the sands of borrowed time

Awake in the throes of an existential recession (you know, like a depression but not as bad) and this little piece began spinning itself in my mind.

It’s a little less glittery than I’m known for, so proceed if you’d like but know you were warned.


The Sands of Borrowed Time

It’s a strange feeling,
Knowing you’re living
On borrowed time.
To know that if you had been born in a different place,
Or a different era,
Your story would already be completed.
You would be another dusty volume
stuffed in a library shelf.
A small imperfect piece of fiction with an inconclusive ending.
It makes one wonder
What to do
With all that borrowed time.
How to fill the hours and minutes
To make the best use of those extra chapters.
And yet I sit staring at blank pages
Ink dried on my pen tip,
Poised to write
But with nothing to say.

I roam through settings
adrift, floating with no other purpose
Than to observe the scene before me.

I try on new characters.
Feel what they feel and hope what they hope.
I have no answers for myself,
but maybe I have answers enough for them.

I prowl through moments.
Stalking my plot.
Ready to pounce on any purpose,
Pinning it down until it calms and becomes
A cloak I can wear about my shoulders.
Shelter from the harshness of
Borrowed time.

The worst is when I loose patience.
Frantically running down corridors.
Endless hallways lined with boxes
Boxes packed with my life before this borrowed time.
Each box a chapter in a story waiting to be continued.
But I rush past them all.
The contents feel alien and quaint.
I don’t know how they might relate
To the story I’m trying to write.

Instead I search,
frantically flipping through blank pages
Looking for some meaning.

But it remains elusive and buried
In the sands of borrowed time.


hiking with a viking, or life is like a hula hoop

It has been a very crazy summer and there is so much I want to talk about! Where to begin? With Pennsic 42, the most epic two weeks of the year? With my discovery of the meaning of life? With a chance encounter and my new friend?

How about this.  It will all make sense in the end, I promise, but getting there…well it’s always an adventure, right? I’m going to start with the fortune cookie I got on Day 2 of Pennsic Set-Up, when Janeen and I brought dinner back after our final town run.  The fortune cookie said “Talk is cheap, barbers give it away free with haircuts.”  And that cookie really made me sad.

I thought about my Granddad (a barber) and all the great talks and advice he gave to generations of customers over the years.  When he passed away I made sure my email address was included in the obituary because I wanted to hear stories from strangers about what a great person he was.  And man those stories poured in! I am pretty sure if you asked them, they would tell you that it was the talks more than the haircuts (though those were great too) that kept them coming back time after time.   And in today’s technologically stifling “connected” world, the ability to have a decent conversation is a dying art.  Talk isn’t cheap, its priceless!

The next two weeks at Pennsic really reinforced the priceless-ness of real communication.  I’ll be honest it was a little sad this year because many faces in our guild were missing due to severe illness.  We felt their absence.  I had hoped the somber tone would result in more evenings spent together under the communal big top tent, as we all drew strength from our  community.  What a strange community it is. The guild, which was formed long before I ever showed up, is a collection of vendors who wanted to work together to make their part of the marketplace beautiful and engaging.  The vendors became friends, some of whom see each other regularly, and some of whom only see each other for those two weeks each year. And yet despite the gaps in time, or maybe because of the quality of the visits, strong friendships were formed and kept.  I know that I personally consider the girls, daughters of original vendors, some of my closest friends on the planet, any time of year.

But I digress.  I do not want to make it seem that Pennsic 42 was a depressed or deflated Pennsic.  There was much laughter and many happy memories made.  I can’t begin to describe it.  But there were lists.  Sheets and sheets of silly things said and done.  Late night talks held over jars of Apple Pie, and later night adventures had with Celts, Mercenaries, Sicilian Travelers, and other strange and interesting new friends.  It was a refreshing and healing sense of connection and community after the crazy chaos of the previous month on the road (see Moccasisters Unite).  I wish I had pictures to show you, but someone cough*cough**Amber* kept all the good prints.

Oh here’s a good one:

Sunset on Battle Road while the Camelot Guild plays drum head frisbee.
Sunset on Battle Road while the Camelot Guild plays drum head Frisbee.

By the time I got back from Pennsic my Wanderlust was really starting to kick in.  Like Pennsic, I’ve realized that traveling is a bit of an escape for me.  I get to see amazing new things, and have some really wonderful moments with complete strangers.  Right on time, a travel angel came into my life.  I think this was my first American travel angel.  I met this travel angel at the Best Buy in Liverpool, NY.  I had taken the van in to finally get the radio replaced, and when the technician, lets call him Jack, was finished we realized that the van only had one working speaker! At least I have one I joked.  But Jack, after chatting for a bit, offered me the gift of sound.  He had extra speakers that would fit, he said, would I like him to put them in?  Um, YES Please!

