Essay: Epiphany About Time Spent In Leisure

Taiso

Outside of Causality
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Opening Statement: the irony of my rather long winded post about economy of time and the value one derives from their entertainment pursuits isn’t lost on me. Permit me my deliberations, if you please. This will also be in a few parts. Thank you for your time.

A friend and I were recently discussing fantasy novels and in the course of our dialogue, I came to a realization about my tastes that should have been self evident but for whatever reason never occurred to me.

She asked me what I thought of The Wheel of Time and I told her that I didn’t really get past the first book because the whole thing just felt like a boring slog to me. Specifically, the ‘travelling’ aspect of the book where the characters are navigating a treacherous world while moving ever closer to the destination. For me, it’s a very hard sell because in order for a ‘walking simulator’ to really grab me, it has to maintain that engagement throughout the entirety of its length without losing me at any particular point.

This isn’t because the books are bad, necessarily, but more because the destination feels so far away and I have a hard time excusing or moving past characters, plot points or developments that irk me. Imagine you’re on a road trip with someone you can’t stand and they just won’t shut up. You could, in whatever method you desire, attempt to get them to alter their behavior in some way. You could yell at them or politely ask them to stop or even try to steer the discourse in another direction. But with a long read, you really can’t do that. You’re stuck with the asshole for as long as you’re reading, a silent participant forced to endure the frustration for as long as you deign to consume it.

The long form narrative can be pulled off and, obviously has been. Many times. It’s no secret that I like A Song of Ice and Fire very much. It’s not really a journey of discovery about the world and the plot as it is a series of intense character studies that moves back and forth between them and through their actions and reactions, the environment is built up around them. What you learn comes from the characters experiencing their own stories and interacting with others. It’s a journey to some kind of literary destination but it’s also a journey of self-discovery. And the fact that the characters are almost always imperiled helps maintain the tension-because anyone could die at any point for no reason other than the cruelty of the circumstances dictating their demise, a lot of the reading experience is very gripping.

The setting Martin has crafted feels like a real place with consequences the villains are all too willing to exploit. And we’re talking about a setting where witches give birth to shadow assassins that immediately go off to ‘do the thing’ after crawling out of the womb.

This was how I felt about the comic for The Walking Dead up through issue 75, and why the characters became less interesting once they reached Alexandria and started living in houses. It makes sense that they would want to do that but to me, that’s the end of the story. They ‘made it’. Everything else felt like an epilogue I didn’t need to experience. I couldn’t tell you what happens after ‘The Whisper War’ in TWD’s comic. I kept buying it but I stopped reading it. I did read the final issue with Carl as an adult, however, and I think I know why.

Even though Carl was living a safer and vastly more informed life, separated from the reborn society his father Rick had established with the help of the supporting cast, it was a single issue about the world the characters had made for themselves in all its newfound comfort and the unseen dangers that come with too much safety. The Roman senator Scipio Corculum warned against destroying Carthage because he felt that eliminating all of Rome’s enemies would blunt the stability that comes with a modicum of insecurity, which would lead to opulence, gluttony and a general lack of immediacy. And he was right. Even if Carthage was no longer a threat, it could serve as a reminder that there are always enemies in the world and an ever-vigilant Rome is a strong Rome.

This single issue of The Walking Dead felt like the perfect capstone to a series that had gone on far too long. Were some of those stories interesting? Sure. I suppose. But were they necessary to bring the wonderful denouement of that final issue? Absolutely not. Other than Rick being assassinated, there is nothing in those last 75 issues (or so) that is needed. I’d argue that it bloated the story and, dulled its overall potency as a literary work of sequential graphic art. Thank goodness Kirkman had the good sense to write a banger of a finale.

Getting back to the conversation about epic fantasy, I became aware of two things about my tastes that I’d never realized before:
  • I prefer shorter stories
  • I like the idea of epic fantasy more than I like consuming the works produced for the genre
I’m speaking about literary works, necessarily, and not interactive media or even just visual media such as cinema and television.

I was thinking about the stuff I like and came to realize that I am predominantly a fan of pulp and pulp style fiction. Shorter stories where the violence is sudden and visceral, the ideas the author is trying to convey come to the forefront quickly and the characters feel like they’re moving at a brisk pace through the plot and their circumstances. There is a sort of kinetic energy to the pulps that is sorely lacking in the often languid pacing of Lord of the Rings (although I DO love LotR’s plot, characters, story and ideas.) It’s not so much about ‘getting it over with’ because that would mean I’m not interested in what I’m reading. It’s more about feeling a burst of emotions in a shorter span of time and coming away with a bigger impression in the moment. Not every plot twist is going to add to the gestalt of a great work but if you spend a few hours reading a short story only to be disappointed by its outcome or delivery, you haven’t invested a substantial portion of your life into something and then been left wanting your time back. And when the outcomes are great, you feel the rush much more immediately.

