, to be forgiving, or whatever other more soulful tasks that usually never show up on any Top Ten Lists of important things to do. And yes, even when we’re “on vacation” the Work continues, something I like to remind myself and especially my never-resting American compatriots of. It’s amazing how much Work you can get done when you break out of your work routine… 😉


  5. OK, I know this was not the point of the post, but I’m so happy your house will be yellow. I’ve always wanted to live in a pale yellow house! Post a photo when it’s all done!


  6. I’m glad you’ve raised the bar again!:)
    If you love your job and find joy in it, it doesn’t seem like work. I try to remember to ask myself whose life am I touching now (especially when I want to wring’s some little kid’s neck!) and how can I make a difference in this small period of time I have.
    You do so many, many “things,” Leslie, and you do them well. Rejoice in those gifts and be mindful and aware that you do touch many lives, near and far.
    Love, from Mom (and of course, I know when your birthday is!)


  7. Leslie, one of my favorite lines from Yeats is “Everything we look upon is holy.” The poem is fantastic! I was doing some work, wanted to take a break, got a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie and said to myself, “How can I treat myself further as I eat this cookie? Oh, I will read Leslie’s post!” What a treat, what a break! I think this must be my favorite thing you have written. I really like the replies from everyone. You have expressed my deepest spiritual beliefs. I am also reminded that I have been very blessed to do work that I love for a long time. I am paid in part to be hugged. The cookies came from my employer by the way. Thank you for your honesty and always, your humor. Colleen


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