So the next day I found my self winding down Route 48 South towards Jack’s house where I spent the afternoon in his drive way handing in ratchets and wrenches and talking about everything from Vikings, to survivalists (Jack is a Prepper, which was an extremely interesting and eye opening discovery), to woodworking and gun-smithing, to travel, and to Zen and the art of Hula Hooping.  That was my favorite I think.  “Do you like the ying yang?” he asked me, referring to the Taijitu symbol hanging on a cord around my neck. “Yeah sure, of course. Balance of opposing forces is always good, right?” When he pressed further I had to really try hard to verbalize the way I felt, and I came up with “I like to dance with the hula hoop so balance is a good thing.”

When I dance with the hoop it is a sharing of energy. Sometimes I stand still and the hoop swirls around me.  Sometimes I move and the hoop stands still, and sometimes we move together.  It is the same with energy: sometimes it moves around me, sometimes it moves through me, and sometimes it moves with me.  With the hoop sometimes I explore how long I can keep the hoop moving around me before I fall or drop it.  With balance I can move many different ways for a long time. But without balance I just fall over and that’s no fun.  So that is why we need opposing energy and balance in our lives. Because it is more fun to dance than to fall down.

The speakers took much longer than Jack anticipated to put in, so we pushed off our hike in the woods until the next day.  His woods were great; good run through the trees like Pocahontas woods.  We found cool mushrooms and talked more about life, the universe, and everything.

A caterpillar on a mushroom! Where's his Hookah? Where's the White Rabbit?
A caterpillar on a mushroom! Where’s his Hookah? Where’s the White Rabbit?

“You really are a traveling fairy.” Jack said at one point. I had to agree with him, at this point I can really say travel has made me who I am, and I like who I am so I’m going to keep with it.  Which made it so interesting the next evening when I finished a book called Time by: Eva Hoffman.  One of the last paragraphs of her book really took all this meaning of life stuff that had unintentionally been percolating all summer and brought it to a frothy boil.  I’ll quote her now:

“We do not all have to be poets, but if we do not want to live meaninglessly, then we need to give ourselves over sometimes to the time of inwardness and contemplation, to empathy and aesthetic wonder.  We need to mull and muse, to reflect on our experience and interpret it, to perform on the level of our life narratives those acts of autopoiesis which apparently happen outside our intention or ken inside the brain’s neurological pathways. We need occasionally to go with the flow.”

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , Douglas Adams says that the answer to “life, the universe, and everything” is 42.  The problem is, no one thought to ask what the question was and so little was solved.  But I’ve realized that for me the meaning of life IS that moment when one laughs and says “Well what is the question then?” The meaning of life is the conversation that ensues. And later, the time spent thinking about the new things learned or realized because of that conversation. And then later,  the moments when you get to share those new realizations with other humans and the cycle continues.  Life is a spiral. It is dancing with a hula hoop. It is shared energy and balance.

At least, that’s the best I’ve  been able to come up with so far.  What about you?

With love and curiosity, intensity and enthusiasm,


carpe diem tabbycat

I recently spent some time driving from Maryland to California- via Memphis, San Marcos, and the Grand Canyon.  And I could prattle on at great length about the endlessness of the drive, the joy at seeing my oldest friend get married, the excitement of visiting with good friends, and the overwhelming sense of awe elicited by the epic wonder of the Canyon.  But instead, I would like to share a new story with you.  This story came to me over the course of several long late night drives west.  I’m not sure why it came to me.  But it did. And I rather like it, so here it is.  I hope you enjoy it! Please tell me if you do!

“Carpe Diem Tabbycat” by Aeri Rose

This was the third day she had to spend with her four siblings in this brown cardboard box.  The box had a dirty green towel in the bottom and a red plastic bowl with water that her sister kept stepping in and knocking over.  The box sat in a small square grassy yard next to a cement sidewalk and if she had been able to see the outside of the box she would have see the words “Kittens 4 Sale! $20, $10, FREE to a good home!” written with a thick black marker.

She was just contemplating whether she would be able to reach the edge of the box and climb out if she stood on top of her sleeping brother’s head, when suddenly she heard a great rumbling roar and a little yellow car stopped in front of the box.  Out hopped a teenage girl with wild blonde curly hair.  “Look at the kittens!” she squealed to her friend, another teenage girl- this one with black hair and glasses.  “They’re free! Omigosh we have to get one!”

“Carolyn, do you really think your mom will let you have one?” asked the dark haired girl very practically. By this time Carolyn was leaning over the brown cardboard box, petting each mewing kitten in turn.  “My 18th birthday is next weekend; call it a birthday present to myself” she said.

“I like this one.” The little kitten felt herself being scooped up in the young girl’s hands and found herself eye to eye with the curly haired girl. She swatted experimentally at one particularly bouncy curl and the girl giggled.  “Look at those booties! She’s so high fashion.” The kitten considered her paws.  They were a molted dark brown, much darker than the rest of her pale tan fur.

“Do you like her? Take her!” shouted a plump lady from the door of the house which the yard was in front of. “My landlord barely tolerates Cinnamon, the mother.  I really need to find homes for her kittens quickly! Would you like one too?” the plump lady directed that last question at the dark haired girl as she walked over.

“Yeah Sarah! Get one!” encouraged Carolyn.  “Oh I don’t know. I’d have to ask my parents.” Sarah said meekly.  “Well, I’m taking this one.” Carolyn said decisively, tucking the kitten into the crook of her arm like a football.

