Do Nothing

I take Fridays off. For most of the day, I do nothing. As in, nothing scheduled, nothing on a list. I do what I want, which is, oftentimes, a lot of nothing.

A few months back I bookmarked this beautiful, long, rambling, connect-the-dots essay by Jenny Odell. I have read it several times, as she moves from the setting of the Oakland rose garden through Deep Listening retreats and the residential crows outside her window, to this passage citing Franco Berardi, author of After the Future.

Berardi, she writes, “ties the defeat of labor movements in the 1980s to rise of the idea that we should all be entrepreneurs. In the past, he notes, economic risk was the business of the capitalist, the investor. Today though, “‘we are all capitalist’ … and therefore, we all have to take risks. … The essential idea is that we should all consider life as an economic venture, as a race where there are winners and losers.”

Odell goes on to add:

“In a situation where every waking moment has become pertinent to our making a living, and when we submit even our leisure for numerical evaluation via likes on Facebook and Instagram, constantly checking on its performance like one checks a stock, monitoring the ongoing development of our personal brand, time becomes an economic resource that we can no longer justify spending on “nothing.” It provides no return on investment; it is simply too expensive.”

It’s getting harder, isn’t it, to allow ourselves the luxury of doing nothing, or, to put it another way, to be unproductive with our hours. To be idle is to be suspect. But I’m reminded of Tom Hodgkinson, who literally wrote the book on how to be idle, and later, in his Freedom Manifesto, went on to offer this bit of advice he received from the artist Joe Rush:

“Joe’s notion is that we are all born with a gift, and that it is up to us to find that gift, and then explore it. (…) And how do you find your vocation, your gift? The answer is simply to do nothing for as long as you possibly can.”

Very subversive. It’s Friday. I’m in.

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Winter

The snow started falling yesterday morning.
It came down in fat motes, curtains blowing sideways.
Sleet at midday, popcorn against the windows.
The cats slept.

Drifts accrued in doorways, domes of white arose
on backyard patio tables, wedding cakes for winter brides,
Birds tracked in a day drained of color,
crossing rabbit divots.

Midway through sweeping out the carport, I look up
to see the black dog across the way, shaggy
and nose deep in sparkle, he sniffs and sneezes,
comes up flocked.

 

Bad News, Good News

There are breaks in the action. Radical severance, split to the root. The space between thoughts is deep space; you drop and drop and never hit bottom.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is, there’s no ground.

Industrial Disease

If you spent your formative years within the institutions of the dominant culture, you will likely spend the rest of your life seeing the world through the bars of your cage. Divided, labeled, boxed, categorized. What context might you have, what vision, if you were never put in a cage to begin with?

Sometimes Ashes, Sometimes Dust

I’m reading Timothy Egan’s stark and unsettling story of the Dust Bowl years, The Worst Hard Timean uneasy feeling keeping me company as I go. “A powerful cautionary tale,” reads the back cover of my paperback edition, and it is, though one has to wonder if any caution is ever heeded when there is still profit to be made by clinging to willful ignorance.

If nothing else, the history of the dust storms of the High Plains throughout the 1930s provides ample evidence — as if we needed more — of the capacity of human activity to radically alter weather cycles. And the basic difference between weather and climate is time. But time is measured differently in Washington, D.C., where nobody reads, and the only cycle that matters is electoral in nature, while taking risks on rising sea levels and drawn-down aquifers is part and parcel of our casino economy, to which we all must pay tribute, sometimes in ashes, sometimes in dust.

So it goes.

 

Dust Filter

I don’t know what to call this filter through which I’m seeing the world right now. Maybe it’s dust.

Maybe it’s fear.

Maybe I am in The Waste Land. (Come in under the shadow of this red rock.)

I’ve taken a job I’m not particularly suited for (to put it mildly) that places me in a dirt-and-pebble-filled children’s playground for nearly half of my eight-hour workday, five days a week. It has not rained in any measurable amount in these parts for over a month, and copious amounts of dust are kicked into the air by flying feet and tumbling bodies. By the end of the week my lungs feel like those of a pugilist with a pack-a-day cigarette habit. Battered and bruised.

Last week I got truly sick from it. And now I fear it.

On the drive into town each morning I pass fields of corn and soybeans gone brown, the giant tillers turning under the remains of this year’s harvest, raising rooster-tails of bone-dry earth in their wake.

Where is the rain?

In honor of yet another presidential campaign season, I have turned off the news. Whatever fresh hell is headed our way can be dealt with when it gets here. Meanwhile, I have decided to sell everything I own and make my way elsewhere. I will not sit out the apocalypse, or the 2016 election, or my impending crone years, in this place.

Ambitious plan, and I am only me, so it will take some time. Meanwhile, I try to write, and the dust (fear) clouds my vision, and the words come out all wrong.

Plus I’m still sick. And so it goes.

Driving

“The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive. The great opportunity is where you are. Don’t despise your own place and hour. Every place is the center of the world.”

John Burroughs

Driving along I-75, skirting Daniel Boone National Forest and the foothills of Appalachia, I shared the road with more fellow travelers than I’d anticipated. It was a Sunday, and I thought it would be just me out there. But no: lots of tractor-trailers and minivans and pickup trucks, all of us going wherever we were going in a great big hurry.

I had a pile of cds on the seat beside me. Yes, yes. Anachronism. Me and my media. One day cds may be charming, in the retrograde sort of way vinyl is today, but right now they brand me as a laggard on the great upgrade continuum. O well. It’s not like I’m the only one. Last month I went to a barn concert with my friend Claire, whose car — a Volvo station wagon, circa 1990 — features a cassette player. Cassettes are teetering on the edge of charming again, at least for a certain cohort, but like the mix-tape relationships they represent, they are fickle. When Claire inserted a tape and nothing happened, she pressed the eject button and discovered that her garage-sale Modest Mouse cassette had unspooled all over the insides of her player.

Anyway, driving. Listening to Tom Waits, to Nancy Griffith, to an old Putumayo sampler, having my emotions tugged this way and that by the sounds coming out of my speakers as the hills transformed from the deep blue of the early morning to lush dense green as the day wore on.

Driving is not meditative in any real sense. Too much is demanded of the body, of the senses; it is typically tiring, not revivifying. But it does allow a sort of suspension of the quotidian, holding you in that interstitial space between here and there for a nice bit of time. I often feel, when I’m driving a long distance, that some part of my brain will have things all figured out when I get to where I’m going.

It hasn’t happened yet, but perhaps I just need to drive a little farther. Just a little farther, still.