The virtue of doing nothing

Rainy Monday mornings: Nature's way of telling us to chill.
Rainy Monday mornings: Nature’s way of telling us to chill.

Laziness gets a bad rap. It’s a rainy Monday morning–the kind of morning everyone at work grumbles about and mutters they wish they could have stayed in bed. I can actually stay in bed. I love the unique darkness inside a house on a grey morning. It’s like the day itself is slow to wake…sleepy…lazy.

One thing I haven’t done since quitting work is spend a lazy day in bed. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been lazy, but only after getting dressed, making the kids’ breakfast, driving them to school, making the beds, starting a load of laundry. I pay some dues first before laying on the couch with my iPad to check out what’s new on One Kings Lane, or else the guilt gnaws at me. It sort of gnaws at me anyway. I don’t really enjoy it.

What will I say when people ask what I did today? I can’t say nothing. We are our stories. There are no stories to tell when you waste a day. Waste a day. That’s a terrible expression.

We feel a need to call our doing nothing something enlightening, like meditation…or educational, like retreat.

Why do we deny ourselves the bliss of doing absolutely nothing for its own sake, ideally in our pajamas, without needing to belittle it, explain it or earn it?

Have you ever watched a dog just lay around, finding the right cold spot on a marble floor or squishy pillow on a couch? They lay around with no qualms. There is no guilt, not even when you give them the evil eye for laying on the couch. They just stare back and stretch.

It is their natural state as much as it is to run or eat or work.

Did our prehistoric ancestors lay around on a beach or in a tree thinking, I should really be foraging for food or sharpening that spear? Probably.

But what if it’s just fine to do absolutely nothing at all? No planning. No problem solving. No working. No reading. No bill paying. No talking.

What if it’s great, in fact? What if much of the anxiety in our modern world, requiring so much medication, is just a natural response to the scarcity of laziness in our lives…and the unrelenting demand we place on ourselves to do more, achieve more, have more. With smart phones, we can’t even unplug from the office on weekends, at night or while on vacation.

I am going to practice doing nothing today without a shred of guilt. I am going to learn to unapologetically answer nothing when asked what I did today.

It isn’t depression. It’s just wonderful, blissful laziness…the glorious resting of our minds, bodies and souls. Try it.

It will do you good.


Do you know who your people are at work and why?

Your people have your back and you have theirs. They are the ones who you can be yourself with, not your role. They love what you love. They get ticked off by the same annoying people you do. They are really good at what they do. They care.

I miss my peeps. My team. My staff. My work family. We were a tight-knit group. I knew I would miss them after I quit work. It’s what made me take a very long time to step away. (The loss of income gave me less pause.) I don’t miss much, but I miss them and how we worked together.

It is the downside of leaving any job and the best aspect of office culture that doesn’t get celebrated enough.

As a department in service to others, we tried not to feed into feelings of “us against them.” But we were different. We were marketing and PR professionals inside a large higher education bureaucracy. No one really got us like we got each other.

These are the people who, with one raised eyebrow, understood exactly what was meant during a strained meeting. We had each other’s backs. We laughed at the same jokes. We were irritated by the same red tape. We sweated the same details and could see the big picture together. We respected each other.

Admittedly, we didn’t know the first thing about pedagogy or curriculum mapping. But we rocked brand standards, media buys, CRMs, SEO and knew that an organic search did not involve a run to Whole Foods.

We knew which stories would generate media buzz and which would be duds.

If you want to see real collaboration, watch a copywriter team up with a graphic designer to tackle a project, shepherded by a traffic coordinator, refined by an art director, championed by a project manager–and then delivered in a few days, on time and under budget. Now watch hundreds of those projects going on all at once. It’s pretty cool.

It bonds people.

We knew how to please difficult clients. We knew which battles to fight and which ones to surrender. We knew what everybody wanted from Jimmy John’s.

It’s natural to have silos in big organizations. We weren’t just siloed, heck, we were our own brand–to use marketing lingo. We were the outward-facing, student-championing, common sense-making, award-winning, butt-kicking marketing team. We were very good pros and very good people.

If you are lucky enough to find a core group of solid people at work…your people, recognize it’s a very special thing. If you have the chance to assemble such a team, have the courage to do it. By that I mean lose the dead weight. Bring in the best. Then fight for them. Don’t micromanage them. Expect their best. Get out of their way.

These people, my people, kept me going as long as I did.

One of them sulked for months after I announced I’d be retiring early. He gave me the stink-eye every time he saw me. I was breaking up the team, changing the ingredients of our mojo.

I see them here and there. We go to lunch or drinks. They are my Facebook friends. It’s not the same.

I miss my peeps.

Who are your people at work and why?

For the Love of this House

One of many precious moments in our backyard, frozen in time.
One of many precious moments in our backyard, frozen in time.

The famed designer Bunny Williams wrote a book titled “An Affair with a House” about her beautiful New England home. She wrote poetically about the rooms, the furnishing…every detail of the stunning house, the barn and its gardens. The photos were lush and gorgeous. Somewhat self-consciously, I suppose, she included mention of her philanthropic work lest her passion for a house meet with readers’ disapproval.

I get her.

Home, dressed for the holidays.
Home, dressed for the holidays.

I love my house as though it were a breathing, living being. I’ve felt guilty about that too. What a materialistic and shallow thing it is to care so much about a house. But I do. We built it 12 years ago. I bought the empty lot one day when my husband was out of town.

