Downtime

I did nothing last weekend.  Nothing.  And it was hard.  I am fully serious when I say that.  I’m not used to doing nothing.  I kept jumping up,ready to do laundry or pay bills or check email or blog.  For me, doing is a visceral thing.

I’m a workaholic, but you may have already guessed that.  How else could I have written so many books?  I wish I could say that writing is like breathing to me – that I need to write to live.  But the truth is, I came to writing when I was in my mid-thirties, prior to which I’d been living and breathing just fine.  I wrote my first book because it was challenging and fun.  I continue to write because I enjoy it, because you guys enjoy it, and also (bluntly) because I have a contract and a deadline.  The most basic reason, though?  I write to keep busy.  When I’m busy, I don’t worry about things I can’t control.   When I’m busy, I don’t have time to tell my kids how to raise their kids.  When I’m busy, I shop less, stress less, overeat less.

I know exactly when this started.  When I was a teenager and learned (eight years after the fact) that my mother had died of breast cancer, I started to worry that I’d get it and die, myself.  Keeping busy was the one way I could keep the worry at bay.  It was all about distraction.

To that end, I’ve always been one to dream up extra work.  When I was in high school, I loaded on the extra-curriculars not for the sake of a resume but for me.  Same thing when I was in college.  Senior year, when I should have been slacking off, I decided to make my own wedding dress.  It was a major time-killer.

Once I was married and had kids, I didn’t have to go looking for action.  I was busy without trying – so busy that I didn’t have time to shuttle my kids to extra activities every day after school.  Then I realized that it had less to do with my time and more with what I wanted for my kids.  All around, I saw parents who programmed their kids from dawn to dusk.  But moderation was important, I believed.  My kids had Little League and religious school, and when they got into high school, they got involved in extra-curriculars all on their own.  But I never wanted them over-programmed.  Playing with neighborhood kids was important.  Same with talking with my husband and me and even, occasionally, vegging for a few minutes in front of the tv.

Yes, I believed in downtime for my kids.  I just never quite managed to swing it for myself.  Until now.  But it’s still an intellectual thing.  I have to tell myself that my writing will be better if I take time to reread what I’ve written, to think about what comes next, to let those creative juices mix and simmer.  I have to tell myself that the earth will still turn if the laundry waits another day.  I have to tell myself that I’ll be a better person for taking a breather once in a while.

I’ve never liked doing only one thing at a time – case in point being knitting through the evening news.  And I suppose that’s still fine as long as the knitting project is a no-brainer like my sock yarn blanket.  That said, my rationale was wrong.  I knit through the news to justify my sitting on my butt in front of the tv for those 30 minutes.

Multi-tasking means you accomplish more, but it has its limits.  Life whips past fast enough.  If we don’t slow things down, we miss the pleasure in those little moments.

Like watching ducks swimming around the unfrozen edges of the lake.  Like sleeping for an hour in front of the fire.  Like walking down an icy road breathing deeply of the cold air.

Such was last weekend.  The best part was that I didn’t come home feeling like I’d wasted my time.  My head was clear and my energy restored.  Doing nothing is definitely worthwhile.  At least, once in a while it is.

I’m back knitting with Brian Williams now.  And that’s okay, too.  I’m not doing it to justify tv time, but simply, at the end of a long writing day, for the pleasure of it.

So, did I do right with my kids?   They turned out great, still I wonder.  Do you think kids are too programmed today?  Or not enough?

Comments

  1. Pat Puckett says:

    I’ve been retired for almost 6 years and I love taking those moments where you just “take everything in”. Like you said, just to watch a duck on the lake, or notice a flower blooming, or watching your favorite tree change with the seasons. One of my friends just retired and she is “bored out of her mind”! How can this be? I can always find something to do…write a letter, sew something, bake some muffins, make my hubby’s favorite soup, do yoga, or read a great Barbara Delinsky book!

  2. Teresa Rice says:

    Wow…talk about polar opposites! I know it’s going to be there tomorrow (no matter what it is), and have absolutely no problem leaving it ’til then! :-) I’ll make a deal with you, Barbara…I’ll keep procrastinating if you’ll keep writing your great books! Deal?! Enjoy your day!

