« Your interest in distinctions | Main | Ready, steady, GO »

You have neglected your loafing

Postings have been light this week, I know, but not because I’ve been idle, what with the paragraph factory and the last week of classes at Loyola and the usual domestic tasks. I would much rather have been idle.

As I stepped out of Beatty Hall yesterday morning after the final class of the semester, I noticed a number of things: a clear sky and sunlight after the previous day’s grayness and heavy rain, a brisk wind from the west on my face, and a handful of Loyola students walking along, heads down, texting on their smartphones.

This is not—really, you deserve better—the start of some rant about how we are too connected, or too preoccupied with the Internet and electronic toys. I want to talk to you today about our neglect of loafing. This is becoming critical, what with rising generations of children who are so overscheduled with activities that they may never master the knack. And no one is better qualified to advise you about loafing, equipped as I am by heritage,* predisposition, and training, lacking only the [cough] funds [cough].

Of course, anyone can loaf if the money is plentiful. Those of us who must labor for our bread look for creative ways to benefit from this most restorative inactivity.

For example, Kathleen and I once found ourselves in the airport at Charlotte, North Carolina, to change planes. Our flight was, of course, delayed. But the Charlotte airport, an eminently civilized one, has rocking chairs distributed around the terminal, and there were a couple outside a shop that dealt in wines of the region. So we bought a bottle and drank a couple of glasses of good wine while sitting and rocking and talking quietly. It was quite the most pleasant interval I’ve passed in an airport in years.

You have to be alert for your opportunities. Those Loyola students trudging along with their iPhones—not smart either; you remember that video of the woman who walked into a fountain at a mall while focused on her texting—missed the opportunity to take a couple of minutes between classes to stare at the sky and feel the wind on their faces. To seize a brief moment of what the Italians call dolce far niente, the sweetness of doing nothing.

There’s also that interval in late afternoon, between the day’s work and the preparations for dinner, when you can, if you plan shrewdly, make a Manhattan and sit, for the time it takes to drink it slowly, on the porch without talking, without texting, and let the mind drift where it will.

There will be the odd slack interval at work, when no one upstream is sending along anything to do, when you can indulge in desultory conversation with colleagues about former colleagues. Do not omit to take advantage of this. It will stimulate memory and confirm solidarity.

Don’t mistake reading for loafing (as some members of my family did). Reading partakes of some of the qualities of loafing, such as retreating from the activities of the immediate world and recharging the mental batteries, but it is a more active phenomenon. Loafing in its purer forms recharges by purposeless inactivity, much as sleep does.

If you are smart, you will make room in your children’s days for play, and in your own for those invaluable intervals of loafing.


*My maternal grandfather, Lucien Lundy Early, derived enough income from the family tobacco farm to live the life of a rural flaneur. In his active days, he would sit on a bench in front of one of the two general stores in Elizaville for conversation with like-minded gentlemen. At home, his days were spent smoking cigarettes and listening to baseball games on the radio. (I will never get the voice of Waite Hoyt out of my head.) Had his judgment of the relative velocity of horses been as sound as he imagined it to be, I might have been able to live a similar life.



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:55 AM | | Comments (3)


Time you enjoyed wasting was not wasted.

I think of loafing as the white space in my day.

Loafing can be overdone. It can become oppressive. If one loafs because one has hothing to do, it's oppressive.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
Baltimore Sun Facebook page

Most Recent Comments
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Stay connected