Doing Nothing


Consider the lilies of the field. Well, this isn’t a field but it is rhodophiala bifida, the oxblood or “schoolhouse” lily we love down here in these parts.

Well, maybe it isn’t the best example of doing nothing.

As I mentioned very recently, the schoolhouse lilies at the corner of the front patio had just started poking their green noses out from between the rocks. It seemed like only matter of a few hours before they were in bloom. See that little one on the bottom right? It’s like they almost come up from underground with flowers at the ready.

I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to doing nothing. In my mind there’s something nice and quiet about it.


I am so rarely nice and quiet.

It seems I have been pouring audio books into my ears almost 100% of the time I am not engaged with another human being (i.e., most of the time). There’s been an element of escape about it, no doubt. Listening to books is so much more pleasant than listening to the stuff that rolls around in my head when it is left to its own devices.

But during the long luxurious break between summer school and the start of the Fall semester, every now and then I managed to unplug and just relax, by which I mean doing something easy and soothing. This doesn’t exactly qualify as doing nothing, but I kind of have to ease myself into it. Since I’m planning to retire from teaching in a mere eight months, it’s occurred to me that I need some doing nothing practice.

Playing with paint – literally playing – helps. Since I have a boatload of student-grade acrylics left from my initial foray into painting, I have no qualms about pouring them onto paper, folding, pressing onto other paper (or canvas, or a garden post) and just letting it happen. I find it’s best to do this in the garage, and during the hottest days a big fan was a necessity.

One morning a wet specimen flew off and hit the ground. Fortunately when I’m doing stuff like this, there are no disasters; I just went and picked up the sheet of paper. A blossom from the flame acanthus – where the hummingbirds come to drink all day – had attached itself.

I decided it was an image of doing nothing.


People who tend to be constantly busy but who want to learn to be better at doing nothing (me and Floyd, to name two) could benefit from having a cat or two. Marco Polo is the most accomplished nothing-doer at our house.

I just love him.

Lucy Sparkletoes, on the other hand, will forever be a toddler who worries she is missing out on something. She makes me remember waking up from a nap in the bottom bunk at our cottage and hearing the shouts of the children across the street playing in the water. I couldn’t get out of bed and onto the beach fast enough. Who wants to be doing nothing when there could be fun to be had?


Or cicadas to catch?

Doing nothing seems to be an intrinsic good- just like they always tell you that an adult needs to be able to be alone. Maybe I’m just afraid that if I learn how to do nothing, I’ll never do anything again. As it is, I’d always rather be home than going out to work; isn’t it a slippery slope? I could fall in love with indolence.

Here in Austin it has been raining every day since 1932. Talk about enforced nothing-doing! One afternoon I took a picture out the front door of our office suite, to send to Floyd as he motorcycled his way down from Montana to who knows where. I felt he would be comforted by knowing there is no mountain biking happening in the greenbelt these days. Who can have fun when there is other fun to be had?


Border collies, as you probably know, are not the best at doing nothing. On days like these, Travis doesn’t look like he’s chilling as much as he looks life his life is not, was not, will not ever be worth living. And humans who don’t like playing out in the pouring rain are simply plainly absolutely the worst thing ever.


He is sighing the whole time.

Sometimes when I’m at my worktable doing nothing, I like to just take a picture. Even my idea of doing nothing isn’t quite doing nothing.


But close!

Turning around to look out the window and check on hummingbird action is kind of doing nothing, too.


I consider weeding and trimming to be doing nothing. Too bad these sources of nothing-doing have been washed out since 1932. If it ever stops raining around here I will need an army of yard helpers just to be able to open the gates.

As I was thinking about doing nothing I remembered going to the rock festival thing last March with my daughter and her boys. Rocks are excellent role models.


Clearly there is a kind of quiet I’m looking for in my quest to do nothing. I’m best at doing nothing on a blanket on hot sand, with the incessant sound of waves nearby. Puts me to sleep as quickly as if I’m still that toddler at the beach.


I’ve been really homesick for the Pacific and my days with Mary. Do you suppose Trader Joe’s would mind my sharing with you an image from a TJ’s greeting card she sent me once after my annual visit? It sums up something of our attitude toward life.


But since I’m not at the beach, the best I can do is take advantage of rare breaks in the rain to practice doing nothing with my boys. The light is just right in the late afternoon, and there is almost always a breeze on our corner. The streets are silent, the clouds are taking a bit of a rest, and there’s nothing that really needs doing.


Nothing at all.






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