In episode 7, Season 2 of The Cottage Life Podcast, we revisit an essay by journalist Elamin Abdelmahmoud about the rebellious act of catching a few zzzs when you’re at the lake. Listen below or click here for access to all of the episodes.
I quite often forget that the culture of work hasn’t always been like it is today. That we haven’t always been tethered to our phones, and therefore our work. But in a relatively new cultural moment, where productivity is encouraged at all times, the most rebellious thing you can do is revolt against your to-do list and reject the idea that you’re too busy to do what is simply enjoyable.
Now, lots of these rebellious acts are really fun. You can go out for a drive, try an adventurous activity you’ve never tried, or cook an elaborate meal, but let it be said here and now: the greatest rebellion is, ultimately, sleep.
The wildest thing I do at the cottage is sleep. I sleep early, I sleep in late, I nap vigorously. I sleep with wild abandon. I sleep without a shred of guilt. You might even say I sleep like it’s my job.
I should say here that I don’t own a cottage, but I love spending summer weekends at a friend’s cottage. So I may not understand the work involved in cottage ownership, but I benefit from the responsibility-free part of cottage living. Being at my friend’s place feels like a magical time when the rules society has built around sleep are suspended, when no one cares when you go to bed or when you nod off in the middle of the day. This sounds insignificant to seasoned nappers, but I actually think this is a radical act, and turns the cottage into a hotbed of rebellion.
Being a part of a generation taught to constantly hustle, to be on email in off-hours, to be non-stop curating a “personal brand,” it feels like we are too often at the whims of professional demands, never out of reach of work’s tentacles.
Even those with work schedules flexible enough to accommodate naps and a full night’s rest would never think of allowing themselves such sleep luxuries. That’s because we are surrounded by an insistent cult of busyness, fuelled in no small part by the breakneck pace of contemporary capitalism. We all know people who wear “busy” as a badge of honour—because it’s the only way they can telegraph success.
So the act of sleeping at the cottage becomes an act of reimagining your life as though you had agency over it. The idea of sleeping whenever you feel like it doesn’t compute in the real world. But at the cottage, it’s a normal part of life.
It’s why there’s no mystery or worry when someone at the cottage disappears for a little while: you just know that when the high-noon sun hit, they felt the urge to take a nap and decided to give in. And why wouldn’t they? Even at a friend’s cottage wedding, the entire bridal party—including the bride!—took a midday nap, because, sure, a wedding can be stressful, but this is the cottage, and you sleep when you want, burdens be damned.
In this place, life slows down. You form a truce with your responsibilities, and the resulting peace is self-permission. It’s this quality of the cottage that interests me most: as holy ground for the desires you have but still keep hidden away. Those wants come a-knockin’ in cottage season, and your instinct, for once, is to acknowledge them. And if that isn’t wild, nothing is.
Elamin Abdelmahmoud’s book of personal essays, Son of Elsewhere, arrives fall 2020.