The Value of a Bohemian Life

This is an old blog I wrote back at the end of 2013, but I realized I never published it anywhere, so it might be best to put online here.

“Withdrawing in disgust isn’t the same as apathy.” These words are spoken by a recently released convict in Richard Linklater’s 1991 film Slacker. The line hints at the convict character’s desire to avoid wage labor at all costs, but what’s interesting about the line is that it showcases that the character speaking is not lazy. Instead, the convict, along with most of the film’s other hundred or so characters, views his free time as more valuable than extra money. As teachers in Thailand, we all try to maximize our earnings by taking on extra classes during our evenings and weekends. However, if we have no dependents or financial worries at home, is this really the best way to go about living in a laid-back place like Thailand? For the past month, I have been doing what many would view as “nothing.” My school contract ended in October, and after finishing three weeks of traveling, I moved back to Trat and began my life as a slacker in Thailand.

Since the end of October, I have been living in Trat town while working the occasional English camp and going through the hiring processes for jobs starting next year. Though I have had to prepare for many interviews and demo lessons, as well as travel around to several English camps, I have had quite a bit of time to myself. After realizing that ruminating gets boring pretty fast, I had to find other ways to occupy my time. I began practicing guitar. Even though my rhythm and dexterity are still lacking, I am finding that I am making slight progress. I also began learning Vipassana meditation. Though it is still difficult to practice for even 10 minutes, I am finding that the practice does affect my stress levels and lucidity throughout the day. I have been studying Thai more intensively. It may be difficult to open a Thai language book at the end of a long teaching day, but I certainly have no excuse for not working hard at it now. Finally, I have started writing for the first time. As you can see, I still need to work on it, but I am finding that writing helps me clarify my thoughts.

The term slacker comes from World War I, where it was used to refer to people who shunned their responsibilities (i.e. draft dodgers). Today, it has a slightly different meaning, but its implications are no less negative. When we imagine a slacker, we typically imagine a lazy bum who does not help with group work and shows up to the office late. Often, we imagine someone without a job or any hobbies at all (besides sitting around and watching television). In the film Slacker, these stereotypes are challenged. The characters may live bohemian lives, but they are not necessarily lazy. They just don’t spend their time working. Instead, the characters prefer to spend their time reading, writing, making music, making films, watching movies, and discussing abstract ideas.

In some sense, these are noble pursuits since it is through daydreaming that many productive ideas are born. I have been finding the same things out these past few weeks. As valuable as it is to teach extra lessons, both in a monetary and personal sense, sometimes we need to focus on other things in life. We need to take the time to improve ourselves in other ways. So think about this: is it more worthwhile to teach that extra lesson and go shopping in Siam Paragon or to take the time to introspect and focus on your hobbies and personal growth? I think a balance is necessary; in fact, I have been quite bored at times this past month. That is actually why I have been working at the English camps. I needed something to occupy myself. In order to find fulfillment in life, we need to apply ourselves to things and achieve goals, but it’s important to remember that not all things worth applying ourselves to pay. So take a day off, wander around and try anything that looks interesting. Maybe you’ll find you want to spend more time practicing Muay Thai than doing corporate teaching gigs. Remember that the purpose of working is not to earn money to go to bars, go shopping, and be lazy, but to earn money to engage in pursuits that lead to authentic fulfillment, or perhaps find fulfillment in the act of working itself.