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Nothing Is Better, Nothing Is Best

July 1, 2002
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This is a column about nothing. Actually, it is about something, but the something is nothing. This is because nothing is more important than most people give it credit for. Generally, people feel guilty about nothing, but it is as necessary as anything; in fact, it is an antidote for too many things.

I am talking about nothing because, at the moment, I am submerged in way too much something. I am in the middle of what is affectionately referred to as “crunch mode,” which is essentially an overabundance of something, specifically work.

Most of us endure situations where there is way too little time to get accomplished what needs to be done, forcing us go into overdrive, working endless hours in a desperate effort to meet expectations, deadlines, and milestones. It is my sense that people experience these crunches more frequently today than in the past; in fact, I think people are actually working harder in general than they have in my lifetime.

We all know the axiom about all work and no play, and it is entirely true, in my experience. Some cure the ill effects of working hard by playing hard: hang gliding or mountain climbing or partying around the clock. That tactic can go quite a long way toward curing the stresses of overwork. Other times, however, crunch mode leaves one drained of physical as well as emotional and mental energies, and exertion of any kind — even recreational — is not what is needed. Nothing is what is needed.

I should have gone to work today, even though it is Sunday, because time is short, and the remaining work before my current looming deadline is still large, even though I've been pounding on it incessantly for a couple of weeks straight. I didn't go in because, with one more week to go, I would BREAK down in one way or another if I kept pushing. Logic dictated that if I wasn't going to work, I should catch up on laundry, my checkbook, and other personal affairs that I have neglected in favor of full absorption in work. But I knew that would relieve the stress of falling behind in personal affairs yet leave the exhaustion of overwork. The only thing for me to do was forgo being constructive in any manner whatsoever and just lie around the shack, letting my body and soul go off duty for a while.

So I did exactly that: I read, watched some videos, dozed, drank some wine, and munched. That's about it. I didn't feel the least bit guilty about it because I've learned through numerous crunches over many years that this is not simple laziness — it is purposeful laziness, aka recuperation. One day of rest will not make up for all the extra energy I've expended, but it will let me catch my metaphorical and metaphysical breath well enough to haul through the next week.

There are many benefits to the appropriate enjoyment of nothing: allowing one's brain to let go of ceaseless analysis and worry about work, reconnecting with one's partner (even if only briefly), remembering what home looks like (and forgetting, for a moment anyway, what the studio looks like), and, most important, reminding oneself that work — in fact, activity — is not the extent of human existence. It also opens a little space for inspiration, which is easily driven out when one is occupied with striking items from a mile-long to-do list.

Although I chose sheer sloth today, meditation is another excellent form of nothing. Other forms of divine laziness, like lying in the grass in the park for an hour on a sunny day or perching on a scenic vista until the cool of evening comes on, are equally rewarding.

Am I saying it is good to be a lazy bum? Yes, I am. I do not make that as an unqualified, blanket statement: there is a point at which laziness impedes rather than preserves constructiveness — that point being when the scale is regularly tipped toward inactivity.

But in measured doses, as counterintuitive as it may seem, nothing helps you get through life better than nothing.

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