“Wonderful! She’s yours.  I guess I should take these guys in now. It’s getting kind of warm out here.” Said the plump lady.  She picked up the brown cardboard box, now with only four mewling kittens, and went inside.  Carolyn and Sarah got back into the little yellow car, and the kitten was handed to Sarah to hold while Carolyn drove.  Sarah pet the kitten gently.  She was much more delicate than the excited Carolyn had been.

“What will you call her?” Sarah asked. Carolyn thought for a moment.  “Carpe Diem!” she finally declared.  “Seize the day!” the girls giggled.  The kitten had fallen asleep in Sarah’s lap.  “She’ll seize the day a little bit later.”

Carpe Diem loved her new home.  She had a big purple pillow with gold tassels on each corner which she used for her mid morning, afternoon, and early evening naps.  Each morning Carolyn would feed her a different tasty food in a blue porcelain bowl with white flowers painted on the outside. Then Carolyn would leave.  “Seize the day you lazy cat!” she would tell Carpe Diem.  Carpe Diem would yawn and curl up on her pillow to nap.

Every evening Carolyn would come home and sit at her white wicker desk.  Carpe Diem would sit on top of the desk and listen while Carolyn told her about all the wonderful things she had done that day.  Then she would go to bed and Carpe Diem would curl up on the pillow next to her head.

But sometimes, before Carolyn would sit at her desk, she would shout with her parents. One evening, after a particularly long and loud shout Carolyn sat down at her desk in a huff.  “I don’t want to go to college yet!” she complained to Carpe Diem.  “I don’t know what I want to do with the rest of my life! Why do I need to decide now? What on earth will I study? There is so much to do and see in the world first! I don’t want to study hard just to get stuck doing a job that I might hate. I’m being responsible about this! Why don’t they understand that?”

Carpe Diem wasn’t quite sure what Carolyn was talking about.  She was sure it had something to do with the motto after which she had been named.  That was Carolyn’s favorite topic, and activity, after all.  Then, with her signature decisive huff, Carolyn opened her closet door and rummaged around in the back of it.  She came out with her red canvas duffle bag, which she threw on her bed.  It was followed by jeans, a leather jacket, and a few choice t-shirts that Carpe Diem often saw her wearing.  One said “The Clash”, and another said “get lost” with a broken compass in place of the “o”.

Lastly she rolled up a blanket and stuffed it along with a pillow into a pillow case and tied the whole thing to the duffle bag with a long black ribbon.  Then she picked Carpe Diem up off of the desk and held her up at eye level again.  “Carpe Diem, I have to go.” She stated firmly. “There are too many things I want to see in this world to just settle down.  But don’t worry.  I’ll come back for you soon and we can go on adventures together.  Be good while I’m gone.”

And then she left.  And she didn’t come back.  Carpe Diem was confused and a little sad.  For the next few days she heard a lot of shouting.  The parents held the white plastic thing with the long cord that hung on the wall and that she sometimes liked to play with, and said things like “Where are you?” and “Come home this instant!” There was no one to sit with Carpe Diem in the evenings and tell her about their day.  Often the parents forgot about breakfast, or when they did remember, they shut the bedroom door when they left and Carpe Diem was trapped, bored, and alone in Carolyn’s bedroom all day.

One day, a no-breakfast-door-shut day, Carpe Diem was sitting on her nice purple pillow and feeling very hungry and bored when she heard her name in the shouts.  “What about that cat, Carpe Diem?” The Mother yelled, at the white plastic thing with the cord, Carpe Diem assumed.  “That cat you had to keep.  You just left her here! She is out of food.  Do you expect us to buy more? That isn’t being very responsible now is it?” There was a pause. “No. No, Carolyn.  If you want to be an adult, you must deal with adult consequences.  You can come home, and take care of your cat, now, or we will take her to the pound.”  The pound? What is the pound? Carpe Diem wondered.  She hated the vet. She hoped it was not something like that.  There was more shouting, and then silence.

Carpe Diem heard The Mother coming down the hall.  But instead of breakfast, Carpe Diem was very roughly picked up and dumped into a cardboard box.  I remember these.  Not another one of these! Carpe Diem fought to get out, but the box was closed tightly.  She felt a lot of moving, heard the roar of a car, and finally a metallic clunk as the box was set onto a cold metal table.  Then the lid was removed, and Carpe Diem escaped with a bound.  But she was not in Carolyn’s bedroom.  She was not at the vet’s either.

Where was she? The Mother was nowhere in sight.  She had not made it very far with her escape.  An old man with a grey beard and calloused hands had caught her.  “Woah girl! That’s ok.  Shhh.  Welcome to Pet Haven. You’re a pretty thing, aren’t you?  I’m sure we’ll find you a new home very quickly.”  He looked her over quickly and made notes on a white sheet.