This is an odd realization to come to, given that I am not a fan of instant gratification. I like things that simmer a little before they truly get cooking. But I’m also a fast eater because I’m eager to get on to the next thing. And a meal’s preparation can get you eager to devour it if it smells good. You can tell something good is being made and that makes you want it all the more.

My friend Ray put it best: he never finished the original Final Fantasy VII because after the first disc, he was bored. His friends told him ‘well you have to keep playing and then it gets good!’ His response:

“Video games were good right from the start. Can I just have video games that don’t waste my time getting good? That would be nice.’

There is so much media to consume out there in the world: to spend years of your life reading 14 books of an epic fantasy had better be worth it. And for me, it’s almost never worth it. The ROI is almost always bad.

But give me a Conan or Tarzan story where I can just spend an afternoon consuming it in its entirety and it serves perfectly as the distraction it’s meant to be. Just a ‘fun yarn’, as my favorite author Robert E. Howard would say.

As we move along in life, we find ourselves with more responsibilities and less time to ourselves, and it doesn’t always manifest in ways we would like or expect. I ended up being a caregiver for my mother and then my wife (God rest their souls) and that was absolutely the last form of adulting I ever thought I would have to do. Given how little free time we have as ‘grown-ups’, I am of the mindset that I need those hours spent in leisurely pursuits to be meaningful, filled with excitement and voltage and the satisfaction of time well spent. We don’t get time back, so I don’t want mine wasted. By people or by things.

(Coming up: some of my favorite fantasy fiction and why I love it. Elric will probably be first)

EDIT: In light of how this conversation has gone, I don't feel there's a need to write an essay on Elric or Conan or any other fantasy fiction I enjoy. It's all sort of naturally coming out in the body of the messages being posted. This is more natural and a better way to exchange ideas anyway. (5/30/4-me)
 
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LoneSage

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This is something I've wanted to talk to you about for a few years. Incredibly, you've made the thread before me.

Let me take it a step further: entertainment is nice, and it helps give life meaning, but it is ultimately a distraction. Instead of time spent learning a skill or making money or doing something that will grow your wealth, it's spent on having fun with something that isn't real. It ultimately doesn't affect your real life. Should we not cut out the entertainment and pursue something that gives us tangible benefits and power?
 

Taiso

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This is something I've wanted to talk to you about for a few years. Incredibly, you've made the thread before me.

Let me take it a step further: entertainment is nice, and it helps give life meaning, but it is ultimately a distraction. Instead of time spent learning a skill or making money or doing something that will grow your wealth, it's spent on having fun with something that isn't real. It ultimately doesn't affect your real life. Should we not cut out the entertainment and pursue something that gives us tangible benefits and power?
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

I agree that skills are more important to develop but discarding entertainment in pursuit of 'useful things' can cause a severe imbalance akin to 'work-life' difficulties.

We connect with others through culture, primarily, and we are ultimately social creatures. If we don't have flights of fancy to discuss, then we become primarily utilitarian beings. That's almost...inhuman, if you ask me.

However, there is an immense danger to pursuing distraction in greater proportion to functional capability.

So many people celebrate the monomyth without understanding its most important lesson. Our childish selves must 'die' so that we may be reborn as adults and return home to share what we have learned with our communities.

Distractions also help us to relate to our children and I think that can't be underscored enough. Again, we are social creatures. I think that having a healthy balance of both responsibility and engagement with our hobbies is what makes us unique in this world.

That's what I think, anyway.
 

NeoSneth

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i think it's well known that attention spans have plummeted with short form media. I am a very aggressive consumer of media, but I'm one of those people that watches it at 2x. I wish I could crank it up faster. YT shorts, Reels, and Tiktoks is driving this consumption, but it was probably heading this direction anyways. Netflix editors consider the second screen compatibility of a show as a primary measure. Meaning, how well does this movie work as the second screen in addition to a user on their phone. If it tracks poorly, they have to change it.

