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?