“Carpe Diem. Female. 15 months old. Has all shots. Healthy.  Reason for being here? Why are you here, sweetheart? That woman just dropped you off and left in a huff.  We’ll say ‘family moving.’ How’s that? That’s usually a good one for getting adopted.  Lets the new pet owners know it wasn’t the pet’s fault. Not that it ever is really” he continued to mutter to himself.

Then he walked Carpe Diem down a long beige hallway, past a loud room full of barking dogs, and into a smaller room full of crates and cages, each with a small animal inside. The man placed Carpe Diem inside a black metal cage with a lumpy brown blanket and an ugly grey plastic water bowl.  She didn’t want to go in there! She wanted to be back in Carolyn’s room! She wanted her purple pillow with gold tassels and her blue porcelain food bowl!

But into the cage she went.  And there she stayed for days and days.  Sometimes the grey haired man, “call me George” he said, would come and take her out of the cage.  They would sit on a blue metal chair and he would pet her head and talk.

“Carpe Diem. That’s a pretty interesting name for a cat” he said one day. “Do you know where it came from?” No. Thought Carpe Diem with disinterest.  “It is a very old saying.  It was penned by a Roman poet over two thousand years ago in a poem called ‘Odes’. His name was Horatius Flaccus, but his friends called him Horace.  Carpe Diem means ‘seize the day’ in English.”  At that Carpe Diem’s tail twitched.  That was what Carolyn always said to her.  George noticed her agitation.  “Oh, you’ve heard that before have you?” he asked kindly.  “Well, did you know that there was more to it in the poem? The full line is ‘carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero,’ but few people know that, and besides that is much too long a name for a cat.” George laughed to himself.  “The rest of the line means ‘put no trust in the future’.” George thought for a moment.

“Seize the day, put no trust in the future.  What do you think he meant by that? Hmm?” he asked the cat.  You should spend more time on your purple pillow.  She thought.  Because without warning your curly haired girl might leave, and The Mother might take you here; and then you will have only a cage with a lumpy brown blanket, and an old man named George for company. “I think he means we should find things to enjoy every day and make the most of our time because our time on Earth is short.  We should find things that make us happy every day, because the next day everything can change.”

George stood up, and Carpe Diem sighed.  She knew it was time to go back into her black metal crate.  “You think on that, kitty-cat.” He said with a final pat on the head. “I’ll see you tomorrow, I think.” he said with a wink.

The next day came, and Carpe Diem did see George.  He came in the afternoon, and he brought two people with him.  One person was a man with shaggy brown hair and brown eyes that looked a little sad, but there were lines around his eyes that said he liked to smile.  Nice enough Carpe Diem thought.  The man carried the other person, a very small girl with messy brown hair, tired brown eyes, and a limp and dingy yellow blanket.  Her blanket is even more worn than this one thought Carpe Diem.  But the girl clutched the blanket tightly while George and the man looked at all the cats and talked about them.  “Carp Deeum” the man said when they stopped in front of her cage. “Well that’s a funny name for a cat, naming it after a fish.”  The girl picked her head up off of his shoulder.  “No, Daddy.  Not Carp. Carp-e. Carp-e Di-em. Its Latin. It means ‘seize the day’.” The small girl corrected him.

“That’s my little bookworm.” The man said.  To George he said “She’s so smart! She reads all the time, great big books.  She’s going to be an author one day. Isn’t that right, sweetheart?” The little girl smiled a soft smile. “Yeah Daddy, maybe.”

“Carpe Diem would be a great kitty for you then” said George. “She’s a sweet little thing. Likes to sit on your lap and be pet. I bet you could read books to her, or tell her all the stories you make up.”

The little girl smiled again.  “How does that sound Allie? Is this Catfish the one?” asked the man.  Allie smiled again and nodded.  And that was how Carpe Diem found herself in yet another cardboard box, ready to go home with Daddy and Allie. Before closing the lid, George gave her another wink. “Remember to seize the day, little lady.  Enjoy your new home!”

Seize the day thought Carpe Diem on the quiet car ride home. To Carolyn, the more adventures you had and the more you did the better you seized the day.  To George you seized the day by finding and doing things that made you happy.  Carpe Diem wondered how she might seize the day with this new family.

When they got home Allie took Carpe Diem out of the box.  Daddy carried Allie, and Allie carried Carpe Diem inside the front door, down a long hallway, and into Allie’s bedroom.  The room had a bed with a purple blanket and four green pillows, a brown table with several little yellow bottles with white lids, a pile of stuffed animals beneath a window with white curtains, and a small pink rug with white fringe.  The Daddy put Allie and Carpe Diem down on the bed.  On the bed next to them was a big blue fish with yellow fins and a wide open mouth.  Allie giggled. “Do you like your new bed?” she asked Carpe Diem.

Seize the day thought Carpe Diem.  Today is Fish Bed Day. So Carpe Diem seized it.  With a lashing tail, extended claws, and a tremendous leap Carpe Diem seized the fish bed.  Her leap was so strong that both she and the bed tumbled end over end off the bed and onto the floor.  Or rather, she landed on the floor, and the fish bed landed, mouth open, onto her. From inside the cavernous mouth Carpe Diem heard the little girl’s laughter.  It was a light and tinkling laugh and Carpe Diem absolutely loved it.  This is how I will seize my days. I want to make that sweet little girl with the tired brown eyes laugh as much as I can Carpe Diem decided.

