The Zen of Nothing


I live in Kentucky, and it’s been raining lately.  By “lately,” I mean daily.  Constantly.  It keeps me indoors.  It keeps my children indoors, too.  As result, I’ve been thinking–or trying to think, but I’ve got nothing.  Zip.  So, I thought I’d write about that.

Why write about nothing?  Any egghead or self-important jackass can write about something.  Lord knows I have.  Just read some of my blog posts.  One might argue that many of those are about nothing, but I disagree.  Just because something doesn’t interest you doesn’t make it nothing.  It’s something, albeit something uninteresting.

Nothing gets a bad rap.  (By that, I mean “nothing,” not that nothing gets a bad rap.  You know what I mean.)  You don’t want to do nothing with your life.  Or be a “nothing.” Or learn nothing.  Or accomplish nothing. Or have nothing going for you.

During these rainy days, I’ve had nothing to do, so that’s what I’ve tried to do.  Nothing.  One day I slept until 10:30.  I thought that was doing nothing.  Then, I realized I hadn’t slept that late in years.  That was something, for sure.

My family has had nothing to do, either.  I haven’t seen my 18-year-old son in days.  He wanders in late, sleeps until noon and then leaves.  He has to be doing something, but I’d rather not know what.  My wife has had nothing to do and has talked a lot about it, thus filling her nothingness with talk.  My youngest son says he’s “bored,” but actually has been doing a bunch of stuff.  If my oldest son is bored, he has said nothing about it.  Nothing.

By habit, I’ve always asked my kids what they learned at school.  They always say “nothing.”  That’s hard to believe, but maybe it’s true.  The only exception was when my middle son–now 18 years old–was in preschool.  We asked him that every day, and every day he explained what he learned in great detail.  Dinosaurs, the planets, zoo animals, cars and many other things.  His brother, only two years older, had attended the same preschool and learned nothing.  We were so impressed that my wife called the teacher to commend her.  She paused and said: “All we’ve talked about are colors and shapes.”  I give my little man credit.  He already knew his colors and shapes.  He didn’t want to say he learned “nothing.”

Now that my two oldest sons are grown, I’ll ask what they’ve been doing.  “Nothing” is the standard answer–just plain nothing.  I don’t know how they do it, because God knows I’ve tried.

I’ve tried to do nothing lately.  I’ve watched the rain, but I guess that’s something.  During this rain, I’ve watched a lot of The Walking Dead Marathon on AMC.  My wife says that’s nothing, but it isn’t.  It’s something.  TV is something.  Why else would I stare at it?  Staring is something, too–not much but something.

I’m a lawyer and, despite what you might think, we think a lot.  We think like lawyers.  We think about our cases, clients and the law.  We think about money, too.  Sometimes, we even get paid to think.  That’s called “analyzing.” When I’m not at work, I like to relax my brain, and think about nothing.  That’s hard to do.  Even when I think about nothing, something creeps in.  Sometimes, it’s sex, but that happens even when I’m thinking about something.  Even when I watch TV, I’ll find myself thinking about something.  A couple of nights ago, I was watching a rerun of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo–mindless entertainment for certain.  Suddenly, I was thinking about how much Mama June looks like Fat Elvis.  Then, I started thinking about how I heard that Elvis died with sixteen pounds of impacted feces inside him.  Then, I thought about that.  Next thing you know, I was thinking about all kinds of things.

Even though I’m a man, I like to take baths.  My wife says that’s a decidedly feminine activity.  So be it.  I’ll lie in the tub and let my mind go blank.  Nothing.  Then it happens.  Something creeps in.  Maybe I think about someone bursting in and throwing a toaster in the tub.  My penchant for falling asleep in the tub might make me think about drowning in the tub, which seems unlikely but certainly can’t be considered impossible.  Often, I think about a bath being feminine and about my other feminine traits, like sitting with my legs crossed or the occasional trip to the tanning bed.

Bed time is a good time for nothing.  Think about nothing and go to sleep.  I can’t do that.  I have to think about something.  Usually, I think about all the noise being made in my house while I’m trying to go to sleep.  Sometimes, I ponder falling asleep.  That will mean that I won’t fall asleep for a good, long time.

Lately, though, with all this rain, there’s been nothing to do.  My eleven year old son has complained about it.  So has my wife.  Nothing.  Yet, we’ve all done something–eat, sleep, TV.  My wife went to a friend’s house. I took a nap today.  My wife calls that nothing, but she’s wrong.  It’s something.  It’s a nap, and I enjoy it.

I had nothing to do today, so I went to the store. Something.  I filled my wife’s car with gas.  Again, something.  I sat on our screen porch and looked at our two rabbits–Mitchell and Mollie.  Now, they do nothing.  They eat and then sit and stare.  Then they eat again.  They are like eating throw pillows.  Watching them, though, is something.  It’s close to nothing, but not quite there.

I often look forward to a day off work so that I can do nothing.  Yet, I always do something anyway.  I might read the newspaper or go to Starbucks or, of course, take a nap.  Those somethings fill up all the nothingness.

Bruce Springsteen has a song called The Nothing Man.  It’s dark and depressing, and so was I when it was released.  I used to listen to it quite a bit, but I didn’t think about nothing when I did.  I thought about something–most likely something dark and depressing.

So, here I am with nothing to do while it rains.  Nothing. It makes for long days, but that’s a good thing.  Life goes by way too fast anyway.  As Joseph Heller wrote in Catch-22, making one’s life last as long as possible is the whole point of life.

I’ve determined that there is no nothing.  Everything is something, even nothing.  This blog post, for instance, might be a total waste of time, but you read it.  So, you did something.  I wrote it, and that’s something, too.  We’ve both done something, and we can be proud of that.

© 2013

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