"A long memory can drive a man crazy."
-- Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half

Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Art of Doing Nothing

      Some of us can go a whole lifetime before we find our real calling. And now I realize: thus it has been with me. I've spent most of my life waking up to an alarm and rushing off to school, to work, to drop the kids off at various activities.

     Even after I retired there were pressures. For example, I sometimes had to get up, get breakfast, get out of the house, and head over to our local college for a class at our Center for Learning in Retirement. And I had to do it all by 9:25 a.m.!

     But wait. It gets worse. From spring through fall, for six months of the year I had to roust myself out of bed as early as 7 a.m. so I could down a cup of coffee, drive to a golf course and find the first tee . . . all while still half asleep.

     No longer. Now we're a year into self-isolation. And I think I've discovered my real talent: The Art of Doing Nothing.

     I wake up . . . whenever I want. I go to the kitchen for my coffee, and then I look around. What do I have to do?

     Nothing. And so I sit and read the paper, or crack open my book. There's no rush. I can read until I get tired of reading, and maybe even take a nap. I never used to take a nap; but now there's no reason not to.

     Eventually, I make myself some breakfast. Then it's time to go into my room to stare at the computer for a while. What do I look at? It doesn't matter. I'm only passing the time. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram? The news or sports scores? Read some blogs? Check my email? How long does this take? I dunno. I'm not on any schedule. Haven't been for a year.

     I do have a Zoom meeting a couple of times a week. But I can handle a meeting at 10:50 a.m. -- because I don't have to shower and dress ahead of time. Whew!

     Sometimes I go out for a walk. My wife walks almost every day, first thing in the morning. I go a couple of times a week, at my own pace . . . my own pace means I get around to it about 4 p.m.

My one constructive act of the day 
     Whether I walk or not, 4 p.m. seems to sneak up on me, almost every day. Where did the time go? I'd better get in the shower and do my back exercises before I'm called to dinner. 

     And yet dinner seems to go by so quickly. I think about it all day long, look forward to the meal and some conversation with B. Then, it seems, as soon as we sit down . . . suddenly it's over! Then I do the dishes.

     Lately, we've been reading A Short History of Wisconsin aloud to each other after dinner, one chapter at a time. We're planning a trip to Wisconsin in August. Of course, we planned a trip to Wisconsin last summer, and it never happened. I wonder if it will be different this year.

     Yes, we've started talking about coming out of our cocoon. We're even considering a trip in May, and beginning to think about what we're going to do for Thanksgiving. We're anxious about getting out of the house after all this time, making plans and talking to people about possibilities.

     And yet . . . even when we're fully vaccinated the CDC is still recommending against traveling. Airports, hotels, restaurants are all considered hotspots for the virus. So we wonder, with the vagaries of the vaccine and the possibility of new Covid strains  . . . is it even worth it?

     Besides, we've become so lazy, even one trip seems like an enormous undertaking. 

     After dinner and the dishes and reading about Wisconsin, we make the long trek from the dining room to the den -- almost 20 feet -- and plop down in front of the TV. We've already watched a number of shows: Schitt's Creek. Borgen. Episodes. Call My Agent. The Queen's Gambit.

     We just saw the movie Manks (overrated) and Laurel Canyon (pretty bad). Now we're watching the Australian series Offspring which we love . . . and we're looking for some others. 

     But all we do is read, watch TV, putter around the house. We have brought the idea of doing nothing to a high art. Yet we know we are running out of things to do, things to watch. And now that spring is here, we can go outside and work in the yard. Will I be playing golf again? Are we really going to travel? See our children?

     It will be a major transition for us. We have over time embraced the lifestyle of doing absolutely nothing. Can we now develop the Art of Doing Something?


Sheila said...

So glad to know someone else enjoys Offspring.It's pretty quirky so I'm sometimes hesitant to recommend it. We're down to the last few episodes of it and Call My Agent so trying to savor them.

Rian said...

I understand completely, Tom. And I really am beginning to like 'doing nothing'. I mean we do get the things that need to be done done at some point... but there's no rush. There's always tomorrow (or at least we hope there is).

When and if the time comes that we will be able to 'get out', I know that I will have a much greater appreciation for the simple pleasures of going out to eat, visiting with friends, and seeing my kids and grandkids. I can't wait for us to be able to drive down to my daughter's place in the hill country. We're hoping to do this for next Easter (if not sooner).

And this Easter (since we've all been vaccinated) the kids that live close by are coming over (inside the house!) - but we may all remain masked just
in case.

It's been a strange and difficult year... (some more so than others of course) but I think (I hope) that we've learned something from it all. Life is precious and family and friends are needed more so than we ever realized.
And whether others believe this or not, this year without (or not many) flu cases, colds, etc. have proved to me that masks and isolation during seasonal bouts do work well and I plan to continue to practice when needed.

Arkansas Patti said...

I get you. It took me 80 years of driving myself to finally realize what I am good at. Doing nothing. Good thing I don't need it to supply an income though:)

Tom said...

What I guess I'm saying is that, for me, it's scary that I actually like doing nothing. I hope I snap out of it. In the future I can definitely see wearing masks in crowded places during normal flu season.

Wisewebwoman said...

I can't seem to leave the feeling of "guilt" when I do absolutely nothing even though it thrills me to pieces.

