The Hard Job of Doing—and Thinking—Absolutely Nothing.

James Hayman:  Each year two old friends invite Jeanne and I to join them in a house they rent for the winter.  It’s right on the beach on Longboat Key, a long and somewhat overbuilt sandbar outside Sarasota on the Gulf coast of Florida.

Last year we had  to turn down the invitation. I was racing to finish the last revisions of my third book, Darkness First, before my agent, Meg Ruley needed to send the manuscript  off to my editor at Penguin UK in London and then on its rounds to find a new editor and publisher in New York.

This year, mostly because my wife absolutely insisted, and because I knew I needed a rest, we accepted.

Consequently, for the past ten days or so I’ve been doing absolutely nothing but lying in the sunshine on a chaise lounge and focusing both mind and body intently on the difficult (for me at least) task of doing absolutely nothing at all other than absorbing as much Vitamin D as possible and hopeully turning my pallid northern skin to a healthy brown. In  the process I hoped to  keep my mind as blank as possible.

The body part of the effort, as you can imagine, was easy and immensely enjoyable.

I’d sleep as late as I possible, usually waking somewhere around eight-thirty or nine. After morning necessities, I’d pull on a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and my red Arkansas Razorback baseball cap (I’m newly converted to the Razorbacks fan.  My daughter married one last September), pour myself a cup of coffee already prepared by one or the other of our hosts and wander out to the patio which was literally on the beach.  I’d rotate a chair to face the sun, sit, sip and gaze at the empty white sand, watch troops of pelicans and egrets cruise gracefully overhead, and study the waves from the Gulf as they lapped gently at the shore.

Usually, I’d open one of the three books I’d brought with me and read, occasionally looking up to study the few passers-by walking or sometimes jogging at the water’s edge.

After an hour or so I’d wander back to the kitchen, fix myself a bowl of berries and yogurt for breakfast and then wander back outside to take up my vigil once again . Whenever I felt the urge to move,  I’d get up and join the strollers on the beach, heading a mile or so in one direction or the other and then turning around and coming back. The hardest job was going to the Publix supermarket to refresh our joint supply of good wine,

And so I would spend my days.  The body part of all this was, as I said above, was easy and immensely enjoyable. However, for a workaholic like me, the job of turning off my mind was considerably more difficult.

Like the proverbial alcoholic in a well-stocked bar, I find it hard not to give in and mentally slip into one or the other of the half dozen projects I’m currently involved in. It might be the freelance copywriting jobs I’m handling for an ad agency in Portland. There are summer rental requests for our house on Peaks island. There’s a considerable amount of worrying to be done about how repairs are going on a small rental property we own on Munjoy Hill. There’s the workshop on writing suspense novels I’ll soon be leading for Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance.  And, of course, there’s the challenge of coming up with ideas for the fourth McCabe/Savage thriller, which I absolutely have to get started on.

Like a coach at an AA meeting, my wife watched me like a hawk for signs of giving in and focusing on one or another of these. She’d purposefully interrupt me when she sensed my thought flows were not being directed toward relaxation.  Without her vigilence, I probably would have gotten up, gone inside, picked up my laptop, and started working on one project or another.

But she did watch and after a week or so I did finally manage to turn off the noise in my brain and begin to reallhy relax. Of course, after a week or so, it was almost time to go home.

Vacations, as most of us know from experience, need to be longer than a week to really work.  Still, too short or not, getting away to the sunshine was definitely worth it. Even though we’re headed back to Portland later today.

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5 Responses to The Hard Job of Doing—and Thinking—Absolutely Nothing.

  1. Lea Wait says:

    Oh, how I can identify! (But what fun to have the challenge of relaxing, too!) By the way … did I get a peak at your daughter’s wedding – and you – in the current issue of Maine Magazine’s Wedding issue?

  2. Deanna says:

    My granddaughter is a Junior and plays soccer at Arkansas.! Good place, Dee

  3. thelma straw says:

    Oh, I envy you and that sunlight and the lazzzzzzzy daze!!!!! But hope you got # 4 there, at least in your little grey planning cells….

  4. John Clark says:

    Neat post. The art of doing nothing well, particularly the mental portion eludes me most of the time.

  5. Ed’s parents have a condo on Anna Maria Island, Longboat’s laid-back neighbor… we were there briefly in January and hopefully at the end of March. Gotta love the good fight of trying so valiantly to relax!

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