Monday, December 20, 2010

in defense of nothing

Note: this post is part of a daily writing project called Reverb 10: Reflect on the year, manifest what’s next.

Prompt: Beyond avoidance. What should you have done this year but didn't because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?) (Thanks, Jake Nickell)

Doing nothing can be a waste of time, or it can be an art form. --Blogger at

This past year, I mentally rearranged my priority list at least seventy-three times. Sometimes, this rearrangement would happen as I was right in the middle of a task: I’d be cleaning out the Tupperware cupboard and think, “That dining room could really use some dusting.” Or I would think of an idea for a lesson plan, and then decide that my electronic documents needed filing. Or sometimes I would only stop organizing Tupperware long enough to add to The List.

Like many people I know, I often find that my life is ruled by “shoulds.” If I’m reading the paper, I should be reading student essays. If I’m vacuuming, I should be playing with my kids. If I’m playing with my kids, I should be working on my lesson plan. If I’m folding laundry, I should be. . .well. . . folding laundry.

I’m aware that my issue is far from unique.

This year, though, I plan to put “nothing” at the top of the priority list. When you think about it, how much time do we spend burrowing our way through our chores so that we can have some “free time”? And yet, when the floors are shiny and the books alphabetized on their shelves and the dishes back in their cubbies, what do we do? We notice a nick in the wall next to the fridge and then get out the spackle. Or, if we are wise enough sit back on the sofa and enjoy a few minutes of “30 Rock” or “Charlie Brown’s Christmas,” we are still conscious of The List, which is never far from hand.

I’m not suggesting that there is personal satisfaction to be found in being a couch potato. But I do believe in the restorative power of doing nothing, even a few minutes of nothing, on a regular basis. Last winter, I was drinking a cup of tea in the living room when I heard something hit the window behind me. I turned around. I saw neither crack nor culprit, but I was momentarily blown away by the late afternoon sky, which glowed pink against the snow, reminding me of the alpenglow I had witnessed with awe while camping in Alaska in the early spring. I knelt into the back of the couch and just stared, sipping at my tea, until the sun had set and the whiny sounds of hunger could be heard from the toy room.

I have often complained about the over-scheduling of kids that is so prevalent in our culture at the moment. Why, I have wondered, is it so difficult for parents (and teachers) to recognize the value of down time? We have a pathological fear of the idle moment, the white space that allows for self-reflection. Of silence. And yet, in a world where we are perpetually assaulted with pop-up advertisements, text messages, calls from tele-researchers collecting data about how many electronics we have or who we will support in the coming election, and toys that babble and coo like gremlins, we need a few precious moments of nothingness. And we crave it, and fantasize about it, and avoid it like fruitcake.

So, back to Jake Nickell’s “bonus” question, “will you do it?” Yes, absolutely, I will do nothing in 2011. As soon as I finish cleaning the bathroom.

No comments: