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Words by Kristi Cheng

On Friday, at around five past ten in the morning – late – I willed my legs to go just a little faster in its journey across Pier 2/3 on the way to the stage located at its very end. The irony that I was heading to a talk named The Pleasure of Leisure, the eponymous book of this talk, did not escape me while I tried to quietly make my way up the already-full room to a seat, beads of sweat running down my face. At the heart of Robert Dessaix’s book – and this talk – was the importance of honouring leisure, and how to do it. You see, in the crazily busy modern world, working, networking, and filling any empty time with something, was the way to go; there is no value in being idle.


And what, exactly, is idleness? It isn’t slothfulness, laziness, nor is it indolence, or being at a loose end. Idleness takes strength of character, says Dessaix. The rest? They are what teenagers do. To be truly idle, you must know who you are. You must be a master of your own time. To be idle is to be able to think, “these are the things offered to me, I will be truthful to my inner self to say “no” to the world.

Dessaix confesses to being not particularly good at leisure himself. How does a person hang around a street properly, for example? Just going out in the street and looking around would likely attract strange looks from passerbys. No, one cannot simply fill emptiness at whim. No; there must be rules. In fact, Dessaix categorises leisure into three types: 1) Loafing: doing almost nothing -- or the idleness that we had been talking about; 2) Nesting: renewing yourself in an place you feel the most at home with yourself (“how do you nest? You’ve got to go to Bunnings. I mean, Bunnings is so manly.”); and 3) Playing.

Out of play, comes culture, and all play is culture to Dessaix, though some are more fecund than others. Gardening connects one to a very real world we’ve lost, or are losing. Stamp collecting had the effect of leading him to start learning Russian; collecting fridge magnets, however, would not have. He asks us to ask ourselves if our play is a creative way of spending time, and to not empty our minds while we are idle, the opposite of what yoga practice advocates. After all, he says, “you will be very still with a very empty mind quite soon.”

The talk was wonderfully engaging, his larger than life presence and his style of speech terribly infectious; even up to an hour after the end of his talk, I found myself thinking in his voice. In his regard of language as a form of play, for example, he made me reflect on aspects of my life in new ways. It is no wonder that his table of books were almost entirely cleared out as the audience flowed out of the room and directly into line for a book signing. From in front of me in the line, I overheard a woman saying she would buy the ebook of another author she had been impressed by, but no- not this one. For this, she had to buy the physical copy. Dessaix speaks of a feeling I am sure most of us have felt living in the hustle and bustle of the modern world, all in his gloriously quirky manner. If nothing else, I have a newfound appreciation for Bunnings after this talk — I know that the next time I enter one of its warehouses and smell the mix of shaved, my first thought will be, “how manly!”

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