How to really take time off this 4th of July

The best way to mark the beginning of time off is to listen to Todd Rundgren’s “Bang The Drum All Day” at high volume. This is most effective played over local terrestrial radio and introduced by a DJ named “Scooter” or “The Bearman,” while you and Carol from accounts payable play air drums.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that doesn’t understand the value of tradition. Still, even when heard through “ear buds,” that defiant opening line (“I don’t want to work”) is an unmistakeable sign that freedom is nigh.

You don’t need philosophical justification to sympathize with Todd Rundgren, but if you want some, you can find it in Josef Pieper’s “Leisure: The Basis of Culture.” For Pieper, “leisure” is not “a Sunday afternoon idyll, but the preserve of freedom, of education and culture, and of that undiminished humanity which views the world as a whole.” Our problem today is that we’ve replaced our sense of the divine with an obsession with productivity:

The vacancy left by absence of worship is filled by mere killing of time and by boredom, which is directly related to inability to enjoy leisure; for one can only be bored if the spiritual power to be leisurely has been lost.

We’re certainly more bored than ever. What could be more anticlimactic than finally closing the laptop after a long day of toil only to pick up your phone? We’re better off reaching for a pair of drumsticks or even nothing at all.

Do we even know how to relax any more? “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoonist Bill Watterson thought not. “We’re not really taught how to recreate constructively,” he said in a 1990 commencement address at Kenyon College.

We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery — it recharges by running.

Watterston learned this on the job: Nothing like having to come up with new ideas every day to make you avoid liquefying your brain. Instead, Watterson found a different way to wind down. “I’ve found that the only way I can keep writing every day, year after year, is to let my mind wander into new territories. To do that, I’ve had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness.”

That playfulness is evident in Watterson’s approach to his art. “Calvin and Hobbes” remains one of the most beloved and acclaimed comic strips in the history of the medium almost 30 years after its final installment. And yet to this day, you can’t buy a Hobbes plush toy or a Calvin bobblehead or stream a Calvin and Hobbes animated series on your device or smart TV.

Judging by the net worth of less commercially squeamish artists like Charles Schulz or Jim Davis, it’s safe to say that “Calvin and Hobbes” creator Bill Watterson has left millions of dollars on the table. So too with his decision to retire the strip only ten years in, at the peak of its popularity.

Maybe this explains why “Calvin and Hobbes” consistently achieved an unsentimental, honest, and deeply funny depiction of childhood. To monetize something you first need to assess its worth, which in turn involves seeing it through the eyes of its potential buyers.

Children can certainly be selfish, but this kind of self-consciousness is completely alien to them. Watterson likely knew that the delicate partnership between a mischievous, philosophical 6-year-old and his wise and loyal pet tiger would never survive it. Like many showbiz duos before them, success would only tear them apart.

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