I think there's pleasure to be had from the entire experience, and not just the content. I only read a few pieces of fiction as most of my reading time is industry journals and publications. But what I do is set aside time in my calendar specifically to consume those novels, and it's a whole experience at this point. A healthy pour of whiskey, my pipe, and my phone turned off. I'm not just enjoying the book, I'm enjoying my time. It's the same for a retro videogame. I know there's going to be grinding, and fetch quests, and someone with amnesia that I need to escort. But the fact that I'm making time for it is relaxing in itself.

A good walking simulator game is another good example of something that could be told in 1 hour, but it takes you 6 hours. Would Firewatch be a great game if you just hit the story elements in an hour? Probably not.

I never regret the time wasted in these scenarios. I'm not trying to micromanage my life to that extent.
 

Taiso

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i think it's well known that attention spans have plummeted with short form media. I am a very aggressive consumer of media, but I'm one of those people that watches it at 2x. I wish I could crank it up faster. YT shorts, Reels, and Tiktoks is driving this consumption, but it was probably heading this direction anyways. Netflix editors consider the second screen compatibility of a show as a primary measure. Meaning, how well does this movie work as the second screen in addition to a user on their phone. If it tracks poorly, they have to change it.

I think there's pleasure to be had from the entire experience, and not just the content. I only read a few pieces of fiction as most of my reading time is industry journals and publications. But what I do is set aside time in my calendar specifically to consume those novels, and it's a whole experience at this point. A healthy pour of whiskey, my pipe, and my phone turned off. I'm not just enjoying the book, I'm enjoying my time. It's the same for a retro videogame. I know there's going to be grinding, and fetch quests, and someone with amnesia that I need to escort. But the fact that I'm making time for it is relaxing in itself.

A good walking simulator game is another good example of something that could be told in 1 hour, but it takes you 6 hours. Would Firewatch be a great game if you just hit the story elements in an hour? Probably not.

I never regret the time wasted in these scenarios. I'm not trying to micromanage my life to that extent.
I very much used to be like this. I do love a good read but these days I have a very high bar for something I consider a satisfactory use of my leisure time. What I mean by that is that my personal tastes come with a demand that I am continually engaged in the thing I am consuming. That it gives me something to think about always.

I could read a single chapter over the course of three hours if I'm constantly stopping to consider the material. My wife and I would frequently pause an audio book we were listening to together to reflect on what we'd just heard. We'd do that a lot and I really enjoyed the time I spent with her because we were both engrossed with everything about the activity.

I should seriously consider keeping my phone out of arm's reach when I'm reading. For the past half decade I've gotten used to needing that device close at hand to respond to emergencies with my mother or my wife. Now that, as unfortunate as it may be, I no longer have those obligataions, I should really think about trying that. I have so much more time on my hands these days. It certainly couldn't hurt to use some of that getting lost in a novel or a game source book without worrying about the outside world calling on me.

But I can't listen at 2X speed to audio books. It just sounds too unnatural to my ear and I don't care to train myself to hear it differently.
 
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SML

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It sounds like, if a series is called for at all, it should be bound more by its premise or setting than by a resolution everything aims toward. For you, anyway.
 

Taiso

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It sounds like, if a series is called for at all, it should be bound more by its premise or setting than by a resolution everything aims toward. For you, anyway.
Irt's not an unfounded assessment of what I'm like to say this. I used to joke that none of my favorite shit ever ends. Berserk and A Song of Ice and Fire are only two examples.

I think it's fair to say that I want a satisfying end to the things that make me wait. I don't merely enjoy those things for the moments they provide. When the work is of such a quality that I am truly invested in it, I just have a belief that it is all heading somewhere because the author is so skilled in the crafting of the tale that I can't imagine they aren't moving towards a conclusion worth waiting for.

I once said that 'Berserk wants to live.' I don't believe any author would craft the same work for 30 years just to take it to the grave with him in an unfinished state. GRRM has famously said that he doesn't want anyone to finish ASoIaF if he dies before finishing it but I don't believe him for a second. I just think that he doesn't want people to assume he's going to pass away before he finishes it.

I also have a conspiracy theory that he's writing both books and that's why it's taken so long to finish. In my theory, he doesn't want to announce both books because people might skip over The Winds of Winter and go right to A Dream of Spring, thereby costing him or his estate valuable royalties.
 
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neo_mao

Somebody take the hash browns away from me!
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Ya I don’t have any hobbies or interests or anything whatsoever anymore. Don’t care to learn. Don’t care about experiences. Don’t care about the journey.