She crept out from beneath the fish bed and the Daddy set it right side up in the corner of the room, near the table with the yellow bottles.  That night the little girl did read to Carpe Diem from quite a big book and the when it was time to sleep, Carpe Diem sprawled across the little girl and purred and enjoyed the gentle rise and fall of her chest while they drifted off to sleep.

In the morning the Daddy came in to help Allie get ready, and then they went out.  Carpe Diem sat on the edge of the bed and wondered when they would be back.  A little while later the Daddy returned, but there was no Allie.  He came into the bedroom with fresh sheets and began to remake her bed.  “Thank you Catfish.” He said quietly.  “You know, Allie is a very sick little girl.  But she loves you. You just keep doing what you’re doing.  Ok? Will you be part of our little team?” Carpe Diem flicked her tail.

When Allie came home she smelled like new plastic and strange chemicals that made Carpe Diem’s nose sting.  She was very tired and went straight to bed.  Carpe Diem rested curled up on a pillow near her head.

Carpe Diem continued to find ways to make Allie smile when she was home.  She played with bits of yarn that Allie danced in front of her.  She pawed at the little cloth mice Daddy brought home.  Sometimes she batted at the white fringe of the small carpet on the bedroom floor.

When Allie was gone, Carpe Diem sat on the edge of her bed with her tail wrapped around her brown bootie paws and waited for her to come back.  One day Carpe Diem was in the kitchen looking for something to play with when she heard Daddy and Allie come home.  She bounded down the hallway into Allie’s room and jumped onto the pink rug.  Everyone was quite shocked when the pink rug went sailing across the room with Carpe Diem on it!  She crashed into the pile of stuffed animals beneath the window and both Allie and the Daddy started to laugh.  Carpe Diem had found a new favorite trick!

Sometimes Allie just wanted to hold and pet Carpe Diem, and at night she would purr loudly and let Allie hug her just a little too tightly while she fell asleep.  But Carpe Diem never cried or tried to move until she was sure that Allie was fast asleep.  Then she would curl up on the pillow by Allie’s head, or lay her head on the gently moving chest.

One morning, a going-away-morning, Daddy was helping Allie eat breakfast when Carpe Diem surfed into the room on the carpet. She leapt onto the bed while the carpet was still moving and spilled the milk on Allie’s tray.  “Catfish!” the Daddy yelled. “Allie needs to drink that! She’ll need the energy! She has a big day ahead of her!” But Allie was laughing, and when Carpe Diem meekly tried to lap up the milk from the tray even the Daddy couldn’t help but break a smile.  “I guess you need your energy too.” he said

That day they were gone for a very long time.  The Daddy didn’t come home to change Allie’s sheets, and in fact he didn’t come home at all. Finally, the next morning, Carpe Diem heard the front door open and the tired steps of the Daddy as he walked down the hall.  He came into Allie’s room, but he didn’t carry Allie.  All he carried was her dingy yellow blanket.  Why does he have that? Carpe Diem thought with alarm.  Allie needs that! Where is Allie?

The Daddy sat on the edge of the bed.  Carpe Diem remained on Allie’s pillow. She sat completely still; only the tip of her tail twitched in agitation.  The Daddy sat quietly on the edge of the bed for a long time, holding the dingy yellow blanket in a tight ball. Finally, he sighed.  “It’s just you and me now Catfish.” He put the yellow blanket on the bed, stood up, and walked back down the hallway.  From her spot on the pillow Carpe Diem heard the TV click on in the living room.

Carpe Diem looked at the dingy yellow blanket.  So this is life she thought.  Sometimes there are lessons to learn, and sometimes there are lessons to share.  Sometimes you must do great things, and sometimes you must enjoy the moment.  And sometimes you must just be there for the people you love.

Carpe Diem looked again at the dingy yellow blanket. She looked at the blue glow flickering down the hallway.  She jumped off the bed and padded towards the living room and towards the Daddy watching TV.  She leapt up onto the couch and sat on the man’s lap, and he rubbed her head.  Carpe Diem purred, and the man cried.

an apology for idlers

I recently came across this essay by Robert Louis Stevenson (you most likely recognize him as the author of Treasure Island) titled “An Apology For Idlers,” and it is such a wonderfully insightful essay that I’d like to re-publish it here.  It was first published in the Cornhill Magazine, July 1877.  Works like this shouldn’t be lost, but with so much literature to choose from, often are pushed aside for the more common classics in the scuffle for popularity and longevity in literature.  So without  further ado, a reference all travelers should read: “An Apology For Idlers,” By Robert Louis Stevenson.

[I have denoted some text in bold to illustrate particular favorite passages, but beyond that will not lend bias or opinion toward the essay.  Read it for yourself. Decide what you might learn from it.  And if so inspired…post your own comments to begin a discussion.  After all there is a pleasure in exercising our  faculties for their own sake!]


Boswell: We grow weary when idle.

