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Doing Nothing is Okay
By Kay Feathers
“I never know what it was to rest. I just work all the time from morning till late at night. I had to do everything there was to do on the outside. Work in the field, chop wood, hoe corn, till sometime I feels like my back surely break. I done everything except split rails.”
-Sara Gudger, former slave from Burke County, North Carolina
Something that always astounds me when I visit house museums is the docent's mention of household chores. The average Southern plantation required an entire team of slaves to wash laundry, for example. Today I drop my clothes in the washer, pour in some detergent, and wait for the buzzer to go off half an hour later. Yet even though the convenience of modern household appliances is meant to free up my time, I still scrounge for extra minutes in my day. It seems that this so-called convenience has only bumped up the number of to-dos I must tackle before bedtime. Shouldn't I be taking advantage of the fact that I don't have to boil my shirts, beat them with a stick, and hang them up to dry?
Today I called my parents to tell them about a recent professional accomplishment. My father congratulated me and said, “Aren't you glad you spent so much unscheduled time in the library as a kid instead of joining the youth soccer league?” He was referencing how many of my classmates growing up had hardly a second to just, you know, be children. To my parents' credit, they did allow me to explore and create and ask questions as a child. Maybe I would've been less likely to try those things had every hour of my day been predetermined.
On that note, this December 2013 passage on the blog, Transitions and a Medically Complex Child, spoke to me when I stumbled across it earlier today:
“In a world of medical appointments, therapy visits, home programs and educational tutoring, sometimes, special needs parents need reminders to play. To get down on the floor and have fun for the sake of having fun. To drift off in that special world in which imagination takes over and family fun takes precedent over all the other junk in our lives.”
Though I am not a parent, I have worked with children and the idea that you should let kids be kids (to an extent) makes sense. You are more likely to notice your surroundings and make meaningful observations if you don't have to worry about the words coming out of your tutor's mouth and the ballet lesson coming up next. The idea that unstructured time should be considered as important as structured time applies to adults, too. An agenda that's too full affects your ability to rest and let your mind wander. While it's important to have some focus, it's also important to let go of the leash strangling your imagination. Forget about your taxes for five minutes. Really.
I am always unhappiest when preoccupied; that's a natural human reaction to juggling too much at once. Our ancestors—females in particular—spent generations fretting over the struggles of day-to-day living because they had to. Obtaining food, water, and shelter, not to mention keeping a space clean and liveable, used to be much harder than it is for the average middle class American citizen to do today.
When I think of people who really had it good in the 'olden days,' I picture a gentleman-farmer sitting at his desk with a quill and parchment, writing frilly letters and journal entries for hours as his slaves toil away in the fields. This gentleman-farmer wasn't tweaking his OkCupid profile while uploading songs to his iPod and attempting to watch House of Cards all at once before DJing a party. No, he had leisure time so he used it for exactly that: leisure—“freedom from the demands of work or duty,” “unhurried ease.”
All I'm saying is that it's OK to have blank blocks on your calendar. 1950s housewives would beat you senseless with a muffin pan if it meant having that free time for themselves. So maybe take a break now that you're done reading this, alright?
#FreeTime #Leisure #Hobbies #Relax #SlowDown #Seriously #BackThen