I loaf and invite my soul, I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
--Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"
Five years ago, I blew a chance to loaf creatively.
I had been hired as the publisher of Creative Loafing, the Atlanta-based alt-weekly, and then quit after just nine days. (Last week, Creative Loafing, aka "The Loaf," lost its ninth publisher in the past six years: My nine-day tenure was infinitely longer than that of a tenth publisher, who loafed preemptively when he quit before his first day.)
During my post-Loaf period, the days came and went without shape or purpose. But I've learned my lesson: Enforced loafing -- the need to kill time due to circumstances beyond your control (as opposed to the mandatory construction or consumption of shaped masses of bread) -- calls for proactive creativity.
Now fate has handed me another chance: Recovery from imminent rotator cuff surgery, which requires a months-long relationship with a space-age sling designed to make sure my right arm doesn't move.
I know what you're thinking -- it's meditation time! But you can kill only so many hours contemplating the well-worn Zen Koan, "What is the sound of one cuff rotating?" Since I don't have the attention span for Finnegan's Wake or the multi-hour masterworks of early Bulgarian cinema, I've developed this 10-point plan for optimal loafing, which I share for those in similar straits:
1. Embrace the absurdity. First, watch this treatise on loafing, several times. Then pay close attention to the antics of such brothers as the Marxes, Zuckers and Farrellys. (Some may prefer the Three Stooges, who even slept in the same bed.)
2. Eat things you love, and chew often. I'm going to make the day go faster by emulating my friend Steve, who measures his eating temporally -- "I'm going to eat for an hour" rather than "in an hour." My acupuncturist rarely speaks, but when he does it's to emphasize that chewing each bite of your food 40 times is the secret to overall good health. What better chance to test that hypothesis?
3. Feel your inner slacker. I wasted many youthful hours admiring one Forsythe Pendleton Jones, aka Jughead. Juggie, the Archie Comics character with the weird crown-hat and a nose as long and thin as a stickball bat, possessed many secrets about the art of loafing, which he much preferred to girls or sports.
4. Study "Social Loafing." This branch of scholarly activity, which, oddly, eluded me until recently, explores why people are worse at achieving goals in group settings than working by themselves. And to think we were taught that teamwork was a good thing.
5. Listen to masterful schlock pop. Songwriter Jim Steinman's operatic epics -- whether sung by that other icon of Loaf, Meat ("I Would Do Anything for Love," "Two out of Three Ain't Bad") or Bonnie Tyler ("Total Eclipse of the Heart") -- will have you so immersed in the suffering of their characters, your own pain will seem like Nirvana.
6. Watch Public Speaking. This Martin Scorsese film is a valentine to the deadpan humor and "social studies" of Fran Lebowitz, a great wit in the tradition of Dorothy Parker. Lebowitz describes herself as the world's laziest person, and discloses some of her world-class loafing techniques. Please don't take up smoking, but she does make a point when she notes that however bored you are, you're less bored when you're smoking because, well, at least you're smoking.
7. Emulate your pets. Animals, and in particular house pets, are the supreme masters of the loafer cosmos. You adore your pet, but face it: most of the time it loafs. (Cattle loaf so prodigiously their homes are called "loafing sheds.") If you don't have a live animal, YouTube has abundant footage of beasts relaxing inventively. (N.B.: Insects, those hyper-industrious anti-loafers, should be observed only as an object lesson in how not to loaf.)
8. Wear loafers. If restricted to bed, keep them in view. These magical, slipper-like footwear items suggest luxurious leisure. And they're easy to put on and take off for the bedridden who must get up multiple times a day for food and bathroom breaks.
9. Cast yourself as "the comeback kid" in your own private baseball fantasy league, complete with made-up rosters, box scores and World Series. When, against all odds, you strike out that last batter to win the championship, it won't matter that you need rotator cuff surgery in the off-season.
10. Finally, the most creative way to loaf: Watch your own mind. This is sometimes called mindfulness meditation, but you don't have to get all Buddhist about it. Just notice the incredible, moment-to-moment shifts in your thoughts, from meaningless drivel to sublime insight to pathetic self-pity. Your boredom may vanish as you realize that your thoughts arise unbidden. Since there's no one in charge, there's no one to be getting bored.
Follow Michael Sigman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/majorsongs