I’m Working Here! The Value of Doing Nothing

Writers write. I know that’s a necessary truth, but writers, as well as every other person, regardless of profession, also need periods when they are not doing anything. This is something that is lost on a good chunk of society. If you aren’t doing something, you’re lazy and wasting time. I taught high school for six years, and two major themes of my former career stand out in my mind. First-Teachers work constantly-even when they are off work. Secondly-There is no such thing as free time. Leaving the classroom behind has been exhilarating! I’ve lost twenty-five pounds, and I don’t have crushing anxiety every Sunday evening because I am dreading returning to work, and I have free-time. There are moments when I am doing nothing more than vegging out on the couch, watching Magpies deconstruct nests they built the previous spring.

As a child, I was prone to daydreaming and running off to a mystical place in my head. Of course, I was admonished for that more than once, but I was a lot more stubborn back then, and I refused to give it up. As an adult, and especially as a teacher, I had no time for daydreaming. Instead, I was constantly busy, and the busier I became, the lower student test scores were, the less the students learned, and the more I disliked my job. Why? Because there is a point where busy is just that-busy. It doesn’t mean you’re getting anything worthwhile done. There is this idea that we need to be busy-constantly advancing toward a goal. There is some truth to that. It helps to have a goal in mind. What is false about that ideology is that we always have to be working to make progress. Staying busy doesn’t mean you are getting anything done. I have written a great deal over the past few weeks, but a lot of that information will be edited out. Some of those words were forced because I wanted to make the 2,000-word minimum I’ve set for myself. Last week, I started to let the word count slip. 1,500, 1,000, and eventually-300.

So, my daily writing goal had fallen by the wayside. There were times when I was pecking away at the computer, but nothing worthwhile was being produced. It is always better to have something than nothing to edit, but when you know that what you’re writing is crap, it’s frustrating and hard to go on. My in-laws wanted us to come up and visit them at the campground where they are spending the week. One of the reasons they wanted us to stop up was because they wanted to show us where the old homestead and graves of my husband’s relatives are located. Mother-in-law is a great storyteller, so I was excited to go, but there was part of me that thought, ‘Oh no! This is going to interrupt my writing routine!” The night before the excursion was the 300-word day, so by the morning of the trip, I figured, “Why the heck not?”

We went to see the homestead that my husband’s great-grandfather bought when he and his family came to the United States to join the Mormon Church. The question of whether or not this was a spiritual journey or a choice made by a man who no longer wanted to work in coal mines, and longed to own land-is up in the air. Regardless, the great-grandparents moved to Utah where they experienced success, heartache, pain, happiness-all the good and bad stuff.

Visiting the family burial plot, I noticed that six of the headstones were those of babies. The sad, sorrowful loss of children who have not even had a chance to live, struck my heart. My husband and I also have our own little baby angel, and while my husband’s great-grandmother was dead long before he was born-she died a year before my father-in-law was born, I felt a kinship with her. One of the babies buried in the plot was my husband’s aunt. His grandmother lost two babies soon after they were born. The grave of a baby is extremely painful to visit, even 140 years after the death has taken place, but the sorrow of a mother who loses her baby is something that only other mothers who have been through the same thing understand. I touched those headstones and said a little prayer of alliance and understanding. Some have turned their backs to me, because they don’t know what to say about the loss of my daughter. These women knew what it was like to bury children. Before leaving, I thanked them for their understanding.

As we walked through the graveyard, the headstones whispered stories of strangers. We were the only four people on the grounds, and outside of the basic family stories my mother-in-law would interject for context, we stood silent and still, all of us imagining what it must have been like to live in that rugged little town, in the late 1800s. Getting out from in front of my computer, feeling the warm breeze of canyon winds against my face, and visiting the homestead and the cemetery where my husband’s ancestors are buried, helped get me over the writing hump. Last night, I wrote 2,000 decent words.

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