At the risk of parroting Jerry Seinfeld, this column is about nothing; actually it's about doing nothing on vacation. I just took almost two weeks off from work over the holidays and, for the most part, did nothing. I unplugged from emails, ignored texts, and slept a lot. I went to bed early, got up late, and took naps in between.
I read a few books and watched parts of a documentary on Netflix that generally put me right back to sleep. We took hikes most days with the dogs. My family? We all did nothing -- but we did it together. We had some relaxing dinner conversations about things that didn't involve homework projects or college applications or soccer. We made no fancy meals and when it came to my attention that we were almost out of toothpaste, I ordered it online for delivery the next day. A trip to the drugstore would have just been too stressful.
When people ask "How was your vacation?" I'm not sure what to say. We did nothing and in doing nothing, we did precisely everything we needed to do. As someone who generally speeds through life at 100 mph, it's hard to describe what coming to a screeching halt feels like. But that's what we did. We put a "do not disturb" sign on our lives and pretty much all fell into a meditative trance, grooving on the stillness.
"Weren't you bored?" a friend who knows me well queried. Nope, not bored. More like immobilized, frozen in a sea of calm where days ran into each other and stop being distinguishable. One day we hiked down to an empty beach and just walked and walked, looking for beach glass. When a jogger ran by, he apologized for the intrusion. That's when I realized that our solitude was tangible, palpable, visible to others.
I paid no attention to the news in the world -- is something going on in Oregon? -- and lost track of hours. Just before dusk, with the temperatures dropping, we would light a fire in the family room and admire the sunset. On one particularly clear moonlit night, we bundled up at 11 p.m. and stood outside for an hour watching the stars. I longed for nothing, except for maybe more paper plates so we wouldn't have to wash dishes.
This extreme staycation was a first for me. I have never taken time off from work and done nothing. In fact, most of our vacations are so jam-packed with running around seeing sights and being afraid to miss anything that we savor little and come home exhausted. We have even made being in Hawaii exhausting by snorkeling or surfing every day, climbing every volcano, driving all over the islands to try every new zip-line, new restaurant, anything and everything. We rise early and stay up late. From every trip to a city, there is the invariable photo of at least one of us collapsed on a park or museum bench, catching a few minutes of shut-eye before we do six more things. Vacations generally end with me heading straight from the red-eye flight to the office -- sleepless, feeling a cold coming on, and dreading the mountain of laundry that will be waiting for me when I get home eight hours later.
Even when we aren't on vacation, we burn our candles at both ends, rushing around all the time on tight schedules. When an unexpected 15 minutes of down time materializes, we feel bereft and rush to fill it; I check emails while I wait for red lights to change and I grab for the phone the minute I open my eyes. Relax? I would have sworn to you before these past two weeks that I seriously did not know how.
And then I did it. Leisurely days that just flew by and back-to-work Monday coming way too fast. Or as Seinfeld put it best: "I am so busy doing nothing ... that the idea of doing anything, which as you know, always leads to something -- cuts into the nothing and then forces me to have to drop everything."
Watch the famous "nothing" episode below:
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