This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, August 21, 1991

August 21, 1991 - The decline of idleness

Occasionally science does something it can be proud of, breaking new ground and bringing a little piece of mind to the rest of us.

I'm speaking of the new branch of biology known as "time-budget analysis." According to a report in the Denver Post (August 9, 1991), the patient practitioners of this exciting new discipline have discovered that most animals (even those busy little bees and beavers) spend over 50% of their time just lying around.

How do we know this? Because animal time-budget analysts have spent hours lying around watching them. And they got paid to do it.

Even the Anna hummingbird spends 82% of its time resting. The lion is a classic lounger: 75% of his time is devoted to the demanding work of exuding a royal air.

One of the most compelling arguments for evolution I've seen lately is that the gorilla only rests 51% of the time; the chimpanzee, a mere 23 percent. This behavior is suspiciously people-like.

According to the Post, relative to other animals "human beings spend anywhere from two to four times as many hours working, particularly if family, household and social duties are taken into account."

I've been thinking long and hard about this for three or four minutes now, and I've reached a startling conclusion: RESTING IS OUR NATURAL STATE. Yes. Based on all the available evidence, work is utterly UNnatural (unless you're a rock pipit or female anolis lizard, which I would be willing to bet you are not).

So are we going to take this slur on our species standing up? The mighty walrus can put in a full day's work and still have two thirds of his day to bask his tusks in the sun. Okay, you're thinking, we only "work" about 8 hours a day -- but tell me that what YOU do for the other 16 could be described as "resting." People are smarter than walruses, right? So how come we have to be so busy all the time?

Please note that time-budget analysts stress that "animal inactivity ... serves a broad variety of purposes." That's EXACTLY what I tell my wife when I'm supposed to be changing the kitty litter, but I'm sprawled on the couch with a comic book instead. "Sure," I tell her, "it looks like I'm just flicking a page every now and then, but in reality, I am serving a broad variety of purposes, and as soon as the time-budget analysts figure out what they are, I'd be happy to share them with you."

What's wrong with us? We race pellmell from one life milestone to another, like the jump rope chant of children: "First grade, second grade, third grade ... sophomore, junior, senior, graduate school, medical school, work, work, parent, grandparent, dead, dead." What's the hurry?

Do we really need more money, a bigger house, a newer car, or bigger muscles?

Years ago, I wrote what is still one of my favorite lines in any short story: "He had the strong, deeply tanned hands of a man who had done a lot of heavy reading outdoors." What this country needs is a new idea of what's attractive. Or at least some leisure time to think about it.

You may not have noticed, but summer is almost over. Probably some of you have been doing useful things like painting your house, or changing your oil, or putting in extra hours at the office, or running marathons. What's the point?

Slow down! Now! Get up right this minute, go out in the back yard, or a park, and lie down!

If you feel the need to pretend that you're doing something, I guess you could take a book or magazine with you. In fact, you might try Witold Rybczynski's new book "Waiting for the Weekend," which should be in your library -- a major leisure center -- soon. Or you could scan the excerpts from the book in the current issue of Atlantic Monthly. Rybczynski has much to say about the decline of idleness in America, and he says it very well.

Maybe what we all need most is to let loose our animal selves for awhile, to set a new standard for lack of achievement.

It's only natural.

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