“Don’t just do something; stand there”

A decent respect for the opinions of mankind, not to get all Jeffersonian, would seem to require some explanation for this space and what appears in it. So here goes. One day it became obvious to me that people don’t really know how to do nothing anymore. I don’t mean do nothing in the double negative “Yinz don’t do nothin’” sense, but in the contemplative “gazing at the clouds of a Summer’s day” sense. Many people think this is a good thing. It’s the old “idle hands” routine and other such humbug from frauds like Franklin, Aesop and the brothers Grimm. Well they’re wrong. Idleness is not only very relaxing but is the wellspring of all sorts of creative urges.

So why is there nothing doing when it comes to doing nothing? Well, for one thing, there are too many distractions. Instead of doing nothing, people are constantly checking their phones for text messages or Facebook updates. This seems like a logical thing to do if you’re intent on avoiding doing nothing, but sometimes people do this while they are doing something – driving for instance – with catastrophic consequences. I’m not here to nag you, though. That’s the job of your spouse and the Director of Homeland Security. But try to imagine Einstein as he gazed into space mulling over the Theory of Relativity. Any onlooker would have correctly observed that he was doing nothing. Could he have done it in between text messages? Of course not. Can you imagine Shakespeare sitting around saying to himself, “let’s see, ‘to be or not to . . . ‘ oh wait, that’s my broker, I have to take this . . .”  And getting back to Jefferson, somehow I don’t think the “Blog-Post of Independence” would have carried the same historical gravitas.

But here’s the real payoff: Once you try doing nothing, I mean really setting your mind to it using the least possible effort, you’ll find out something remarkable. Time slows down. For you young people this may be more a bug than a feature, but I can assure you that you will appreciate it as you grow older and get the uneasy feeling  that the passage of time is accelerating.

A young Joe Namath once said, “I can’t wait ‘til tomorrow, because I get better looking every day.” He doesn’t say that anymore for several reasons. He gets worse looking every day, and now that he’s much closer to the end than the beginning, he isn’t that eager to get to tomorrow. Speaking of alcohol consumption (you’ve all seen the Suzy Kolber interview, right?) Joe would do well to avoid it for another reason. Drinking speeds up the clock, as anyone who has ever wondered how he got to last call so quickly can attest. Not that I have any brief against indulging in the occasional cocktail. I enjoy a jolt as much as the next guy, particularly when he’s buying. It’s just that it gets the second hand spinning like a wind turbine in a derecho.

In future installments the Idler will interrupt extended periods of inactivity to investigate new ways of doing nothing.

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