Working for the Weekend

Ivy League Idler

Friends, this week the principles of idleness to which I adhere so faithfully have been somewhat shaken. Maybe it was the fact that my roommate sent me the following adage: “Only a busy person can truly enjoy leisure.” It wasn’t a passive-aggressive dig. I’m quite sure she has no clue about this column. Maybe it was the “no idling” sign that caught my eye as I was passing by Leverett yesterday. Whatever the cause, the outcome is that I have been rather less idle this week than I should have liked. And, surprisingly, I have been almost as happy doing many things as I have traditionally been doing nothing.

Often my yearning to do nothing stems more from a fear of work than an actual pleasure in idleness. In an effort to conquer this fear, I have tried to disguise my schoolwork as best I can. For Halloween, my thesis dressed up as a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts (and the Prudential Center for a spot of shopping). It was a great costume. It utterly fooled me into spending the afternoon after the museum visit working on my thesis. And I actually had fun. I actually wanted to be in the library. As a devout “idle-ist” I rarely set foot in Lamont because it fairly reeks of productivity. The harsh lighting, still air, and somewhat tense silence stifle all hope of doing no work. But yesterday the fluorescent bulbs seemed inviting, the absence of noise peaceful, the stillness calming.

I had gone to the MFA to see the recently installed ancient coin galleries, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to see the Mario Testino show currently on view. His artwork is the antithesis of ancient Greek coins: loud, garish, and giant. The only thing in common with the subject of my thesis, Greek coins, is a rather high frequency of nude men. But in much the same way that ancient coins were miniature portraits of rulers of the time, Testino’s photographs are giant portraits of modern day kings of culture. “Ah, yes,” I thought as I contemplated Kate Moss pouting in a tutu flanked by bearskin guards, “behold our era’s queen of glam.” “Ah yes,” I thought, as I gazed up at a nine-foot print of Gisele Bundchen stepping out of a limo in a shiny dress, “behold our era’s queen of sexy.”

Testino’s art is the idler’s delight. Walking through the galleries, I felt like one of the tiny characters in “The Borrowers” series, navigating the giant pages of Vogue. The pictures are enormous, glossy, colourful, and instantly recognisable. The subjects of the portraits are uniformly beautiful. The art is eye-candy in every sense of the word. Whether it is really art is another question entirely. Testino is first and foremost a fashion photographer, and the very act of showing his works in an exhibition begs questions about how fashion and art interact and overlap.

The more I can make my work resemble leisure, the more likely I am to do it, and the more enjoyable I find it. This has always been how I approach choosing classes, and it has traditionally worked very well. But there is a fine line between enjoyable academics and frivolity. In these instances of line crossing, the allegedly fun activity that is the purpose of the class becomes a chore in itself, utterly defeating the purpose of taking a gut class in the first place.

I assume not everyone is like me and has to beguile themselves into doing work, bribing themselves with museum visits and shopping trips and lord knows what else. But for me, this kind of bargaining with myself is not only fun, but ultimately fruitful. I did more work this weekend than I have in a while. Remind me to thank my roommate for sending me that quote.

—Columnist Anjali R. Itzkowitz can be reached at aitzkow@fas.harvard.edu.

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