  3. I used to be an engineer, until I retired. Each and every day seemed to be spent trying to get done what was due yesterday or working toward what should be done tomorrow. What I LOVE about retirement is that I still fill nearly every minute of the day, but take far more enjoyment in the activity. I, too, use knitting as an excuse to knit. But I enjoy the feel of the yarn flowing through my fingers, or even the smell of the yarn. The feel of warm water flowing over my hand as I rinse dishes. As you described, the cold wind blowing on my face as I walk. I have time to fill, but it is not idle time. It is time to let me just be me. I love it!

  4. What a wonderful blog! As an author myself, just starting her career I work super long days and don’t stop during the weekend. Today, however, I lied on the couch like a lazy butt for two hours and felt guilty about it until I read your blog! You are fantastic!

  5. Kathleen O'Donnell says:

    I am on permenant disability now for the last 5 yrs.. I can believe it has been that long.. I sometimes don’t know where the day goes..
    I can only do what I am able to do. Sometimes it a a lot, somedays a little and somedays nothing.. So when I am having a good day I try to make the most of it..

  6. Eileen Burkhardt says:

    I’m compulsively busy as well, but I force myself to take a morning and evening walk to pause and think about nothing in particular – a blouse or a dress I may see in a store, a person walking their pet, how pretty the sky is at night…it brings a balance to my day.

    As for watching TV, in order not to feel guilty, I do it when I’m working out – so instead of watching the HDTV upstairs, I’m in the basement with the oldest portable around!

  7. Too funny that I chose this time to get caught up with your wonderful blog, as I was going to work a bit more on a fairly large card order from a baby store and my husband gave me “the look” and said “Don’t you think you’ve worked enough hours today??
    Which means…step away from your desk and turn off the light!!!

    Between my “real” job at the bank and my small card business, there simply are not enough hours in the day and I am terrible at doing nothing.

    I swore this year, I would learn to live more in the moment and enjoy more down time, but am having a tough time just doing nothing as I’m constantly thinking about what I could/should be doing.

    It will be a work in progress, but I will persevere!!!!

  8. Welcome to the over 50 club—Barbara… all women , who become mothers, have the SAME life that you have.. WE all WORRY about the same problems.. above all about our children.. but we are NO LONGER mothers when they are old enough to stand on their own. A mother can go on being a mother when she has a handicapped child to take care of.. Sadly, some selfish mothers make their own children dependent on them.

    We have only to learn to live happily in the PRESENT , without imagining what the future holds for anyone. If we cannot enjoy LIFE today, we must understand that we have never been taught to enjoy it. I find peaceful silence is the answer to all of my daily problems. Rushing around , trying to keep busy– to keep my mind off of problems I should face straight on, only makes me feel exhausted. Trying to show OTHERS how busy I am , doesn’t resolve anything. I can plainly see that most of the OTHERS have greater problems than I do. Just as my mother used to answer those people who asked her how things were going for her, I say the same:
    ” I cannot complain.”

  9. Hurried Child Syndrome-wish more parents would think about that…we get them in school when they are TOO tired and TOO busy to think

  10. I do believe kids today are often too programmed. In our family, we have striven to live a ‘slow lane life’ and believe we’re much healthier mentally, emotionally and physically for it.
    Our kids are 18 and 16 and while they are getting busier, it is by their own choice. I am gratified to see them ensure they have downtime to relax and enjoy writing/reading/chatting/art/music…. Life is far too precious to run on fast speed all the time.

    Glad to see you take the time to relax now and again! Happy Sunday :)

    ~

  11. I know exactly what you mean about staying busy to avoid worrying about everything. It’s a better crutch than over-shopping or over-eating, I guess.

    I recently opened my own bookkeeping business, and talk about having something to do every second of every day! The thing about owning your own business (writing, bookkeeping, whatever!) is you’re never really done with anything. It’s all “one more thing on the list” every minute. I have to remind myself to stop working and do something else, like go to bed, all the time!

    I’m glad you’re still keeping busy writing, though! Love your books!
    Deb

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