by Cooper Cox
The word “leisure” comes from Old French, meaning “an opportunity to do something.” It is the empty space in between work shifts, the freedom we’ve been afforded by labor, and the time we fill with passive or engaging activities. Beyond these liberties, our labor also affords us leisure machines – the television, the computer, and the phone, for example. As the market for leisure machines expands, our homes turn into museums that display the tools we value most. These leisure machines have autonomy of their own, in some cases being the platforms through which we are introduced to more leisure machines by pesky, looping advertisements and commercials.
Commercials assign values to our ordinary lives – better living with a family with thin bodies and money. Informant 14 shares a moment: “[I saw a] billboard…about women’s health and top-of-the-line care for woman by a certain company…featuring a photo of a pregnant woman touching her unborn child. The head was cut off the woman so the focus was on the pregnancy. Aren’t women more than that?”
Leisure is the space in which social relations can occur. Community theatre, public parks, sporting venues, even the living room – all of these spaces backdrop our shared experiences; experiences with family, friends, or strangers. In other moments, leisure is a time to be alone and to experience by ourselves. In response to the question, “What is your favorite room in your home and why?”, Informant 6 writes, “That is hard to say. My living room where I sit and knit away the hours, or the bedroom where I can relax-read and rest.”
Despite how leisure machines can keep us in our homes, leisure is also an opportunity to leave the community. For the daughter of Informant 1, traveling and competing with a volleyball club helps the student players “experience what some kids could only imagine – leaving their community.”
But how does leisure shape a community? For Informant 5, leisure activity might not have a sustained effect on a community. “Personally I don’t think that sports is going to transform a community long-term, but it can be a major player doing that if you build it on the proper foundations,” they explain.
Even though leisure can be a way to escape the community and leisure activities might not transform a community long-term, there is an undeniable link between the ways in which we spend our free time and the images we create of ourselves and of our community. As Informant 14 shares…
“Last March I was walking my neighborhood. It was one of those pretend warm days, but still chilly…There was a kid down the street playing basketball by himself. I took a photo, wrote a little about what I was thinking about at the time, and shared it. It had thousands of shares and hundreds and hundreds of comments. The photo represented something different to everyone. All that commented related somehow to that boy playing basketball in the street, or to the feeling that it evoked. In some instances it was memories, in others it was about the reputation of a neighborhood, about growing up Muncie, about renewal, maybe about hope and disappointment. It was the base of so many things to so many varied people — yet it was an everyday scene, on an everyday street, in a normal city.”
We can invest our free time by archiving our experiences on the internet: sharing versions of ourselves through social media and posting our habits for all to see. This kind of leisure is entirely passive, unengaged, and provides no real benefit to ourselves down the road. Alternatively, we can invest our free time with the arts, with activity, or with each other. Leisure is so much more than empty space.
Perhaps in the ways that leisure is “an opportunity to do something,” it is also an opportunity to be someone, to be a part of something greater than ourselves. Isn’t that a liberty worth working for?