“Johnson: That is, sir, because others being busy, we want company; but if we were idle, there would be no growing weary; we should all entertain one another.”

Just now, when every one is bound, under pain of a decree in absence convicting them of lese-respectability, to enter on some lucrative profession, and labour therin with something not far short of enthusiasm, a cry from the opposite party who are content when they have enough, and like to look on an enjoy in the meanwhile, savours a little bravado and gasconade. And yet this should not be. Idleness so called, which does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognised in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling class, has as good a right to state its position as industry itself. It is admitted that the presence of people who refuse to enter in the great handicap race for sixpenny pieces, is at once an insult and a disenchantment for those who do. A fine fellow (as we see so many) takes his determination, votes for the sixpences, and in the emphatic Americanism, “goes for” them. And while such an one is ploughing distressfully up the road, it is not hard to understand his resentment, when he perceives cool persons in the meadows by the wayside, lying with a handkerchief over their ears and a glass at their elbow. Alexander is touched in a very delicate place by the disregard of Diogenes. Where was the glory of having taken Rome for these tumultuous barbarians, who poured into the Senate house, and found the Fathers sitting silent and unmoved by their success? It is a sore thing to have laboured along and scaled the arduous hilltops, and when all is done, find humanity indifferent to your achievement. Hence physicists condemn the unphysical; financiers have only a superficial toleration for those who know little of stocks; literary persons despise the unlettered; and people of all pursuits combine to disparage those who have none.

But though this is one difficulty of the subject, it is not the greatest. You could not be put in prison for speaking against industry, but you can be sent to Coventry for speaking like a fool. The greatest difficulty with most subjects is to do them well; therefore, please to remember this is an apology. It is certain that much may be judiciously argued in favour of diligence; only there is something to be said against it, and that is what, on the present occasion, I have to say. To state one argument is not necessarily to be deaf to all others, and that a man has written a book of travels in Montenegro, is no reason why he should never have been to Richmond.

It is surely beyond a doubt that people should be a good deal idle in youth. For though here and there a Lord Macaulay may escape from school honours with all his wits about him, most boys pay so dear for their medals that they never afterwards have a shot in their locker, and begin the world bankrupt. And the same holds true during all the time a lad is educating himself, or suffering others to educate him. It must have been a very foolish old gentleman who addressed Johnson at Oxford in these words: “Young man, ply your book diligently now, and acquire a stock of knowledge; for when years come upon you, you will find that poring upon books will be but an irksome task.” The old gentleman seems to have been unaware that many other things besides reading grow irksome, and not a few become impossible, by the time a man has to use spectacles and cannot walk without a stick. Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life. It seems a pity to sit, like the Lady of Shalott, peering into a mirror, without your back turned on all the bustle and glamour of reality. And if a man reads very hard, as the old anecdote reminds us, he will have little time for thought.

If you look back on your own education, I am sure it will not be full, vivid, instructive hours of truantry that you regret; you would rather cancel some lack-lustre periods between sleep and waking in the class. For my own part, I have attended a good many lectures in my time. I still remember that the spinning of a top is a case of Kinetic Stability. I still remember that Emphyteusis is not a disease, nor Stillicide a crime. But though I would not willingly part with such scraps of science, I do not set the same store by them as by certain other odds and ends that I came by in the open street while I was playing truant. This is not the moment to dilate on that mighty place of education, which was the favourite school of Dickens and of Balzac, and turns out yearly many inglorious masters in the Science of the Aspects of Life. Suffice it to say this: if a lad does not learn in the streets, it is because he has no faculty of learning. Nor is the truant always in the streets, for if he prefers, he may go out by the gardened suburbs into the country. He may pitch on some tuft of lilacs over a burn, and smoke innumerable pipes to the tune of the water on the stones. A bird will sing in the thicket. And there he may fall into a vein of kindly thought, and see things in a new perspective. Why, if this be not education, what is? We may conceive Mr. Worldly Wiseman accosting such an one, and the conversation that should thereupon ensue:–

“How now, young fellow, what dost thou here?”

“Truly, sir, I take mine ease.”

“Is not this the hour of the class? And should’st thou not be plying thy Book with diligence, to the end thou mayest obtain knowledge?”

“Nay, but this also I follow after Learning, by your leave.”

“Learning, quotha! After what fashion, I pray thee? Is it mathematics?”

“No, to be sure.”

“Is it metaphysics?”

“Nor that.”

“Is it some language?”

“Nay, it is no language.”

“Is it a trade?”

“Nor a trade neither.”

“Why, then, what is’t?”

“Indeed, sir, as a time may soon come for me to go upon Pilgrimage, I am desirous to note what is commonly done by persons in my case, and where are the ugliest Sloughs and Thickets on the Road; as also, what manner of Staff is of the best service. Moreover, I lie here, by this water, to learn by root-of-heart a lesson which my master teaches me to call Peace, or Contentment.”

Hereupon Mr. Worldly Wiseman was much commoved with passion, and shaking his cane with a very threatful countenanced, broke forth upon this wise: “Learning, quotha!” said he; “I would have all such rogues scourged by the Hangman!”

