Nothing to do

7 August 2015

The trouble with having nothing to do is that you end up doing nothing. It’s difficult to get going on a day in which there is nothing more pressing than a load of washing, tidying up the house, sending a few emails and cobbling together something for dinner. When you have to get to the office by 8:30am you are motivated to get up early and go for a walk because otherwise you’ll have spent the whole day indoors. But when you can go for a walk at any time, somehow you get to the end of the day and realise you haven’t put your nose outside.

It is a cliché that when you need something done, you should give it to a busy person. Like many clichés, there is much truth in this. My husband is the least demanding of men but even he gets exasperated when I tell him that no, I didn’t get round to booking those flights or finding the documents we need to complete our tax returns. Often he will do it himself in the midst of a busy working day when he’s already replied to 45 emails, taken 26 phone calls and had meetings with staff in two different locations.

There was a lovely little song popular in the 1970s, which had the lyric:
Hey, I’ve got nothing to do today
Hey, I think it’s time that I got round to say
Anyway, we’ll see just what happens to me
Or shall I say, we ….
(Listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPOAYK4sr20)
I often find those words going through my mind these days.

For the first time since I was 16 I have no job of any kind, unless you count the occasional thesis or journal article that I (very gladly!) copy edit. I am the dependent partner included in my husband’s work permit and strictly prohibited from working. When you contemplate this kind of life from the vantage point of a full-time job and a busy home and social life, you look forward to doing the things you’ve previously not had the time for – writing, reading, cooking imaginative meals, exploring a new town. I do all of these things, though writing is more like getting blood out of a stone than the words freely flowing now that there’s all the time in the world! I could happily read for days, weeks and months and can no longer say “so many books, so little time”. But it is hard to tune out that insistent working class voice saying “this is not real work” while lying on the couch turning the pages. The imagination required for cooking exciting new dishes is somewhat restricted by the difficulty in finding ingredients (or so I tell myself!) and exploring is almost always better when one is not by oneself.

It is ironic that these musings were interrupted by the arrival of a thesis in my inbox. I’ve spent the last three days copy editing 200 pages and the intense concentration this requires is good for the brain. About two-thirds of the way through, I was tired of the theory, observations about previous research, findings and conclusions, to say nothing of dealing with the reference list line-by-line. After a couple of hours of inserting a full-stop here, a comma there and changing the titles of publications from regular to italic font, I began to think longingly of the unread books beside my bed and plan which one I’m going to pick up as soon as this job was done.

However, the bathrooms are in desperate need of a clean, so that’ll be my first task after uploading the edited thesis to my outbox and pressing ‘send’. So much to do! How will I cope?

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