Dirty Words

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It turns out that I’ve done some culturally taboo things in my life. For example, you probably know me from my nude modeling. Or if you’ve read my previous work (or know me in person) you also know that I’m polyamorous and queer. Heck, even working for myself for my whole adult life is a little bit different.

This isn’t me trying to brag about being counterculture or edgy. I talk about these things because I’m trying to normalize them.

Because I’ve decided to talk openly about making different decisions than the “norm,” I’ve had a lot of practice at explaining my life choices to other people, whether this is to strangers or to close friends. But despite all this practice at sharing my slightly off-color choices, there seems to be a concept that, no matter how I describe it, offends most everyone. It’s like they are dirty words that you don’t say in polite company. And those dirty words are “leisure time.”

Yes, this is a continuation of the discussion from my last post. As I mentioned, I’m trying to do less, and live with more white space. And during the process, I’ve run across a few things that I never expected.

The first is that, at least in my communities, the Protestant work ethic runs deep. Even in ones like art nude modeling, which actively opposes other parts of the Puritan tradition. I absolutely believe we should question our society’s prudishness and automatic sexualizing of nudity. But maybe we should question the norm of always having to hustle to be a good model too. 

I don’t think that working on the things we love is bad. I can’t imagine a future where I’m not working on something. Modeling to show my body as it ages. Playing my piano. Writing.

I think the problem happens when we start defining our self-worth by how much we’re working, or when we work on things out of a feeling of guilt, or “ought to,” or obligation. And even worse, when we start treating things that should be a source of joy—like relationships and hobbies—in the exact same way as a job.

Before now, I would have told you that I didn’t have time to waste on leisure. “Not enough time” was practically a mantra. I had goals to meet, a business to run, emails to answer, marketing content to create, a house to clean, hobbies to excel at, and a social life to “keep up with,” whatever that meant (spoiler alert: it meant “always one more thing than there was room on the calendar for”). Where was I supposed to fit leisure time? I wasn’t getting to half of my to do list as it was.

Really, I was using all my time trying to avoid negative possibilities, or at least trying to have the excuse that I’d “done everything I could” if something failed. I was running on fear of all these things that hadn’t actually happened yet: what if I didn’t exercise regularly and gained weight and had to stop modeling full-time? What if I didn’t answer that email quickly enough and I lost work? What if I didn’t go to that event and people stopped liking me?

There was always something more that I could have done, and there’s always another way to fail.

The problem is, there was always something more that I could have done, and there’s always another way to fail. Of course I was always out of time.

This January, I started writing down a line a day in a journal. I wanted to note the thing that I valued the most that day or that made me happy. It started out as a gratitude exercise, and a way to keep track of time. But over months I noticed again and again that I wrote down one of two things. It wasn’t avoiding possible future failures. It wasn’t accomplishing showy goals or finishing my to do list. It was either having the time to connect with somebody I loved, or having the space to work on art I cared about. Or, in fewer words, leisure time.

Sometimes I think the most counterculture thing I can do is nothing at all. To take time. To be present. So I’m trying it. So far my productivity hasn’t decreased. And I’m a hell of a lot happier.

But despite all these positives, I’ve been scared to talk about it. What if fellow artists think I’m not working hard enough? What if my friends get hurt or offended when I tell them no? What if people think I’m lazy and selfish for trying to leave the cult of “not enough time?”

But maybe this is one of those different ideas that’s useful for others too. I figure that’s worth the risk of saying a few dirty words in polite company.