A Flaneur’s Abbreviated Guide to Idle Living — John Biscello
It is a thoroughly unprofessional, impractical and much-maligned way of life, yet contrary to popular belief, idling can lead to a rich and ultimately fulfilling existence. How does the serious, or ambitious idler, convert their days of laze and loafing into something meaningful? First, let us begin with a proper and dignified designation: flaneur.
This word, which comes from the French (the same people who brought you raconteur and ennui) is defined in one dictionary as: 1. an aimless idler or loafer. 2. An idle man-about-town. Yet the aesthetic dignity and poetic value of flaning was poignantly captured by 19th century French poet and godfather of flaneurs, Charles Baudelaire: “For the perfect flaneur, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow. To be away from home, yet to feel oneself everywhere at home, to see the world, to be at the center of the world, yet to remain hidden from the world.” Rule #1: A true flaneur must be simultaneously Absent and Present, a shadow with wheels.
Breaking It Down
To the novice or prospective flaneur, be forewarned: you will encounter a great deal of opposition and criticism pertaining to your “waste-of-life” lifestyle. Accusations of laziness, selfishness, irresponsibility, amorality, etc. will come your way. Do not argue or try to defend your lifestyle, but rather respond with a wink and a smile, or a nod, but the smile part is very important for it has been known to soften the roughest of edges. Here are some other essential things to know and spiritually internalize:
Doing nothing is not the same as idling. Idling is an active pursuit, its purpose aimlessness, which is different from not knowing what to do; confusion begetting circular patterns; insurmountable slothfulness. The true flaneur knows that it is not apathy, but resignation, which must be artfully cultivated.
Do not work a steady job, especially one which offers benefits, paid vacation, and annual bonuses. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this creed. Steady work is deadly poison to the spirit of the true flaneur. The beg-borrow-steal creed is much more conducive to a flaneur’s health and well-being. (Note: the unspoken code among flaneurs: never steal from friends, though they are to be considered prime sources from which to beg and borrow). Which brings us to freeloading—
regarded by many as a cancer to Decency and Pride. These so-called virtues must be effaced by Shamelessness. Pride and Shamelessness cannot happily co-habitate. They will fight and bicker and cause friction which may cause Guilt to arise and mud-smear the entire campaign. Tell Pride its services are no longer needed and embrace Shamelessness. Henry Miller, during his down-and-out mongrel days in 1930s Paris (which is the spiritual capital of flaning), devised a plan for filling his empty belly. Each night he would be the dinner guest at the home of a different friend, therefore establishing a seven-day-a-week meal-ticket rotation. Remember: ingenuity, coupled with humble acceptance of charity, is the skeleton key that will open a multitude of doors.
Walking is to a flaneur what oxygen is to an asthmatic. Thoreau, in his three-part lecture entitled “Walking,” said: “I have met one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of walking, that is of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived from ‘idle people who rove about the country . . . and asked charity, under the pretense of going a` la sainte terre–to the holy land—till the children exclaimed, ‘There goes a sainte-terrer–a holy lander….” The true flaneur knows that his most important flights are grounded, and that his own two legs his greatest mode of transport.
No Code but your Own. Dismiss any popular standards or ideals which do not apply to your lifestyle. For example, being a solid citizen and upstanding member of society has no bearing on flaning, and more often than not will prove harmful to your sovereign self. Which in turn relates to:
Don’t Believe the Hype. Someone tells you: You made your bed, now you have to lie in it. You do not. You can sleep in a friend’s bed. Or on a park bench or under the stars at the beach. Or simply burn the bed, as if it were that proverbial bridge, and dance a dervish around its scattered ashes.
“You can’t kill time without injuring Eternity.” In the Idler’s Paradise, all hands are clockless, which is why steady work, Reality-prescribed obligations and set appointments, cause great damage to the nervous system of flaneurs. As a safety measure, many have developed the as-of-yet-medically-unclassified condition known as Time-Sensitive Amnesia, or T.S.A.
Always remain fascinated with your own Life, or your Life-as-a-Selfmade-Movie. It is okay to briefly lose yourself in the Life-movies of others, but do not get stranded there, for the crosscurrents of dialogue, mixed motives of characters, and parallelism in direction, often leads to a compromise of personal vision. In other words, remain a fiercely independent film-maker.
Eating in Restaurants. Indulge with the stomach and imagination of an unrepentant hedonist. Other times, adopt the role of the hunger-inspired voyeur, and gaze through the restaurant window watching people eat their meals and imagine how good the food tastes or smells. Another tip: visit restaurant restrooms and in your head, or maybe on a paper napkin, sketch short reviews of the restrooms. The liquid soap was an uplifting pink color and lathered nicely. Bubble-graffiti formed an effective overlay to the FOR A GOOD TIME CALL HO-LENA writing on the door of the stall.
Flaning, like any art form, requires discipline, devotion, and a bit of luck. Its history is rich and manifold, counting Henry Miller, Oliver Twist, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Henry David Thoreau, Edmund White, Jack Kerouac, and Chaplin’s Little Tramp as some of its celebrated torch-bearers. To succeed as a true flaneur you must learn to straddle paradox, like a horse with no name or areas gray. Do not take stake in This or That, or get stuck on the double-edged sword of Right and Wrong: remain aloof yet compassionate, detached yet passionate, isolated yet interdependent. Abide by these principles. Also, ignore these principles when and how you see fit. You are a flaneur. No one is your boss.