And so he would go his way, ruffling out his cravat with a crackle of starch, like a turkey when it spreads its feathers.

Now this, of Mr. Wiseman’s, is the common opinion. A fact is not called a fact, but a piece of gossip, if it does not fall into one of your scholastic categories. An inquiry must be in some acknowledged direction, with a name to go by; or else you are not inquiring at all, only lounging; and the workhouse is too good for you. It is supposed that all knowledge is at the bottom of a well, or the far end of a telescope. Sainte-Beuve, as he grew older, came to regard all experience as a single great book, in which to study for a few years ere we go hence; and it seemed all one to him whether you should read in Chapter xx., which is the differential calculus, or in Chapter xxxix., which is hearing the band play in the gardens. As a matter of fact, an intelligent person, looking out of his eyes and hearkening in his ears, with a smile on his face all the time, will get more true education than many another in a life of heroic vigils. There is certainly some chill and arid knowledge to be found upon the summits of formal and laborious science; but it is all around about you, and for the trouble of looking, that you will acquire the warm and palpitating facts of life. While others are filling their memory with a lumber of words, one-half of which they will forget before the week be out, your truant may learn some really useful art: to play the fiddle, to know a good cigar, or to speak with ease and opportunity to all varieties of men. Many who have “plied their book diligently,” and know all about some one branch or another of accepted lore, come out of the study with an ancient and owl-like demeanour, and prove dry, stockish, and dyspeptic in all the better and brighter parts of life. Many make a large fortune, who remain underbred and pathetically stupid to the last. And meantime there goes the idler, who began life along with them–by your leave, a different picture. He has had time to take care of his health and his spirits; he has been a great deal in the open air, which is the most salutary of all things for both body and mind; and if he has never read the great Book in very recondite places, he has dipped into it and skimmed it over to excellent purpose. Might not the student afford some Hebrew roots, and the business man some of his half-crowns, for a share of the idler’s knowledge of life at large, and Art of Living? Nay, and the idler has another and more important quality than these. I mean his wisdom. He who has much looked on at the childish satisfaction of other people in their hobbies, will regard his own with only a very ironical indulgence. He will not be heard among the dogmatists. He will have a great and cool allowance for all sorts of people and opinions. If he finds no out-of-the-way truths, he will identify himself with no very burning falsehood. His way takes him along a by-road, not much frequented, but very even and pleasant, which is called Commonplace Lane, and leads to the Belvedere of Commonsense. Thence he shall command an agreeable, if not very noble prospect; and while others behold the East and West, the Devil and the Sunrise, he will be contentedly aware of a sort of morning hour upon all sublunary things, with an army of shadows running speedily and in many different directions into the great daylight of Eternity. The shadows and the generations, the shrill doctors and the plangent wars, go by into ultimate silence and emptiness; but underneath all this, a man may see, out of the Belvedere windows, much green and peaceful landscape; many firelit parlours; good people laughing, drinking, and making love as they did before the Flood or the French Revolution; and the old shepherd telling his tale under the hawthorn.

Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity. There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. Bring these fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you will see how they pine for their desk or their study. They have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk: they cannot be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-mill. When they do not require to go to the office, when they are not hungry and have no mind to drink, the whole breathing world is a blank to them. If they have to wait an hour or so for a train, they fall into a stupid trance with their eyes open. To see them, you would suppose there was nothing to look at and no one to speak with; you would imagine they were paralysed or alienated; and yet very possibly they are hard workers in their own way, and have good eyesight for a flaw in a deed or a turn of the market. They have been to school and college, but all the time they had their eye on the medal; they have gone about in the world and mixed with clever people, but all the time they were thinking of their own affairs. As if a man’s soul were not too small to begin with, they have dwarfed and narrowed theirs by a life of all work and no play; until here they are at forty, with a listless attention, a mind vacant of all material of amusement, and not one thought to rub against another, while they wait for the train. Before he was breeched, he might have clambered on the boxes; when he was twenty, he would have stared at the girls; but now the pipe is smoked out, the snuffbox empty, and my gentleman sits bolt upright upon a bench, with lamentable eyes. This does not appeal to me as being Success in Life.

But it is not only the person himself who suffers from his busy habits, but his wife and children, his friends and relations, and down to the very people he sits with in a railway carriage or an omnibus. Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things. And it is not by any means certain that a man’s business is the most important thing he has to do. To an impartial estimate it will seem clear that many of the wisest, most virtuous, and most beneficent parts that are to be played upon the Theatre of Life are filled by gratuitous performers, and pass, among the world at large, as phases of idleness. For in that Theatre, not only the walking gentlemen, singing chambermaids, and diligent fiddlers in the orchestra, but those who look on and clap their hands from the benches, do really play a part and fulfil important offices towards the general result. You are no doubt very dependent on the care of your lawyer and stockbroker, of the guards and signalmen who convey you rapidly from place to place, and the policemen who walk the streets for your protection; but is there not a thought of gratitude in your heart for certain benefactors who set you smiling when they fall in your way, or season your dinner with good company? Colonel Newcome helped to lose his friend’s money; Fred Bayham had an ugly trick of borrowing shirts; and yet they were better people to fall among than Mr. Barnes. And though Falstaff was neither sober nor very honest, I think I could name one or two long-faced Barabbases whom the world could better have done without. Hazlitt mentions that he was more sensible of obligation to Northcote, who had never done him anything he could call a service, than to his whole circle of ostentatious friends; for he thought a good companion emphatically the greatest benefactor.

