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Idyll/Idle

Posted Aug 12 2013 4:08pm

A Water Idyll, Hans Zatzka (1859 - 1945)

Such languor, no? This painting makes me laugh. To my eye, a garish parody of utter, lolling requiescence. A paragon of idleness. The antithesis of what I was raised to prize.

Growing up, I understood that happiness came with industry, with labor, a project. Summers were not for basking in torpor. They were for bursts of creativity, splashes of vigor and experimentation. Building fairy houses. Writing and putting on plays. Making treasure hunts. Cycling to parts unknown (or anyway lesser-known, parts where a child could at least pretend to be exploring a foreign land, a bottle of Yoo-Hoo and a plum in the basket of her bike).

In other words, my childhood idea of an idyll was anything but idle.

But as an adult I've come to realize how lopsided this has made me, how warped and wanting I am in my inability to simply repose. The past few summers I have taken advantage of the months away from teaching to write full time, or more than full time: I wrote seven days a week, every week. Going into this summer, I swore to experience the season differently, to slow down, do less, perhaps even on some days approach doing nothing.

Here it is mid-August, the air crisping up beautifully, dusk falling a little earlier, a scarlet leaf peeping out here and there among the green, classes starting again in a few weeks, and with some amazement I realize I've made (nearly) good on my promise to myself.

What have I done this summer? Read whole articles in the paper at a single go. Gotten up to make a second cup of coffee and then sat back down to read some more. Walked the dog and wandered off on unusual routes without consulting my wristwatch. Perused cookbooks at leisure in the morning, made lists of ingredients and gone shopping in the afternoon, come home and put on music and chopped and measured and dredged and simmered and baked unhurriedly, even languorously, in the evening. Breathed and felt my whole rib cage filling. Paused and taken another breath just like it, for no reason but the sheer novelty of noticing the strangely pleasurable tug and pull once more. I have lain on a lily pad, scantily clad, trailing a gauzy piece of net through the breeze, glancing at the butterflies flitting overhead while the warm lake water laps over my - okay no, I haven't done the last. But my glory, what a soft revelation this summer has been.
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