All Play and No Work

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In the surf the other day somebody called out – ‘Don’t you have a job?’

It was an arrow, aimed at my self-esteem.

I work for myself, mainly on activities that feed my heart and soul, if not my bank balance. This means I can go surfing whenever I like. Which is quite often. Other people have to be present – at least physically – in offices, on shop floors, in banks etc

The comment hurt because from the moment I came down from the mountains and walked through the school gates as a tiny child I was brainwashed, just like everybody else, into separating work and play. Play is self-indulgent and worthless and for children. Work is painful, forms the basis of one’s value as a human being, and is what grown-ups do.

Some people have jobs they love. I am not talking about those people. I am talking about the cultural norm of going out and spending most of one’s waking hours doing something one does not want to do, for no good (meaningful) reason other than to contribute to the big fat mess we call the global economy.

As this popular quote from Charles Bukowski’s Factotum perfectly expresses, it’s not as if anybody could actually enjoy this kind of work – “How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6.30 am by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?”

Not that doing what you love – turning play into work – is easy –

Being awakened long before dawn, by an idea, leap out of bed that is also a sofa, put several thick jumpers on over nightclothes (too cold to dress yet), set kettle to boil on camping stove, go outside to piss under distant stars, wash face with cold flannel, find pieces of coffee pot by the light of the moon, shiver, scrape hair away from eyes, wrap self in blankets, sit down on sofa that is also a bed, think of things that hurt, imagine, re-imagine, feel despair, feel elation, feel sick, feel crushed by the weight of emptiness, stare at the screen, give up, get dressed, go seal watching, imagine, re-imagine, feel crushed by the weight of loneliness, write a song, sing it to the sparrows, suspect everything you have ever done is crap, suspect everything you ever will do is crap, go for a surf….fend off the arrows. Smile. Go home and carry on. No pats on the shoulder, no external validation, no office parties, no sick pay.

Be constantly grateful for the fact that you have somehow remained free, no matter how deep the emptiness and how cold and distant the morning stars.

In the words of Gary Snyder“Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humour, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking brings us close to the actually existing world and its wholeness.”

Which happens to be more important to me than contributing to the big fat mess we call the global economy.






3 thoughts on “All Play and No Work

  1. Andy Inglis

    “I mean, it’s true, nobody talks about them, but when you bring it up, the idea that you have to rent yourself to somebody and follow their orders, and that they own and you work there, and you built it but you don’t own it, that’s a highly unnatural notion. You don’t have to study any complicated theories to see that this is an attack on human dignity.”
    ― Noam Chomsky

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