I know there are people in the world who cannot feel grateful unless the favour has been done them at the cost of pain and difficulty. But this is a churlish disposition. A man may send you six sheets of letter-paper covered with the most entertaining gossip, or you may pass half an hour pleasantly, perhaps profitably, over an article of his; do you think the service would be greater, if he had made the manuscript in his heart’s blood, like a compact with the devil? Do you really fancy you should be more beholden to your correspondent, if he had been damning you all the while for your importunity? Pleasures are more beneficial than duties because, like the quality of mercy, they are not strained, and they are twice blest. There must always be two to a kiss, and there may be a score in a jest; but wherever there is an element of sacrifice, the favour is conferred with pain, and, among generous people, received with confusion.

There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy, we sow anonymous benefits upon the world, which remain unknown even to ourselves, or when they are disclosed, surprise nobody so much as the benefactor. The other day, a ragged, barefoot boy ran down the street after a marble, with so jolly an air that he set every one he passed into a good humour; one of these persons, who had been delivered from more than usually black thoughts, stopped the little fellow and gave him some money with this remark: “You see what sometimes comes of looking pleased.” If he had looked pleased before, he had now to look both pleased and mystified. For my part, I justify this encouragement of smiling rather than tearful children; I do not wish to pay for tears anywhere but upon the stage; but I am prepared to deal largely in the opposite commodity. A happy man or woman is a better thing to find than a five-pound note. He or she is a radiating focus of goodwill; and their entrance into a room is as though another candle had been lighted. We need not care whether they could prove the forty-seventh proposition; they do a better thing than that, they practically demonstrate the great Theorem of the Liveableness of Life. Consequently, if a person cannot be happy without remaining idle, idle he should remain. It is a revolutionary precept; but thanks to hunger and the workhouse, one not easily to be abused; and within practical limits, it is one of the most incontestable truths in the whole Body of Morality. Look at one of your industrious fellows for a moment, I beseech you. He sows hurry and reaps indigestion; he puts a vast deal of activity out to interest, and receives a large measure of nervous derangement in return. Either he absents himself entirely from all fellowship, and he lives a recluse in a garret, with carpet slippers and a leaden inkpot; or he comes among people swiftly and bitterly, in a contraction of his whole nervous system, to discharge some temper before he returns to work. I do not care how much or how well he works, this fellow is an evil feature in other people’s lives. They would be happier if he were dead. They could easier do without his services in the Circumlocution Office, than they can tolerate his fractious spirits. He poisons life at the well-head. It is better to be beggared out of hand by a scapegrace nephew, than daily hag-ridden by a peevish uncle.

And what, in God’s name, is all this pother about? For what cause do they embitter their own and other people’s lives? That a man should publish three or thirty articles a year, that he should finish or not finish his great allegorical picture, are questions of little interest to the world. The ranks of life are full; and although a thousand fall, there are always some to go into the breach. When they told Joan of Arc she should be at home minding women’s work, she answered there were plenty to spin and wash. And so, even with your own rare gifts! When nature is “so careless of the single life,” why should we coddle ourselves into the fancy that our own is of exceptional importance? Suppose Shakespeare had been knocked on the head some dark night in Sir Thomas Lucy’s preserves, the world would have wagged on better or worse, the pitcher gone to the well, the scythe to the corn, and the student to his book; and no one been any the wiser of the loss.

There are not many works extant, if you look the alternative all over, which are worth the price of a pound of tobacco to a man of limited means. This is a sobering reflection for the proudest of our earthly vanities. Even a tobacconist may, upon consideration, find no great cause for personal vain-glory in the phrase; for although tobacco is an admirable sedative, the qualities necessary for retailing it are neither rare nor precious in themselves. Alas and alas! You may take it how you will, but the services of no single individual are indispensable. Atlas was just a gentleman with a protracted nightmare! And yet you see merchants who go and labour themselves into a great fortune and thence into the bankruptcy court; scribblers who keep scribbling at little articles until their temper is a cross to all who come about them, as though Pharaoh should set the Israelites to make a pin instead of a pyramid: and fine young men who work themselves into a decline, and are driven off in a hearse with white plumes upon it. Would you not suppose these persons had been whispered, by the Master of the Ceremonies, the promise of some momentous destiny? And that this luke-warm bullet on which they play their farces was the bull’s-eye and centrepoint of all the universe? And yet it is not so. The ends for which they give away their priceless youth, for all they know, may be chimerical or hurtful; the glory and riches they expect may never come, or may find them indifferent; and they and the world they inhabit are so inconsiderable that the mind freezes at the thought.