Wednesday, February 10, 2010

10 February 1956, “Our Use of Leisure Time: or How To Make A Life ”

I believe I presented this short educational film sometime last year on my blog, but I wanted to do so again.

With the turn of the last century, leisure time was only beginning to become an option for some working/middle class people. And by the time we reach mid century, the Baby Boomers were really the first group in that class system to have so much leisure time. Though I cannot be certain, it might have been the beginning of the teenager moan, “I’m bored and there’s nothing to do”.

This film is obviously very short and can be seen as silly, but it does make good points. We had really come a long way by the 1950’s in work hour standards and toil for the homemaker. Of course they don’t have the time to get into the varying aspects of class. For example, a middleclass homemaker in 1900 would have had a little more leisure time as she would most assuredly have had at least one servant. In fact, in that time period, you were almost socially required to have at least one servant to officially call yourself middle class. If you were on the lower rung of that social scale and could only afford one maid of all work, than you and your daughters were also a part of the daily housework, but it did alleviate it somewhat.

But, here in post war America, thousands of people who had been working class/farming families suddenly found themselves with the ability to own their own home and to have the convenience and time to throw parties, shop for niceties not just needed items and have leisure time. The middle class suddenly not only grew, but was really being redefined. The need of hired help had pretty much been lost after the First World War, when many women were given men’s roles and the growing production and less rigid roles for work for women, meant all but the demise of live in servants when a girl could make good money and not have to suffer the strict rules, uniforms and hours of a live in servant.

So, here we have the returning hero’s of the war and a new restructured middle class. And it is their children, the Baby Boomers, who were the first, in a long time, to have to question themselves with , “What should we do?”

It must have made some of these new parents angry when their ‘teenagers’ complained so. They were not far enough removed from their own childhoods ‘on the farm’ or ‘in the cities’ where they were always busy with work that needed to be done to keep their home and life going. Yet, they wanted a freer nicer time for their offspring. They wanted a new better America; it was, after all, what they had all fought for.

So, this concept of sitting around doing nothing or ‘waiting for supper’ as our main character in  this film finds himself at the beginning, is really the start of what we have now. Although, it is true in many cases that we have begun to go in reverse of work hours, that many work OVER 40 hours (especially when you consider both spouses working) there are still those teenagers at home. And  when we are not at work how do we use our leisure time?  I think none of us will be surprised to see that most of it is spent in front of the TV or the computer. Is that bad, not really, because as I have said before THINGS are not good or bad, but how we use them and our own responsibility to ourselves and others is where the ‘good and bad’ come in.

The upper class and upper middle class had always had leisure time. In fact, in countries outside of the America, an upper-class person could not be so if he had a job, unless he studied law or sat in parliament. Yet, these classes had had generations to determine and to set up the structure of what was to eat up their leisure time. And although we would like to believe the classes above us sat around eating bon bons all day, closer study would find that not true at all. Even an upper class society wife was busy everyday. She had a houseful of servants to manage and maintain, she had a very strict social code of etiquette and parties to follow, there were days of ‘calling’ when you would receive your visiting guests, you moved about depending on the season, in the city in Spring, sailing in summer, in the fall, in the country for the grouse and pheasant and hunting (fox) etc. There was an entire system set up so one was always busy. This work was not ‘making’ money, as they had no need of that, but they also had the social pressure to be ‘doing something’ and often very specifically WHAT is was they were to be doing.

When the working class suddenly found themselves in the middle and able to allow their children the freedom to not slave away at chores and work, there was no structure in place to fill their ‘leisure time’. They had not social or class pressure to make sure they were doing charity work, or being read up enough to have a good conversation at ‘the club’ etc. So, suddenly we have a new generation born with the freedom from work their parents and grandparents never knew and no guidance as to what to do with that free time. Most parents may have bemoaned their lazy children, but  to the cries, “I am bored” were most likely heard, “Well, when I was your age I had to plow the field and dig ditches etc you should be grateful” and surely they should have been, but is it any wonder they had no guidance and therefore slowly became our generations? The blind leading the blind.

Even though many families of two working parents may not have much leisure time, what do they instill or ask of their own children? Do they waste away in front of the TV/ computer/cell phone? Have we merely made the new rule of “Be lazy and wasteful now because in a few years you are going to have to work to pay off your college debt, and do what we have to do?” So, is it any wonder that when we busy modern people have our leisure time we do nothing with it? We have been taught and conditioned since then to have that time that is not spent ‘working’ to be spent ‘wasting’ or as we modern people call it ‘relaxing’ Or, “I really deserve this rest, I had such a busy week”. Do we really want to use our time  that is not spent at making money to merely sit and stare? Aren’t  those times between work our real LIVING? And if so, should we start to reconsider how we use it? Should we have busy time so that we can also WORK for ourselves?

