Much Ado About Doing Nothing

Creative Bone Breaking

Oh hi everyone, it’s been three and a half months since my last post.

It’s been so long that I had to re-set my Substack password just to get into my account. It’s been so long that my sentence-forming brain is out of practice. It’s been so long that I forgot how to do this.

What are my brain and fingers trying to say?

The words are coming flickering like a dying lightbulb, spurting erratically on/off with fritzing sparks and burning out. The words are coming heavy like molasses, painfully slow and thick like a hazy brain on a hot summer’s day.

Sometimes I forget that you can work for something your whole life, choosing your craft at a young age even unbenonwst to you, and then grow spider webs over those abilities when the days blend without the doing.

Anyway, speaking about doing, I’ve been trying to do it. Do the doing. It’s hard.

It’s not that I don’t keep myself busy. I have work. I have friends I see. I’m trying to paint walls in my house and lay garden tiles and grow tomatoes.

But somewhere along the way, I lost the steam needed to chug me to distant locales. Big goals seemed...not just unattainable but unimaginably far from me.

I identified that feeling recently in a few articles that really explain this feeling better than I could.

In a piece for the Atlantic titled “I’m Not Scared to Reenter Society. I’m Just Not Sure I Want To,” Tim Kreider talks about the disconnect of being expected to bounce back to “real life” after the lengthy trauma of the past one---especially when the life we normalized wasn’t really healthy to begin with.

And in The New York Times article “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing,” Adam Grant goes deeper into the psychology of the daily malaise some of us are feeling.

“In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.”

I think the hardest thing about the pandemic for me has been this languishing—this lack of meaning, mastery, and mattering to others. I’m not trying to be dramatic—because I know I have so much to be grateful for—but I find myself struggling under the weight of what it means to exist, logistically, all on your own to yourself, and how to continue feeling a sense of effort, belonging, and even an attachment to living your life, when it doesn’t really impact anything on the reg.

There’s been so much grief in this time—so much loss of intimacy and community that honestly still continues to color my days, even as I’m able to re-enter life “with” people. I find myself still mourning things I lost, almost as if the little girl inside of me that felt so bereft and scared and isolated and alone is still wringing her hands, waiting for another time of being outside and looking in.

But there’s also been a lot of healing that went along with the loss—a bone being broken, then knitting together again with resilient, sinewy muscles and stubborn scar tissue.

There’s been SO much learning to accept, and so many attempts to learn the difference between self-care and self-indulgence--to walk the fine line between sanctuary and a prison.

Despite all of this awareness and growth, I still feel like I should be closer to the answers of how to create art with the COVID-shaped hole in my heart, but I don’t. Days turn to weeks without picking up my guitar or typing a thought into the inter-ether, and I wonder if I was mistaken—if all my creativity was just a phase, or, worse, a shangri-lah that’s only TRULY reachable by the strong-willed, the determined, the ones who try harder.

I guess I’m writing this to explain, because during all this time of creative absence I’ve been plagued by this niggling guilt. There are people who read my ramblings and listen to my music and have supported me with their encouragement and dollars, and I just haven’t been able to make my soul show up to DO the DOING.

So I can abuse myself a little bit, for being a weary maker. I shame myself unfairly for wanting the comfort of the not-doing. But something I remind myself is I don’t have to make a big ado about nothing---if I’m not doing it, I’m not doing it. If I’m going to do it, I’ll do it.

And sure, there’s all this stuff about integrity, and doing the things we say we’re going to do, and artistic dedication to craft, and “showing up,” but sometimes we can just show up to watering our plants. We can just be committed to texting our friends. We can show up to the day every morning, even if all we do is open our eyes. We can make “much ado” about the “nothing” we’re doing--in a good way.

Sometimes it feels embarrassing to realize my posts are becoming less about creativity and productivity and more about “being ok being a mess.” Sometimes self-affirmation feels like the gaudy stepsister to malaise and lethargy, a saucy siren whispering to you to relax a little, don’t try so hard.

Sometimes the line between gentleness and giving up feels blurred. But I guess I keep telling myself that kindness can never be bad, if we pay attention.

Thank you for paying attention with me and to me, and still showing up to read these words. I wish you peace in the doing, peace in the not doing, and peace in the in between.

Love,

Annie


THREE GOOD THINGS

  1. If you haven’t yet watched Ted Lasso, watch Ted Lasso.

  2. There’s an ice cream spot in Portland called “Cheese and Crack” that offers softserve with a little tiny dark chocolate cowboy hat on top.

  3. I’ve literally watched this lip sync from Drag Race All Star’s 6 like 12 times.