What to do about nothing to do

Nothing to do 400X400

So, I found myself in a rather precarious situation.

One day, recently, I had nothing to do. Not a thing. Even the house was relatively clean and the laundry put away. There was nothing more I could do for the garden, which was on its way to the summer desert-char season, where all things green are reduced to sticks and straw. I could find no new reporters, bloggers, reviewers, or book clubs to pitch my novel to. There was nothing to edit or update. No e-mails to return or query letters to revise. And, gosh, with school out for the summer, there were no teenagers to supervise, unless you count my youngest son, who’s twenty and thinks he’s all grown up and doesn’t need my guidance anymore.

It was…quite frankly…frightening.

I know what you’re thinking. In the inimitable words of Mrs. Blue, when she first faces Forrest from her porch, “What are you crazy or just plain stupid?”

Now, as a teacher, I don’t use the word stupid. Five letters, yes, but, in the classroom, it’s lumped in with the dastardly four-letter variety. Still, when I tried to explain the cause of my anxiety to a friend, he looked at me like I’d lost my mind. Stupid, indeed.

I went on line and, because I had nothing else to do, I took what was billed as the 7 Minute Anxiety Test. I agreed or disagreed with all sorts of statements on a link called the Calm Clinic:  I have sweaty or cold, clammy hands. I am afraid of crowds, being left alone, the dark, strangers, or traffic. I am able to relax.

That last one gave me pause. Even when I go on vacation, it takes me a few days to stop searching for a purpose, to find that sweet spot where I can take a nap or crack a mindless novel in the middle of the afternoon without guilt. The test results showed that I’d scored a 25 out of 100 on the Anxiety Scale: Apparently, my case was nothing more than mild.

Still, why the trepidation when I’m not under pressure? I put on my Sherlock deerstalker cap and, since I had nothing else to do, I gave it a good think.  I ruminated on the fact that I have spent perhaps an inordinate amount of time being insanely busy. Sometimes, I flash back to my newsroom days, where the frantic preparation for the next show could, at any moment, be wrenched in a new direction, necessitating the tossing of the previous plan moments before going live on the air. (I still have nightmares about not being prepared when the red camera light blinks on.) When I first became a teacher, my panic at those relatively short TV segments seemed silly when faced with the proposition of five hours each day staring down children in the classroom, who glared back, waiting. I felt like an animal in the zoo. I used to be a server in a restaurant in Washington, D.C. where very busy people wanted their food “Right now!” As a sports official, decisions must be instantaneous. There’s no, “Let me think about this and get back to you,” allowed when it’s time to throw a flag or keep it neatly tucked in your belt.

And then, I paused. Everyone is busy. Our world dictates that we run from one responsibility to another with crushing regularity. Busy defines us.  And, clearly, I’m not the only one who feels a bit queasy when things slow down. More than half of Americans – 55% – responding to an on-line survey admitted to leaving vacation time unused in 2015, which totaled 658 million days.

Perhaps we’re just out of practice in regard to relaxing. Like anything else, one must train to become adept at a skill. One can’t just jump in without extensive repetition and expect to excel. So, I’ll solve my free-time anxiety problem by devising a plan, creating coherent steps in order to discern the proper route to relaxation, and then…

You know, all this thinking is making me sleepy. Maybe, I’ll take a nap and ponder the problem later.



Anne Montgomery’s new novel, The Scent of Rain, tells the story of two Arizona teenagers whose fates become intertwined. Rose flees into the mountains to escape from her abusive polygamous community where her only future is marriage to a man older than her father. Adan, whose only wish is to be reunited with his mother, is on the run from the cruelties of the foster care system. Are there any adults they can trust? Can they even trust each other?  The Scent of Rain is available at https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780996390149 and wherever books are sold.

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