Totally Free

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.


19 thoughts on “Totally Free

  1. Wonderful ideas. And the two can enhance each other, if one chooses, as I sometimes do, to take a walk while listening to the podcast. Happy blustery furloughy Friday, Lily!

  2. Hello Ms. Dame and Welcome! I love the library and am so glad you mentioned it. Back in April, I wrote about how much the San Francisco Public Library rocks. It’s here. I’d love to hear more of your ideas about entertainment on the cheap, by the way, so don’t be a stranger.

    Hey Tai, And a happy blustery day to you too. I was thinking just this morning that if people can walk in the snow and ice, I can certainly get out there in a litte warm-ish rain. Have a terrific weekend.

  3. i looked up hepatica and its lovely and small.

    i’d forgotten, but remembered with these words

    “Perhaps/The truth depends on a walk around a lake,//
    A composing as the body tires”

    that most of my first poems and some of my best writing have come to me while walking. something about the rhythm and sound of steps on the street.

    thanks for the reminder.

  4. I absolutely loved this post. The content, the tone, the inclusion of the poem all worked together to humorously lead us into contemplative, deep thoughts. Wonderful!

  5. I have a thing about The New Yorker at the moment, so these links are most welcome. I also agree about walking but find it difficult to do so without a purpose. So often walking and shopping go hand and hand, which is NOT the point here, I see. In my defence, a small village surrounded by lots of bits and pieces of housing and many dull, dull fields is not fine walking territory, but it’s a pathetic excuse, I know.

  6. I’ve been listening to the NYorker podcasts for a while now. I really like the Comment podcasts.

    Here are some more free things you can do:
    Call friends and family just for a chat. No whining allowed.

    Volunteer. The whole furlough thing has got a lot of people really down. Spending time helping others is a good way of getting your mind off of your problems and helping others.

    Clean your house. I’m not saying make the floors so clean you can eat off ’em, but when you have some free time, you suddenly realize how messy your house has become. At least, I do…

    Write a letter to the Governator. Tell him he’s a ding-dong. Okay, the postage might cost 42 cents, but the feeling of giving him a piece of your mind, priceless.

    Bon weekend, my dear.

  7. Mari — I have to check those out! And thank you for the ideas. I think you might even be able to just e-mail the governor!

    Litlove, Yes, this is a problem. During the day, I often end up walking through not very interesting city streets. But I often listen to something while I’m walking, so it doesn’t matter as much. And I really want to hear more about your New Yorker thing!

    Hello and welcome, G — I’m very glad to hear that!

    Welcome Cara — What lovely photos you take. And thank you — it’s always a thrill to know that you’ve sent someone in the direction of deep contemplation rather than completely over the edge!

    Yes, I looked up hepatica too, Ms. OP!

    SW — It’s sometimes hard to believe that the cold goes away — but it does! Here’s wishing that’s not too far away.

  8. You are absolutely right about walking a dog. I take Ruby out almost every single day, and I always see something worth seeing. I do not own an iPod, I’m not sure I want one. There has to be a time when you listen to your own music and your own inner voice, and if you are always slaved to an exterior sound track, you don’t get to hear the inner one.

    Another thing that I do that is free is work in my garden. Getting my hands dirty in anticipation of having a spot to create a garden in costs nothing but sweat (and blood sometimes). Fortunately I have enough generous friends that I won’t have to buy a LOT of plants, so I guess the garden thing doesn’t really translate as free. Not all year, anyway. I am looking at a very close by funds expenditure to get seeds. I have a lot left over from last year, but I need peas and carrots and mesclun. I’m thinking about growing cauliflower along with my broccoli this year, so I’ll need to get cauliflower seeds too. It may not be free, but it saves me so much money later on that it is worth putting the energy into it.

    I loved the poem.

  9. My son William is climbing a tree. My two daughters Mimi and Nellie are sitting around a pretend campfire in the common area of our housing complex. Those are free activities. I’m doing the dishes (or–more accurately–I’m putting off doing the dishes) this also is free, but I’m still trying to make it good for the soul in that Brother Lawrence “Practicing the Presence of God” sort of way. Maybe I’ll join William in the tree.

  10. Ben, I didn’t know you had a son named William. (So do I.) I must say, I love the sound of your day. Here in Berkeley, the sun’s actually shining a little bit and the dog’s asleep. I’m figuring out how to freshen up my blogging — but I’m going to write a whole post about that pretty soon. Anyway, go climb that tree, dude!

    Ms. HMH — That is some hard work you are doing out there in your garden. But it must be really satisfying, as anything that involves such hard work and planning is. I think this qualifies as free, by the way — given how much money you save. And yes, I agree, there must be times to listen to your own music and your own inner voice, as you so beautifully put it.

  11. I see someone else mentioned the library, the most important place to me since the bookstore closed. Also a great source of distraction, through story hours, for Vincent, which equals a break for me. All hail the library!

  12. Yes, I’m bowing down in the direction of the Berkeley Public Library, with a little curtsey toward the San Francisco Main Branch. We have begun a tradition (we’ve done it twice, so that completely counts as a tradition) of Wednesday night library nights. That’s the night the library’s open until 8. I set them loose and see what they come up with. This week, I see a lot of young teen historical fiction, written in the sixties. I love our library.

    Archie, It is. But the link on your site to the Australian Red Cross and the Salvation Army, links that will help people who’ve been devastated by the fires in Australian is arguably a better resource right now! Thanks for putting those up. xoxo, L

  13. I’ve never lived in California, and had never heard of Furlough Day…sadly, many people in my state of Michigan are on permanent furlough from their employement. Luckily, neither I nor my husband and in that situation (yet..tomorrow is always another day).

    Your suggestions are sound ones indeed. I recently discovered the New Yorker podcasts and enjoy them. I am also lucky enough to have two small dogs to walk, and do so whenever the weather permits. I enjoy riding my bicycle too, and have found that trips to the library make great bicycle destinations. Although I must be careful not to overtax my little wicker bike basket!

  14. Three weeks ago at my school in Chicago, we had the rarest of all things–a cold day (NOT a snow day, that never happens) because the temperature dipped below -15. How did I spend it? Grading. I wish I’d seen this post before then. –D

  15. I love the poem and the sentiment. I need to get back to walking. I will try to urge myself by knowing that Wallace Stevens walked every day, two miles there and back again. Now if I can get half the rhythm he has in his poem you quote, I’d be delighted.

    And I whole-heartedly agree that there is more time to enjoy what we love and it’s free. Thanks for this post!

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