Though it seems to have started with the Boomers in the 1950s, we can hardly blame them. The entire “TEEN” movement was probably a response to the new middleclass youth not having any direction as to how to use their LEISURE time. Therefore, they spent more time together, separate from the adults, and had to make an entirely new social structure based on ‘hanging out’ and ‘their music’ and ‘rebelling against the adults’ because, really, the new middle class parents didn’t know HOW to tell these youths to spend their time. They had come from generations of people who worked from dawn to dusk and fell to bed exhausted and were glad to have two minutes together to read or sew or go to dances with their family.

Even the very socializing aspect of the two generations were separating more in the late 40’s into the 1950s. While these parents may have gone to a dance WITH their parents, their children, becoming increasingly separate from them, have their own fun time and their own use for their leisure time.

So, what does all of this mean? Is it just an interesting sociological historical discussing? No, I think when we begin to understand where we came from and why it is we do what we do:how we work, how we view teenagers, how we view our own futures and theirs and our leisure time, we can begin to take more control over our own lives.

Now, if you are completely 100% happy using your leisure time the way you do, then wonderful no problem. But, for me, I know when I lived more in the modern world, I had much leisure time but often found myself feeling anxious, or aimless, or hopeless. Sometimes the sheer amount of possibilities were so mind numbing, you’d end up doing nothing more than watching TV or going online. I didn’t know until I started to fill my hours with learning skills, reading more, studying and actually LIVING my life, what I was missing was simply proper use of my Leisure time and my Work time.

As a homemaker it can be trickier as we make our own schedules, but I have found that my ‘work hours’ can indeed be fun. And that what I want to improve on in my ‘work’ I use my leisure time to read and practice those skills and to think and plan to add more such skills to my life. If you are a person who works out of the home, you still have leisure time. Are you happy with how you spend it? If you suddenly took 30 minutes out of your leisure time away from the TV/computer, would you merely sit and stare? Ask yourself, what would you do with that 30 minutes? If you don’t know and you want to know, then that is where you can begin to think about all the things you always think about ‘wanting to do’.

“Oh, when I win the lottery I am going to do this. Oh, when I retire, I am definitely going to do that. If I had more free time I’d probably get started on that.” Well, time is a finite commodity. The lottery, retirement, and the future may come, but why sit about waiting. IF some of the things you say you would do in those circumstances only involve money, say “If I win the lottery I’d get a bigger/nicer house” well, until you win it, why not think about what it is in the desire or dream that would make you happy? Is it the house size, the cleaner nicer rooms? Because, you can, on a more modest scale, begin to make over your own home. And then you will think, “Well, I’d love new drapes so maybe I should try to sew some of my own.” You get the sewing machine and start learning that. Then, “I’d love a painting here, but I can’t find what I’m looking for, maybe if I get a canvas and some paints, well, I can’t draw or paint,” so maybe I will use my computer to download some pretty images and decoupage them. And it goes on and on like that and before you know it, you are LIVING your life. You are following little paths to new adventures and you still have not retired nor won the lottery.

Do we only think that the wealthy or the retired have more fun or more control over their lives? They may have more time in a way we do not, but we still have time and brains and drive. Perhaps when we look at what it is of them we covet, we might find things we could do and learn now to have our own version of that.

Obviously, we still must dream. To imagine or hope for things in the future is part of the drive that makes a life. But, if the dreaming is all there is, if we are happy with our lives merely being an imaginative version of TV or movies, in that we just day dream it up, we may be surprised to find our futures rather different than the dream. Are we simply making excuses of ‘oh, well if I had what she had, or that much money, or didn’t have to work’ instead of saying, this is the money I have the time I have now, lets get to living and how can I get more time and money, if that is what I need. If the answer is spend less, have a budget etc and that sounds too hard, well tough. Having a real life IS work, but it can be enjoyable work, but few things just plop down into peoples laps. Even the very wealthy still have to ‘work at’ things to make their life have meaning and purpose. As much as we would like to think one long vacation of buying things would not a happy life mane.

We need to work towards our dreams and using our leisure time in work might sound odd, but work you enjoy or for a goal you want or to tackle a skill at your discretion is and can be fun. And though something like ‘building a bookcase’ might seem silly or pointless, you have to remember WE assign value to things. IF we think it not important to care about the little things, embroidering a hankie or making a spice cabinet, how will we value bigger things? And how will we value people and skills? NO wonder we care little for local handcrafted items, who cares, it’s not important.  It might be EASIER to go to Target and buy a bookcase, but isn’t it more fulfilling to build one yourself?