Trust me, I said. I was never so certain of anything. The twins were in diapers.

I grew up in a mid-century modern house with terrazzo floors, low ceilings and three bathrooms, each with a bathtub of a different color. I dreamed of my own little play house in the backyard with wood floors and a porch. Every year, it was the only item on my letter to Santa.

Of course, my sensible (and wonderful) parents, raising five kids, had no way to deliver such an extravagant gift. They had better things to do than indulge my early house love. As a kid, of course, I didn’t understand.

Get lost, Santa. I’ll make my own house.

And I did. I imagined every detail of how this house would look and how it would live. And then I set out to create it.

It has both a front and a back staircase. There’s a cool little attic room with pine floors that an artist came down from Jacksonville to paint in a checkerboard pattern. It has a laundry chute that we use every day. I bought the hanging pendants in the kitchen from Urban Archeology in New York.

I picked the Calacatta marble for the kitchen counters, over the objections of the installer, Giuseppe, who told me it wouldn’t hold up to daily use. It has.

The limestone that forms the pool coping was delivered by a sweet kid who drove it from Indiana and unloaded his truck in our backyard, wiping the sweat from his brow. You weren’t kidding that it’s really hot here in June.

Every feature has a story. A few years ago when the real estate market shook the economy and with it our certainty that we could afford to live in this house forever, I readied myself to sell it.

Right after my mother died, I floated the idea to my realtor friend. What the hell. It’s just a house. Life is short. We can be happy in any house. There’s no reason for so much financial stress.

Within days we had an offer. We accepted it. I promptly fell apart. I can’t quite explain the irrationality of my overwhelming grief in those days after we signed the contract. But I went off the deep end. Too much loss.

My mother won’t know where I live, I cried to my bewildered husband. It was supposed to remove a burden and instead it felt like it had ripped out my core, leaving me a slobbering, babbling puddle of incoherent, broken-hearted mush.

On a technicality, we managed to get out of the contract but not until lawyers got involved, lawsuits were threatened and one particular realtor hated our guts. My dear friend, thank God, graciously supported us. The buyers, not so much. They ended up in the house across the street. Needless to say, they don’t have us over for barbecue.

My salary these last five years, before I stopped working, helped us hang on to the house I love so much. I’m really proud of that. It matters to me. It is my work of art. How many times in life do we continue to adore a thing long after we get it?

It is the backdrop of my best life. It is the house that routinely attracted neighborhood kids on hot summer days to jump in this pool. My kids learned to ride bikes and skates and scooters on these sidewalks.

A long driveway helps get momentum going.
A long driveway helps get momentum going.

Our big extended family started the corny Christmas talent show tradition in this family room. We rode out Hurricane Charley with my mom and dad in this family room. My elegant mother, having forgotten her nightgown and wearing my husband’s oversized black t-shirt emblazoned with the words “El Guapo,” (the ironic nickname for Boston Red Sox pitcher Rich Garces) nearly peed in her pants, laughing so hard upon glimpsing herself in the mirror in this guest room.

I brought home a trembling eight-week old puppy, thrilling the kids who came home from kindergarten to find him on this back porch.

Max the dog, in a favorite hangout.
Max the dog, in a favorite hangout.

Our neighbor, J.P., beginning at age six, made himself right at home…answering our phone or grabbing a Gatorade from our fridge in this kitchen. Countless blanket forts were erected during sleepovers with cousins in this playroom.

At least eight kids ran up the stairs to watch a magnificent nighttime space shuttle launch from this balcony. We’ve thrown some great parties here. Giggly second graders dropped into the water in a rented dunk tank, squealing with delight in this driveway. Darting boys wearing eye black and shooting air soft guns, played Man Hunt after dark in this backyard.

I set the table on fire when I knocked over a candle during a dinner party, recovering nicely, in time to serve dessert in this dining room. Curiously, that was NOT one of the two times the fire department was summoned here–first after the baby sitter left the gas on and another time after I forgot to open the chimney flue and lit a fire, filling the house with smoke. The 911 operator says to get the dogs out, my frantic daughter screamed as we escaped near disaster and certain embarrassment.

My next door neighbor brought his two young sons over to this house, their eyes wide with unimaginable fear, the night their mom would die after a long battle with cancer. My troubled Aunt Yara spent her last day, happy, watching a Gator game and eating dinner before suffering a stroke while sitting in this house. It is these walls that sheltered each of them on those two dreadful days.

Homebody that I am, there’s nowhere else I would rather be.

I know nothing stays the same. Those sad little boys next door grew up to be happy, great kids but the family just sold their house and moved away last week without saying goodbye. J.P.’s parents, who became our friends, divorced a few years ago and they too moved away. None of those kids who watched the space shuttle arc in the night sky live in this neighborhood anymore, except mine. Space shuttles don’t blast into the sky anymore.

Maybe we should still sell it. But I can’t think about that now. And I hope it’s not right after the kids go off to college in four years. I need this to be the nest that gets emptied in one fell swoop…this house that welcomes them home with their piles of dirty laundry and new friends.

I prefer to imagine a lot more living and laughing and crying…and growing old here. Someday I will be able to let it go.

I wouldn’t want to end up a ghostly figure peering ominously at future occupants from a window, like Nicole Kidman’s character in the last scene of The Others, defiantly whispering…this is my house.

Then again…