Mystic, dreamer, tramp, loaferer

And still it drizzles, here at Seattle on the Cumberland. I miss the pool.

No sooner had I filed my “loafing” post yesterday than Rick Bragg popped up on the radio talking about the Alabama version he calls “loafering” – not to be confused with Atlanta’s Creative Loafing, presumably. He elaborated in the pages of Southern Living recently.

Bragg usefully distinguishes loafering, which occurs when you’re idly in motion, from stationary “piddling.” He says he can do both, though he actually tends more frequently to put in 18-hour work days – “because I’m an idiot.”

Well, it all reminds me of James on Whitman:

Yet so blind and dead does the clamor of our own practical interests make us to all other things, that it seems almost as if it were necessary to become worthless as a practical being, if one is to hope to attain to any breadth of insight into the impersonal world of worths as such, to have any perception of life’s meaning on a large objective scale. Only your mystic, your dreamer, or your insolvent tramp or loafer, can afford so sympathetic an occupation, an occupation which will change the usual standards of human value in the twinkling of an eye, giving to foolishness a place ahead of power, and laying low in a minute the distinctions which it takes a hard-working conventional man a lifetime to build up. You may be a prophet, at this rate; but you cannot be a worldly success.

Walt Whitman, for instance, is accounted by many of us a contemporary prophet. He abolishes the usual human distinctions, brings all conventionalisms into solution, and loves and celebrates hardly any human attributes save those elementary ones common to all members of the race. For this he becomes a sort of ideal tramp, a rider on omnibus-tops and ferry-boats, and, considered either practically or academically, a worthless, unproductive being…

But he sure could write. Cue the poet, on Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and then hopping the omnibus. The philosopher concludes:

Truly a futile way of passing the time, some of you may say, and not altogether creditable to a grown-up man. And yet, from the deepest point of view, who knows the more of truth, and who knows the less,—Whitman on his omnibus-top, full of the inner joy with which the spectacle inspires him, or you, full of the disdain which the futility of his occupation excites?

Right. Life’s still too short to be busy, and getting shorter every minute. Hail the ferry, board the bus. Go fish.


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