Leisure is one of those words that polarizes opinion depending on one's outlook — like the word “retirement” itself.
Some see leisure as indolence, others as luxury, others as a cliché riding around on a golf course in checkered shorts and a wide-brimmed hat.
To me, leisure feels like a silky sort of freedom. The word slides pleasantly off the tongue. It’s inviting. It suggests some action, but not a lot. It’s more promising than “free time” or “time off,” which imply nothing more than time out from the main attraction of work. Leisure contains intent.
(We must try to ignore the sad corruption of “leisure" by marketers in the early Sixties who co-opted yet another perfectly fine word in pursuit of sales, the sales of a comical genre of casual clothing called “leisurewear” designed to create an certain gung-ho look during one's time off. The most startling example was the safari suit. Men who otherwise led normal lives suddenly appeared on the streets in pastel suits with epaulets and oversized pocket flaps as if heading out to view leopards at a watering hole. I’d like to report that the safari suit is long gone but if you google “safari suit" you’ll be amazed at what we wore back then and, that inexplicably, it persists. You can still order a safari suit. But look away. Leisure deserves better.)
So is leisure a good thing or the devil in disguise?
I like this quote:
“If I am doing nothing, I like to be doing nothing to some purpose. That is what leisure means.”
— Alan Bennett
What a relief.
Alan Bennett is a beloved octogenarian English playwright. The quote is from one of his better-known plays, A Question of Attribution.
The idea of “doing nothing with some purpose” is such a positive take on the opportunity open to retired people with leisurely intent.
“Nothing,” in this light, is undirected time open to the suggestion of whatever purpose you give it, whatever you feel like doing. “Some purpose” means enough but not enough to resemble work. You aren’t exactly drifting. The tip of the rudder is in the water.
I might try this soon: When asked, “What are you doing these days?” I might reply (with a knowing glint in my eye), “Purposeful leisure.”
An enviable state.