It absolutely horrifies me that in my past, along with having a boarding house, I also held down three jobs to make ends meet. Talk of burnout.

Maybe, like you, I should think in terms of my gawd, I've earned this.


Anonymous said...

Hope you visit Wisconsin. Be sure to visit Baraboo, the home of the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus! Be sure to continue on to Door County near Green Bay. Wonderful country on a beautiful peninsula. Be sure to go to a “fish boil” for dinner. Our favorite town is Sheboygan. Wonderful Kohler Museum. Beautiful homes and neighborhoods. A joy to walk around.
I love the Wisconsin state motto, “Come smell our dairy-aire”.

DJan said...

My life has changed and now what is normal life to me seems perfectly fine, with zoom yoga classes in my living room. I just went to a restaurant for brunch with a friend, it was lovely and felt very novel. I have certainly slowed down, too. :-)

Barb said...

I will not be going back to quite my butterfly self and an experiencing angst and some things I normally would do. I have become too comfy at home.

g3 said...

Sentado tranquilamente sin hacer nada.
Llega la primavera,
la hierba crece.

Li Tai Po

Olga said...

Well I consider myself to be quite busy, but I also never considered reading doing nothing. In fact I once got into trouble at work for expressing dismay to a school board member who said letting children read silently for 15 minutes during the school day was a waste of valuable instructional time. lettings kids read books of their own choosing? What a subversive idea!

Red said...

I think we will be eager to get going again...I will. I hope everybody will be happy to get going. However. there are questions as you have asked.

gigi-hawaii said...

Well, you seem to be busy with some interesting things to do. Reading, watching TV, puttering around the house - it's not a bad way to live. As for traveling, I think you should just stay home this year.

Mona McGinnis said...

I came to the conclusion a long time ago that there is no "nothing". A line from the Color Purple rings in my ears - sometimes I sets and thinks and sometimes I just set. If only my mind would rest as easily as my body. And in the words of a SIL, there's always a long list of things left undone. So everyday, I find something that needs doing and something that wants doing.

priscilla said...

Good topic today, Tom. I'm to the point (hubby is too), that being home is turning out to be a wonderful thing! A little company now and then, doing things we want when we want has really become a new way of life for us. No more pressures of socializing, etc. Peace and quiet is a good thing! We are scheduled to head up to Portland for a few days, but not sure we're leaving the state (CA) much more after this trip. We're learning there is so much in our own "backyard" to be satisfied with, including being w/the kids & grandkids, right here!

ApacheDug said...

Tom, one of the things I like about your blog is, you're not afraid to be honest. I can relate to this post, but I'm a little embarrassed to admit it. Well, you may not be out there building houses or bicycling across Europe just yet, but you are working your noodle. Good writing like yours takes real effort.

Janette said...

Yup, doing nothing...

I understand the PTSD of staying home to be safe.
I did it for seven years after we got home from Saudi.
Not going back to that. Ever. Again. ;)

Come on Johnson and Johnson.
I need that stick.
Time to see my Mom.....

Laurie Stone said...

Sounds good to me. Did you mention blogging and writing? That also takes up time and is something creative. I love this life, to be honest. I think of my former, busy life and don't miss it. By the way, I also loved "Offspring." Finished all of them recently. Fun show.

Rebecca Olkowski said...

I agree with you on Mank. It was slow but I'm impressed that it was the cinematographer's feature film debut. I missed Laurel Canyon but liked the documentary about it with Jacob Dylan. I'll have to check out the film, though, since I live in LA. My life is about the same because I've been working online for the last decade.

Mage said...

My husbands version of doing nothing is to play space games.

Jennifer (UnfoldAndBegin) said...

Yes. Except, I still work. So each day I move from my couch to my desk and then back again.

Dick Klade said...

Don't know your level of interest in pro sports, but no matter what it is it would be smart to add a tour of Lambeau Field, the Packers home arena, to your Wisconsin plan. There's nothing quite like hearing the roar of the crowd when you and the other tourists go through a tunnel onto the field. That, and other creative features, make the Lambeau Field tours outstanding.

JoansGate said...

Just loved your blog, Tom! My husband + I have been retired for 7 years. He an IT professional and myself, a retired RN. I spent my years getting my degrees, working mad-hours, until I was 66. It took awhile, in fact until the quarantine, to slow down and we did what you did: Stay home, puttered around the home, cooked, did alot of book reading, no appointments except doctors and dentists, and now have enjoyed that Lifestyle, after years of clock watching and rushing. There is nothing wrong with a wasted day; in fact, it is one I like to call a Wellness Day! Thanks for your post.

Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged said...

That sounds pretty much like us. The days go by so fast and it's hard to put a finger on exactly what we do... but we are so busy. We are looking forward to traveling too (not sure when that will be) but, you are right, we also feel a bit out of practice.

Nancy Coiner said...

Yep. I had to go buy a new phone (my old one was in its death throes), and it was a Major Adventure. We actually had to go to the next town! And into a store! It was exhausting, and when we got home, we had to have a good, long rest..... I have a feeling we'll swing back and forth between periods of activity and periods of extreme laziness -- and enjoy both.

Kay said...

I've always needed to do something, but I've adapted. Sort of. I've made about 400 masks now to give out. I compiled family history. But we've watched more TV than ever before. The year has really zoomed by. I wonder what it will be like when normality returns... and will it actually return?