I’m a people person in the most extreme way. I like making people feel good about themselves. Thats my hobby.

Do I make you guys feel good about yourselves?

Spoiler:


:eye::eye:

 

Hippo

SEARCH, FUNCTION, GOD!,
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Ya I don’t have any hobbies or interests or anything whatsoever anymore. Don’t care to learn. Don’t care about experiences. Don’t care about the journey.

I’m a people person in the most extreme way. I like making people feel good about themselves. Thats my hobby.

Do I make you guys feel good about yourselves?

Spoiler:


:eye::eye:


You are like a Rot with low testosterone. Always in chat saying a bunch of nothing. I’m going to find you one day and make you squeal.
 

neo_mao

Somebody take the hash browns away from me!
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You are like a Rot with low testosterone. Always in chat saying a bunch of nothing. I’m going to find you one day and make you squeal.

Is making grown men you met on the internet squeal your hobby? Is that how you like spend to spend your leisure time?

:oops:
 

Heinz

Parteizeit
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Is making grown men you met on the internet squeal your hobby? Is that how you like spend to spend your leisure time?

:oops:
You never did tell us how the meating with Roker went... At the cabin.
 

Hippo

SEARCH, FUNCTION, GOD!,
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Is making grown men you met on the internet squeal your hobby? Is that how you like spend to spend your leisure time?

:oops:

I still got your address from when you bought my contra 3 years ago. Might have to pay you a visit so we can talk about those train rides. Keep running that pretty mouth of yours
 

racecar

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This is something I've wanted to talk to you about for a few years. Incredibly, you've made the thread before me.

Let me take it a step further: entertainment is nice, and it helps give life meaning, but it is ultimately a distraction. Instead of time spent learning a skill or making money or doing something that will grow your wealth, it's spent on having fun with something that isn't real. It ultimately doesn't affect your real life. Should we not cut out the entertainment and pursue something that gives us tangible benefits and power?
But what is the purpose of life ? Are we supposed to chased that carrot dangling in front until the day we died or realize it when it’s too late . As they say no one wished they had more money in their last moment .
“ my main purposes in life is to take care of the one that brought me into this world and raise the one that I brought into this world . What ever else extra it’s just a bonus.”
 
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LoneSage

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But what is the purpose of life ?
That's an easy one, to procreate. That shit is hardwired into us.

I'm very much a stop and smell the roses kind of guy. But when it comes to entertainment, I'm all but over consuming it. And I realize how hypocritical that is since I've spent the last 20 goddamn years of my life visiting this rat's nest every single day.

I guess what I mean is, I'm over caring about, "but what happens next?" It was easy to pinpoint this to the last season of Game of Thrones. I swore to never invest myself into a piece of fiction again. Whatever the outcome of a story, it has no bearing on my reality. The stories that are told on screen are a nice distraction but shouldn't become a focus of your life.

Experiences and doing things, be it by yourself or with family, are of far more value than consuming another person's story. I guess that is the second time I've written consuming in this post and that tells how I feel about people who are fans of something. In the end, it's ultimately a distraction to building your life.

Chasing the carrot sucks dick, but you know what's cool? Providing with overabundance to your family. Owning property. Saving enough money to be able to secure your children's future, like paying for their wedding or downpayment on a house. It's a zero sum game in the world and that is actual, tangible power.

Having ranted all that like a fucking lunatic, I also realize how important entertainment is. For many people, whether they realize it or not, it's a kind of faith for them. The other day I saw a video of a horde of people grasping their toy lightsabers and pointing them to the sky in a Disney park. It dIsgusted me. But it shows how important entertainment is to people, that it gives them hope and something to look forward to out of the hell that is this world. It's their own religion.
 

Heinz

Parteizeit
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But what is the purpose of life ? Are we supposed to chased that carrot dangling in front until the day we died or realize it when it’s too late . As they say no one wished they had more money in their last moment .
“ my main purposes in life is to take care of the one that brought me into this world and raise the one that I brought into this world . What ever else extra it’s just a bonus.”
To enjoy yourself as much as you can, whatever that may entail.
 

DevilRedeemed

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Why does life have to hold meaning anyway? Even if there where not to be a set meaning (I don't feel there is), it doesn't make life meaningless.
Entertainment is not a waste of time. At all. Needn't even have to rationalise it. A problem in this day and age is that the word entertainment is just another word for consumption, evasion, whatever.

Just get on with it, don't depend on content creators to fill your cup. Passivity is the mind killer
 
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