I am considering being a bum. Not in the classic sense of sitting on the sidewalk inebriated with a empty wine bottle, dishevelled and unkempt, being skirted by passersby who pass me by several yards or cross to the other side of the street, or instilling pity or apprehension in women and kids. Nothing quite like that.
I am considering being a bum by conscious aspiration, of wanting to live simply without due burden on the environment or on society. There are hazards to this plan not the least from family, friends and community who might assume the worst, that in this phase of life I have lost my bearings or have mentally deteriorated so that I have become a danger to myself and others in the classic mental health phraseology that suggests supervision in some place of care.
He has lost his wife, people would say, his children are all grown up and are now independent; he no longer works and has simply found no reason to live a respectable middle class existence, cutting his grass, maintaining his house, entertaining himself in pubs, theatres, restaurants, holidaying across this beautiful country and beyond.
I am not demeaning or rejecting these aspirations, merely wondering at the emphasis on doing as supposed to merely being. Hence my interest in being a bum.
The benefits of bum’smanship is to think and contemplate at leisure on elemental things such as politics, religion and sex, wondering why they are taboo often in some circles, when they are essential to values, organization and closely knit ties. Is it possible to raise questions with prime ministers, premiers, elected representatives, church bodies, our acquaintances and friends without getting defensive, emotional or offensive?
I think being a bum is a perfect position from which to engage a community, however broadly this might be defined. After all, bums with little aspiration other than to think and contemplate are in a perfect position to raise issues since they can be direct and incisive with no need to pander to a particular interest group.
Of course I believe it takes discipline to be a bum. The impulse to keep doing is a deep, abiding impulse. It takes discipline to control our doing, our habits of action that often occur spontaneously with out much thought.
This summer is the best time to contemplate a change of life. Despite the occasional warm days, we have been mostly kept inside by the rain that clearly limits activity and our doing. In such circumstances, instead of fretting lost hours spent at the beach or in the garden, it might be well worth considering our capacity to be creative indoors without the need to guilt ourselves about the lack of productive work.
Reading comes to mind. A book to hold in the hands, on a couch or comfortable chair, exploring universes we could barely imagine — and to wonder in the process how such universes could ever have been possible.