In honor of California Furlough Day, which sounds suspiciously like an event in which the felon population of California is set free, but is actually the day when state workers stay home because the state cannot pay them, I am going to make a list of things you can do on your day off that do not cost a single cent, and might actually do you some good.
Why am I doing this? Because I think that one of the few silver linings in this cloud of economic bad news is that many of us now have more time than we used to have. We have less money, but we all know that the best things in life are…, well, you get the idea.
This list contains only two items, but they are my two favorite free things, so I’m going with them.
1. This is something I cannot actually believe is free. You do have to have access to a computer, and it is helpful if you have something on which you can download it, but then you probably do, because during the period of huge economic expansion, fueled largely by the purchase of houses too big for the people who lived in them and the ipods they discovered they needed to keep them sane during their lengthy commutes, you probably still have, at least, the ipod, even though you might have had to turn the house back in.
This free thing I am alluding to is a series of monthly short fiction podcasts moderated by the New Yorker’s fiction editor, Deborah Triesman. They can be found on itunes and at the New Yorker’s snazzy website. In these podcasts, a person who has published fiction in the New Yorker chooses a piece of short fiction they love. And then they read it. Fiction writers turn out to be remarkably good readers — I think it has to do with their enthusiasm for fiction. After the reading, there is a short discussion about the piece. These discussions are fun and interesting.
The great thing is that these podcasts have been going on for several years, so there are a lot to choose from. One of my favorites is Aleksandar Hemon reading Bernard Malamud’s “A Summer’s Reading.” It’s a great story, and he’s a wonderful reader.
2. Get out there and go for a walk. I cannot emphasize enough how good it is to get outside and take a walk. If you have a dog, all the better. Obviously, a walk is good for the body, but it also does hugely good things for the soul. In fact, one of my favorite writers, Wallace Stevens, a man who was no stranger to snow and ice, walked every day from his office in downtown Hartford to his house in a neighborhood about two miles away. (Here is a link to that route.) In fact, if you happen to live in or near Hartford, you can follow his walk, and read the thirteen markers that give you all the ways you can look at a blackbird. (True, they might be covered with snow, but brush them off, okay?) Stevens composed poems while he walked, one of which, Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction reflects the distance you can cover when you are on a walk:
The truth depends on a walk around a lake,
A composing as the body tires, a stop
To see hepatica, a stop to watch
A definition growing certain and
A wait within that certainty, a rest
In the swags of pine-trees bordering the lake.
Perhaps there are times of inherent excellence
As a man and woman meet and love forthwith.
Perhaps there are moments of awakening,
Extreme, fortuitous, personal, in which
We more than awaken, sit on the edge of sleep,
As on an elevation, and behold
The academies like structures in a mist.
So happy furlough day, whether you are in California or not. I wish you moments of awakening and times of inherent excellence and the experience of beauty — all without spending a single cent.