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The Fine Art of Doing Nothing

When I was a teenager, my mother would often accuse me of being lazy. “Sloth,” she would say, “is a capital sin.” This often led to an entirely different discussion about capital sins in general—a rather elegant deflection, in my teenaged opinion, from the matter at hand, namely my laziness.

Most teenagers are lazy—at least in the opinion of their parents. They spend an inordinate amount of time sleeping, their gut-reaction to any demands they do something is “I’ll do it later.” I recall hours and hours spent staring at the ceiling or reading a book. Time most productively spent according to that distant me.

laziness the-hammock
The Hammock by Gustave Coubert

These days, I rarely spend time doing nothing. Too many years juggling too much to do, from those hectic years when I held down a more than full-time job while raising four kids, ensuring the house was clean, the garden neat, the food nutritious and home-cooked. Hubby and I recall those years with a slight shudder: the sheer logistics of combining work and family led to long, long hours—and zero opportunity to slouch on a sunbed and stare up at a cloud-dotted sky while pondering the big issues like why we are here and what happens when we die.

Twelve years ago, I decided to invest seriously in my writing—until then something of a stolen pleasure I rarely gave myself adequate time for. I started writing, and it was like opening Pandora’s box. All those stories that I had never given myself the time to tell clamoured for attention. I loved it. I submerged myself in this world of mine, and suddenly I was spending 30-40 hours a week on this. On top of my ordinary 60 hour or so work week. And the household chores. My mother no longer called me lazy. Instead she berated me for doing too much. Parents, huh?

So there I was, rather happily juggling my work and my writing. And then, some years ago, a new challenge entered my life. I woke up one day and couldn’t get out of bed. Pain flared up and down my legs, and any posture which required me to be upright was impossible. After some hemming and hawing, the doctors concluded I had spinal stenosis and required surgery. “But you need to lose 25 kilos first,” they said. I was afflicted by panic and rushed out to buy a huge chocolate bar. Not, dear peeps, a proactive approach. Fortunately, I realised that and drew up plans for “Project Lose Weight ASAP”.

It takes fortitude to lose weight. It also takes a heck of a lot of time—time spent planning what to eat, when to eat, how to exercise, when to exercise. For two years, I’ve been walking on average two-three hours a day. Combine that with work, writing, social media stuff and family obligations and there was NO time left. Nada. Niente.

I have made a habit of scheduling everything. Tea with BFF: MAX two hours, after that I must XX, YY and DD. Meet up with sister: combine with power-walk (I LOVE my power-walks with my sister and I think she does too, but the effective use of time is crucial…) Cuddle with hubby: xxxxxxxxxx NO, I am not giving you any details, plus this is one of the few areas I haven’t reduced to scheduling.

laziness John_William_Godward_-_Dolce_Far_Niente_(1897)
Dolce far Niente, John William Godward

So the other morning, I woke up and realised I have ordered my life in such detail there is no room for spontaneity. Every day is divided into neat chunks, most of which are labelled work or writing. And I still love writing, I still love working, but seriously, I do need to let my hair down occasionally, right?

Today I decided was going to be Day One in a new life that included (and don’t laugh) a scheduled non-scheduled time-slot. Today, I wasn’t going to work. Or write. I was going to BE, embrace spontaneity. While BEing, I was also going to pop by IKEA, walk the dog, do my rehab exercises, walk my mandatory 15 000 steps a day, but hey, there was a chunk called “NOTHING” in my day. Yay!

Some hours on and I have arrived at a rather depressing conclusion:  I have lost the skills required to indulge in the fine art of doing nothing. It itches in me to do something, whether that be sort my wardrobe or plan next week’s menu or write a post…Err…See what I mean?

However: I do not give up easily. Tomorrow, as they say, is another day. A day in which I aim to dig very, very deep and find the little slothful me that surely still lives inside me. I have labelled this exercise as “Explore what skills required to learn to be lazy” and allotted two hours to it. For some odd reason, something about this approach feels wrong. I have no idea why, do you?

9 thoughts on “The Fine Art of Doing Nothing”

  1. Jeanette Held Andersson

    Darling. I’m so very, very sorry. Some people spend their lives searching for the holy grail. And you will not find a sloth inside of you, no matter how long or how deep you dig. ❤

  2. Well, we certainly can’t say you are lazy, maybe like me, retired/disabled. I have all the time in the world to be lazy, am I? Kinda. I have cut down on the hours of housework I used to do, I still do what I can. I still love to cook, the 4 kids, they are all long gone onto their own lives of business. I am happy that you have the time to write…lol. What would we do without your stories?

    1. Ha! Housework! Now that’s a good way to relax my busy brain. Nothing like rushing around with a duster to clear the head of cobwebs, hey?
      Thank you for your kind words about my stories!

  3. Dear Anna,
    The French rendering of “work” is “travail” that comes from Latin “trepalium”, a torture instrument consisting of “three stakes”…
    Conversely, I am sure you are familiar with the Latin ultimate occupation defined as “otium cum dignitate” (‘Leisure with dignity’). In ‘de Oratore’, Cicero went on to state “‘…Mihi enim liber esse non videtur, qui non aliquando nihil agit.’ In qua permaneo, Catule, sententia; meque, cum huc veni, hoc ipsum nihil agere et plane cessare delectat.” (‘…For to my mind he is no free man, who is not sometimes doing nothing.’ To that view, Catulus, I still adhere, and it is just this inaction and utter idleness that charm me on my comings to this place.’)
    I find the attached pieces worth of consideration.
    J.W. Waterhouse, Ariadne (private coll., 1898)
    L. Süssmann-Hellborn, Dornröschen (Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 1878)
    By the way, Anna, would you venture any interpretation of the fact that leisure is so often represented by a female allegory ?

    Kindly. Gabriel

  4. I’m planning my sloth time. It comes on a sunny day. A lounger that says lie down, relax, tan a little.
    Okay, so that is a few months away , but it is a worth while goal to look forward to. Until then I have work to do.

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