I suppose the point of this whole post is that I have found my life after I thought it lived out there somewhere in the future. Through some magic haze or some great passionate moment, suddenly my life would be presented to me: Ta-Dah! And I think many modern people feel this way and much of that belief structure is from our media driven society. Movies and TV shows have to, by their very nature, have such moments. Someone is going along and then suddenly, a montage of events, and they cut off all their hair or they throw down that tool and walk out of their job, or some dramatic moment and their life is there, cue ending music. Yet, this is not how real life works. Entertainment is such a large part of our lives, the TV and the computer and movies are so accessible that sometimes they can become more of a reality than actual reality. Our brain doesn’t intrinsically know what we are taking in visually is real or not, so we form patterns in our lives based on fictional characters in fictional cirmcumstances. And then we often find ourselves, we modern people, doing some drastic  thing or taking some dramatic moment, such as chopping off our hair, or quitting that job, or moving again and then waiting for our life to begin. As if somehow that moment will bring forth that life changing moment. I know, I did it so often. The very start of this project was one of those moments, only this time it worked for me because I began to realize that living in 1955 wasn’t just pretty dresses and people holding doors for me. As I began to study more, and read, and then put into practice skills I found I was not play acting any longer but actually ME, the real me ,starting to lead a life. I found that work, yes work in my leisure time was not only fulfilling but actually fun and the desire for tv and such entertainment ALL the time lessened. And then when I did partake of it, it was much sweeter as it was not all the time and I could also put it into perspective of my actual life. Yes, that was  great show/movie, but that isn’t how life really it, but it was fun or sad or whatever, now back to my life.

I really think that blur of line between reality and entertainment causes many problems in our modern world. We have generations of people raised by TV and they can’t understand why their lives won’t be like that. I think that is why so many younger people can play video games for hours on end, as it is almost a way to plug into what they think life is: it has more reality than reality does. I think, in a way, that is sad for those generations as they are missing out on so much of what they could do themselves. And no wonder grown people in their 30’s wear t-shirts with cartoon characters on it and dress, basically, like a 10 year old boy, we don’t understand the real world. We have been reared and educated through it, we identify with it, it is a sort of security blanket that makes that great unknown future, which we don’t know how to address or how to get there, easier to bear.

And that is it. That’s the secret to middle class happiness it seems. Start living your life. Don’t waste your life in moments of ‘oh, when THIS happens, then I’ll have fun, be rich, be fulfilled, be happy, be dressed nice, have nice clothes and things, be happy” because what if that doesn’t come or if it does come and you do suddenly win the lottery, do you really think after the initial shock you will be happy? If you still have the same set of behaviors and lessons we all learned since the Baby boomers of wasting our leisure time?

We need to make structure and to have things be important to us, or we cease to care for ourselves and then those around us. People can laugh and say “OH, how silly to take the time to set the table with different glasses and ironed linen napkins, salad forks etc. WE don’t care about that anymore” but, what do we, as modern people, care about? Are we, our family unit NOT important enough now to have a nice table with dishes and conversation? Only the wealthy people deserve that? It doesn’t matter, but does sitting and wasting time on tv matter more? We have so released ourselves from the need to care of be held by any structure that we often just find ourselves floating about aimless.

Now, I don’t want negative structures of people knowing their own place to return, or any nonsense about discrimination, but things such as table manners, dressing nicely and for the occasion, courtesy and manners to strangers and family and the Responsibility of the Self. I often am surprised when people are shocked by how children act or how that woman seems so put upon by her husband, but it is all learned behavior based on example. How we live now teaches more than any lessons we can give. IF we have children and they see us busy doing and learning, dressing for dinner, being kind to one another, just being generally good people, caring about the little things because they do give purpose to our days and make others happy, than they will follow suit naturally and so will their children. To think we can waste away in front of the TV, be in debt, eat what we want wherever etc and then suddenly expect our children to not be that way, is ridiculous.

So, again, to my point. I just want any of us who might feel we can do more or are wishing for a ‘different sort’ of life, that you may be surprised how much control you have over such destiny. Waiting for some magic fairy tale or Hollywood moment will only make us waste our leisure time. The more we dissect and ask ourselves what it is that I want out of my life when “I win the lottery, retire, etc “ then we can set about to finding creative solutions to those problems now. Even if the answer is, “Well, I want to get out of debt” Even that is doable without the lottery. First of all, start a budget! Use cash. And here is the biggest secret of all: Don’t spend more than you have. I am not being glib, but the fact that we are, as a nation, okay with the levels of debt we live in is surely a sign that we are not paying attention to our own lives. And if we are not doing that, than I am worried that we are not getting the most out of our lives. I want all of us, any of us to see and realize our potential and get started on LIVING our lives now and  if we win the lottery or get to retirement, then we will be even more prepared as we will know how to use our LEISURE TIME.

I don’t want to find blame for why we are, but to understand why we are and to see that, indeed, we can change. I can honestly say that the very nature and quality of my life has improved immensely because I now care about the little things, set about learning new skills and make realistic goals that I then HOLD MYSELF TO  and make myself get done, even when I don’t want to.

So, you can sit on your bed and wait for supper, as our character was first wont to do, or you can get up and make better use of you Leisure Time, which is really, your Life.

Here is to ACTION!

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