8 (Second Take) Writing Through the Gloom: On Idleness

Everyone plays the game of what they’d do with their life if they won the lottery. The current $425 million Powerball jackpot will probably lead to more of this idle speculation this week — hyped by countless, pointless hours of TV coverage of people waiting in long lines and declaring their fool proof methods for predicting the flight of ping pong balls.

But, like I said, I’m not immune to this and if I won the lottery, I would like to carry on a life much like Montaigne did once he retired from public life. I’d like to spend my many spare hours up in a parapet writing about whatever caught my attention. But as Montaigne warns me in this essay, be careful of what you wish:

When the soul is without a definite aim, she gets lost; for, as they say, if you are everywhere, you are nowhere.

Of course, I pretty much feel that way now, even without the millions of dollars or the French estate, which explains my need to keep revisiting and writing about Montaigne’s lifelong project. Montaigne here explains why he took up the project:

It seemed to me that the greatest favor I could do for my mind was to leave it in total idleness, caring for itself, concerned only with itself, calmly thinking of itself. I hoped it could do that more easily from then on, since with the passage of time it had grown mature and put on weight.

But I find, as Lucan wrote, ‘idleness always produces fickle changes of mind’ and that on the contrary it bolted off like a runaway horse, taking far more trouble over itself than it ever did over anyone else; it gives birth to so many chimeras and fantastic monstrosities, one after another, without order or fitness, that, so as to contemplate at my ease their oddness and their strangeness, I began to keep a record of them, hoping in time to make my mind ashamed of itself.

That description of Montaigne’s life work is, obviously, all too modest. But it probably describes my project quite well. I have no idea why I’m writing it or who if anyone is reading, but I continue, if only to remind myself that I can tether my head to something and keep it from idly wandering twitter in search of snarky comments about politics.

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