An Appreciation of Doing Nothing

Anyone who knows me or who takes a quick look through the topics of this blog will know one thing for certain about me.  I hate February.  I’ve written enough about that and won’t subject anyone to that topic right now.  February is the low point of the year for me because it is the time that I fight hardest against depression. And I’ve been waging a battle.

Over the years and with the help of counseling, I have tools to combat depression. There are things I know that I can do to help. One of the things I need to do when it is settling in is to get out of the house and be around people. That is a major fight against everything in my being that wants to curl up under a blanket with a remote in my hand and my tablet open to play games.  But I know that it is usually one of the things that works.  However, there are times when, for the sake of relationships and the people I love, I don’t use this tool.  It’s February and I am testy, impatient, critical of myself and others, and absolutely not social.  I’m even more likely to put my mouth in gear before the brain has fully engaged.  It’s something that happens all the time, but right now…damn it could be ugly and dangerous.

Today went against everything I usually do to pull out of a mood.  I didn’t go out.  I didn’t reach out to anyone.  I cocooned myself away and did nothing but what struck me at the moment.  I had the kind of day where I would tell people, “Oh, I didn’t do anything.” And I would be accurate in that I didn’t clean, do laundry, socialize, go anywhere…. And I would be dead wrong too.

I spent the day recharging.  I slept in.  Late.  I got up and survived on coffee until the urge to eat beckoned hours later.  I got productive for a minute – I shed the pajamas, got a shower, and put on real clothes.

I had one important conversation.  I talked to the three-year-old who lives two doors up about the new Jeep he was driving outside my window (shared yards in townhouse living offer a chance to share the fun of a little one without the work or responsibility).  His excitement was a bit contagious.  He showed me how he could back up and come forward again, how the horn worked, and that it had a radio that “plays a song!”  He stepped out of his car to take a run up the bank in the yard and a flying leap off.  And then he looked down at himself – looking like someone who should be off-roading in his Jeep wearing jeans, galoshes, and sweatshirt.  Then he proclaimed, “I’m a mess.  I’m dirty.”  He showed me moves from an exercise video.   He made me smile.  

I read.  First it was an article from Plough magazine a friend shared with me about a French town offering refuge to Jews in World War II.  I knew nothing about André Trocmé or the parish of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon where he served.  It was fascinating.  The young pastor taught the values of living out what you believe and value.  The article recounted the efforts of the pastor and community and then offered some timely lessons to be learned from their example.  I’m not sure I’ve read anything from this magazine before, but the writing was good and the topic was interesting so I had to look into that a bit more.

Then I read some more. I continued my rereading of Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown.  Her writing always challenges the norms and the ways in which we unwittingly do things that are detrimental to our own emotional well-being and health.  While this is not her newest and I’d read this book before, I am so glad to have picked it up again right now.  It is timely and precisely talked about issues that I see so often.  She offers encouragement to me in many ways and challenges me in others.  If you haven’t read the book, you really should.  If you don’t want to read the whole thing, pick it up and read chapter 4 “People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.” It should be mandatory reading for everyone right now but, alas, I have to admit that isn’t in my power.  But if I had that power…

And I read some more.  Just so you don’t think I used my day of doing nothing only for deep reading and learning, I also read some stuff on Facebook (the bastion of intellectual reading material and education) that led to other activities today.  I clicked the link to Hearts & Minds Bookstore to read Byron Borger’s newsletter which is much better fare than normal FB postings.  He reviewed many books in the newsletter that sounded really good.  That led me to the store’s website and placing an order for a few of them – when I haven’t even read any of the books in the last order he sent me!  Doesn’t matter.  I’ll get to all of them, someday.  

I also went on a hunt based on a conversation I had with my friend, Douglas, who mentioned a television program on Facebook.  I found out about Tubi, signed up (it’s free), and watched an episode of Designing Women that I hadn’t seen in years.  It’s officially called “The Beauty Pageant,” but as Douglas reminded me, it’s the episode commonly known for Julia’s “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” speech. I love Julia Sugarbaker.  I want to be her.

I watched more.  I finally settled in and viewed Tick, Tick…BOOM.  My only regret is that I hadn’t watched it sooner!  Jonathan Larson’s play is well-written, poignant, and emotionally gripping.  It is the story of an artist pursuing his art and the focus, tenacity, and courage it takes to do so.   I was reminded of the lines from Hamilton about a man writing like he was running out of time. Unfortunately for the world, he was a man who was doing exactly that. Lin-Manuel Miranda once again provided perfection – in his casting, his direction, and his vision.  Andrew McCarthy certainly earned his Oscar nomination with he performance as Larson.  And there was the added treat of seeing all of the Broadway stars and other people popping up in the course of the film:  Laura Benati, Tariq Trotter, Chris Jackson, Luis Miranda, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Alex Lacamoire, Chuck Cooper, Renée Elise Goldsberry, André De Shields, Joel Grey, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Bebe Neuwirth, Adam Pascal, Bernadette Peters, Phylicia Rashad, Phillipa Soo, Chita Rivera, Bradley Whitford…I’m sure I missed a few that went by fleetingly singing or having a line somewhere.  For the Broadway lover, it was a real treat.

Then I listened following the pattern of the day with one thing flowing naturally into another. After the musical number with Brian Stokes Mitchell, Bernadette Peters, Phillipa Soo and all the others, I was really in a Broadway mood.  I took to Spotify and listened to show tunes, made a new playlist of music from the theatre, and sang along.

And now I write and reflect. I was really enriched by my day of “doing nothing.”  I learned some things. I read and listened and watched and wrote.  I laughed.  I sang.  I added to my TBR pile. I carried on a conversation with a three-year-old that made me see wonder and magic.  I feel lighter.  I think I can face tomorrow head-on maybe with a bit more civility.  Maybe tomorrow I can offer some empathy and kindness instead of biting people’s heads off or just being bitchy.  Or at least maybe I can keep quiet.  Whatever tomorrow brings, I highly recommend a day of doing nothing. 

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