Today’s Observer carries a lengthy article by Hermione Hoby entitled ‘The slacker is back – and this time she’s female’. In the piece, Hoby looks at examples of ways in which inactivity has been explored, exploited and – she argues – celebrated of late by various female writers.
A brief note on terminology: for Hoby, ‘slacking’ largely entails being jobless and/or living with one’s parents. Famous male slackers are ‘Dude’ Lebowski and Bill and Ted (slightly problematic for me, since Bill and Ted were childhood heroes of mine).
The new generation of women making slacking look cool apparently include Leigh Stein, Nat Luurtsema, and Lena Dunham (none of whom I’d heard of), as well as characters played by Hollywood big-hitters Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig. These women seem to share the common attributes of having been educated to degree level and then spending a period of time wearing nightwear during daylight hours and eating foodstuffs that require little preparation time. So far, so Bridget Jones.
I want to argue for a broader definition of slackerdom, and I want in. No, I don’t live with my parents, and yes, I have a full-time job. I even have a Sunday morning singing job (worth noting because it’s a key reason I’m awake and able to write this blog post in the first place), yet still I mentally file myself in the slacker category. Because slacking isn’t about what you wear or where you go during the day. It’s a state of mind.
Yep, there can be no doubt about it: I’m a loser. First off, my home, though not my parents’, is not my own. Dalrymple Towers is actually my aunt’s flat, and she’s graciously allowing me to live in it at a reduced rate while I figure out my next move. I’ve been figuring out my next move for nearly two years now. But then, as places to figure out the next move go, this one is pretty sweet (if poorly insulated).
Secondly, although I have a job, I certainly don’t have a career. Don’t misunderstand me – I value the fact that I have a paid job, parts of which I am good at, at least some of the time. But I think everyone knows that what I do isn’t my calling.
Like many of the women in the Observer article (the ‘before’ versions, obviously – before they made good), I’m pretty much hopeless: both in the sense that I’m fairly pathetic, and in that, for quite a lot of the time, I essentially lack hope. It’s true. I even wrote a plan for a book about it. Look, here’s the blurb:
Christina is in her mid-twenties. She belongs to a generation of girls who were brought up to believe that they could be anything they wanted to be, as long as they worked hard and played by the rules.
Hers was the generation that grew up with New Labour and witnessed the rise of the Internet and (more importantly) the decline of the boyband. It was also the generation that graduated straight into a recession.
Now, as they approach their thirties, a lot of women around Christina’s age aren’t living the lives they thought they would. Not having a job, a goal, or a place to fit in means that a lot of the time, they’re not sure where they’re going, or how to get there.
Christina doesn’t quite know what to think any more.
Naturally, that won’t stop her from expressing it very, very loudly.
I wrote this – ooh, let’s see, about eight months ago. I remember being pretty excited about it at the time. But then the publisher I met with said they wanted book-club fiction (as opposed to gin-soaked ramblings), and then work got quite busy for a while, and then it was February. And now it’s March and there is, apparently, competition. The women featured in the Observer article have got in there first, with their pretty faces and their posh pyjamas. I may BE the bigger loser, but I’m not sure if I have the energy to prove it. Hey. This slanket is SOFT.
Sometimes it can feel like a murky, underwater kind of life, spending eight to nine hours a day, five days a week, performing tasks for a world in which I have precisely nil emotional investment. At six p.m. on weekdays and at weekends I surface, erupting into the real world: singing, laughing, writing, seeing friends. But the longer you spend swimming underwater, the harder it is to make contact with the real world. It gets harder to breathe, both beneath the brackish surface and above. My gills feel clogged. Perhaps I have an infection, and should be flushed down the toilet.
It’s this kind of inertia – a spiritual slackery, if you like – that links me and those pyjama-clad starlets. The sensation of being technically grown-up, but living with a childish sense of thwarted entitlement. Registering a constant sense of underachievement, of having missed an opportunity, of being late to the party, of having not been invited to the party at all, of lacking the energy to DO something about it.
No, this can’t go on forever. But what should I do? Wait to be rescued? Give up my job? Go back to university? Leave the country (again)? Burn my slanket?
Get a grip, or make a choice?
WRITE THAT BOOK
x-posted from Facebook:
Good reading! I firmly believe that the ‘princessification’ of children (where they’re, as you say, broadly taught to expect to be able to achieve anything regardless of ability or socio-economic climate – and in particular for girls/women…) is one of the greatest contributors to the current general malaise and stagnation which grips our generation. Happy days, eh?
Broadly speaking, Jonathan, I agree with you, but I’m not sure it applies in my case. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to resume brushing my hair while singing tunelessly to my reflection and pretending to be Princess Jasmine.
Oh, my god, Christina! You just discribed my life! Degree-level education? Tick. In fact, double tick for my Masters. Ambition to be anything I want to be? Tick. I was going to be the first female UN Secretary-General. Spending eight hours a day doing a job I don’t care about instead of living my dream? Tick… Complete lack of motivation to change anything? Just look at me, sitting here, reading about other people’s lives. Sweet jeez, let me know when you figure out what to do with yours! That might give me an idea or two.
Better idea: let’s join forces and found a community based on our united powers of inactivity. Between us and all the other slackers out there, we must be able to come up with at least half one skill that we can half-arsedly market. Probably on the internet. To other losers.