Opinion

Emanuel Derman

The best revenge?

By Emanuel Derman
March 19, 2012

I just returned from a one-week vacation in the Yucatan, doing pretty much nothing except staying on the beach, my all-time favorite activity perhaps owing to having grown up in a beachfront city. I was pretty tired when I went down there, and I began to wonder what life would be like if I hadn’t worked for a living.

I know many people who currently don’t and quite a few who never did. Some lived off inherited money. Some worked hard and successfully and made enough to do what they liked, and in their case “liked” meant no more work. (Some continued working when they didn’t need to. Is it work if you like it?) Others worked for a while and then tired of the slog, and lived off spouses or, very frugally, off whatever they had saved up to that point. And some essentially never worked, because they simply didn’t have what it takes to subject themselves to other people’s control, which is what most jobs involve; they survived however they could, some well and some poorly. It’s hard for me to decide whether living well without having worked is admirable or sad. I’m a bit of a Puritan and at bottom I’m afraid I don’t like to see people living well without having worked, though Calvin Tomkins has a positive view of it in his memoir of the Murphys in Southern France. But what would the world be without suffering (the mild kind)?

As more and more people I know edge into retirement lifestyles, I found myself thinking on vacation about how I’d like to live. I know people who travel nonstop, but that’s not for me.

My first choice is the life of a 1900s Viennese gentleman: wake up in the morning, croissant with butter and marmalade, coffee, read The Times, write for three or four hours — a good day’s work. Light lunch, nap, exercise for an hour or two, then theatre or dinner in the evening with interesting people.

Second is to be a sort of Lawrence Durrell on a small Greek island or a Caribbean or South Pacific equivalent, a British Colonial going native in an exotic place. Wake up in the morning, take a swim and a run on the beach, work for a few hours on writing on modeling (with the internet you can do this from anywhere), then the beach, then fresh fish at a local restaurant with local people, topped up by some conversation over cognac/rum/raki, an espresso and a cigar.

 

_________

Footnote is a movie about lives devoted to academic studies, sacrifice, competition, revenge, bitterness, inflexibility, family, family secrets,  etc, and a thriller at the same time.

 

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