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'Doing Nothing' as a Full-Time Job

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Most kids are on summer vacation from school right now, but the adults still have to go to work. Commentator Yvette Doss wishes she could split the difference between the two.

YVETTE DOSS reporting:

Frankly, a lot of days I'd rather be doing nothing. I'd string up the hammock and settle into my backyard with an iced tea. To commune with the spider suspended from a little web just above me, only to find myself scrambling for a pencil to capture the brilliant, earth-changing, poor children saving idea for a business that will make me ridiculously wealthy and solve all the world's problems all at the same time. Next I'll remember an email I was supposed to send out and the fact that we have no more socks to wear and that bill that was overdue and the doctor's appointment I have to reschedule.

Funny isn't it? I'm never more productive than when I'm doing nothing. It's what I like of as the paradox of not doing. It's like another paradox, the paradox of being Zen. After your done buying the yoga mat and the mediation cushions and the prayer beads and the little statue of the Buddha and the incense and one of those cute little incense holders with the Yin and Yang symbol on them. You have expended considerable energy doing and accumulating rather than just being.

Take author Tom Lutz, a self-proclaimed slacker turned professor. One day he found his 18-year-old son Cody in a prone position on his sofa in front of the TV set instead of out job hunting. It made Lutz explicably angry. So he was compelled to examine the reasons that other sloth makes smoke come out of our ears.

He decided to write a book tracing the history of slackerdom. It's called Doing Nothing. In it he examines the impulse to drop out. That rucksack revolution epitomized in Jack Kerouac's book Dharma Bums. It is at its roots, a refusal to work just to consume. To keep that vicious cycle of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume alive.

Lutz argues that for as long as man has considered the work ethic, man has considered shirking the work ethic and it's often been a point of contention between fathers and sons, much as it was between him and his son Cody. Lutz's history book clocks in at a plump 320 pages and that's without the healthy 34-page bibliography. Proof positive that he worked his heiney off researching and writing this tome about doing nothing.

So, apparently, did a lot of famous slackers that Lutz profiles, such as Dharma Bum himself, Jack Kerouac, playboy Hugh Hefner and loafer poet Walt Whitman. All who Lutz argues were closet workaholics. To make matters worse, Lutz says Ben Franklin, our countries most industrious and hard working inventor and author of the words “early to bed, early to rise” was only good at making it appear as if he was working hard.

To do or not to do, that is the question. It's enough to make a girl retire her mediation cushion altogether.

NORRIS: Yvette Doss is Managing Editor at Ciudad magazine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Yvette Doss

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