Leisure is something of a dirty word for Americans. No question, the hard-charging American mentality has served us very well. That case was ably laid out in this Cadillac commercial, which antagonized all the right people when it aired. In fairness, we don’t just work hard. We play hard too (my wife treats our vacation planning like a part-time job), but even so we look askance at anyone who isn’t nose to the grindstone, 24/7, up and at ‘em. Yet there’s an important distinction to be made between a leisurely person and a sluggard. Leisure, my friends, is not the same thing as lazy.
Man didn’t always enjoy leisure. Once upon a time, if a man stopped to take a leisurely stroll or pick some flowers, he was tiger food. Until mankind developed technology, skills, and social systems that allowed him to spend less than every waking moment hunting for food and trying not to be killed, he couldn’t devote much of his brain to silly things that don’t necessarily perpetuate the species: art; music; writing; science; religious devotion; whittling.
That’s the important thing to understand about leisure; it’s not simple idleness. It’s doing something for it’s own sake, rather than for some utilitarian end. A man of leisure may not be working for measurable gains, but he is still improving himself. Even so humble an activity as practicing a whistle can enliven a man’s life and bring a small measure of enjoyment to those around him.
Another key distinction is between active and passive enjoyment. Going to the movies, for example, is typically a passive activity. We allow the movie to act upon our minds and we lose ourselves in the artifice of the film world. A movie happens to us, or for us. Active enjoyment of a movie would be something more like what a critic or film student does – analyze the skill of the filmmakers and actors, taking note of their influences and personal techniques. You are able to converse intelligently about the film, not just recount the plot. In one scenario, you learn something. In the other, you watch something. Active engagement, not simple vegetating, is a crucial component of leisure.
The most influential work on the subject is probably Josef Pieper’s Leisure, the Basis of Culture. I say “probably” because while I refer it to you, I must confess I haven’t found the time to give it more than a cursory glance myself. Demands of the job, you know, and there’s always something to fix around the house. Neither have I devoted myself to a critical reading of Bertrand Russell’s “In Praise of Idleness” – though I fully intend to get around to it, at some point. I suggest you do likewise, whenever you have a moment.
Bourbon Mint Tea
In keeping with our theme, this cocktail has a prep time of more than five hours – time aplenty to get into that book you’ve been putting off, or practice your marksmanship, or any damn thing. The recipe is fairly simple, but no less delicious for that. It comes to me by way of a friend who has never failed to provide me with truly excellent recipes. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 1/2 tsp of sugar.
- Small handful of fresh mint leaves
- 2 oz small batch bourbon (Knob Creek is recommended)
- 4 oz of sun tea.
- Orange wedge and twist
The first step, and the most crucial for purposes of our exercise, is to start a batch of sun tea. If you’re not familiar, sun tea is a rather straightforward name for tea that is left to steep in the sunlight. You can use teabags or loose-leaf tea, whichever is handy. It tastes just fine, don’t you worry. It does take a good long time, though.
When preparing the tea, add the fresh mint leaves. Give them a twist to express the oil, and leave them in there for the duration of the steeping. Now you have some time to go practice piano or learn how to determine the temperature based on chirps per minute from a cricket.
When the tea has finished brewing, remove the leafy detritus. You may have to strain out the remnants. Refrigerate until the tea is cold. Once that is achieved, you are finally ready to make your drink – hopefully you’ve made some good progress on your novel in the meantime.
To begin, add sugar to a tall mojito or collins glass. Toss in a few mint leaves, and a spritz of fresh orange juice. Muddle together.
Add the bourbon. You may add more or less than the two ounces, depending on just how leisurely you want to be on this particular afternoon. Knob Creek is recommended, as its sweeter, fuller taste is a better complement to the mint and tea.
Give it a quick stir, then add ice. Top it off with sun tea, rim the lip of the glass with orange, and then garnish with the orange wedge and a sprig of mint.
Now that you have drink in hand, take a step back and return to actively doing nothing of importance – whether that’s tending the garden, performing a science experiment, or birdwatching. The tea is sweet, flavorful, refreshing, and just strong enough to discourage the operation of heavy machinery. In other words, perfectly suited to taking your leisure.