Every once in a while I learn something new about myself. Sometimes these learning flashes will come to me while I am sitting at a bar having a drink or while on a mid-afternoon walk. My most recent learning flash came to me while sitting on a park bench underneath an old oak tree. The mid-afternoon sun wallowed in the sky and the heat was so intense that I was reluctant to ever leave the shade of the grand oak. So I sat there. I did not read, I did not listen to music. I just sat there with my eyes and ears open, thinking about my life. And then the flash came to me.
For most of my adult life I have yearned to be an author and a painter- a successful artist of some sort. The past ten years I have painted many paintings, written various things, and produced hundreds of drawings. But I have done nothing more than this. I have had no gallery shows, I have gotten nothing published in print and have done very little to advance my career as an artist. As much as I have wanted to be a working artist I have lacked the ambition needed to be successful in anything in this world (although if reading was a career I could have made a fortune by now). Making money from my art has never been the reason why I paint or write so having to market my work has always been difficult for me. And then on that park bench it came to me- what I really really enjoy doing is nothing at all.
What I mean by this is I enjoy the freedom to be. The freedom to wonder in the mid-afternoon sun. The freedom to sit on a park bench for as many hours as I need without having somewhere to go. I enjoy going for walks and not knowing where I will end up. I enjoy having nothing to do, doing nothing. Some may refer to this passion of mine as “bumming around,” and I would have to say that this is not an unfair judgment. In our current society being a bum has a negative connotation because it opposes the world of work that we have become so addicted to. Capitalism would fall apart if too many people were content doing nothing (sitting on a park bench) so the bum has been demonized as a failure, a lazy and shiftless person who seeks to live solely on the support of others. But a large part of me is a bum who does not want to have my feeling of freedom suffocated by work or a job (even sitting at my desk and writing can feel suffocating at times). The bum part of me just wants to loiter around, grow my hair long, be in a perpetual state of awe, read my books, feel the mid afternoon sun bake my flesh and enjoy the pleasures of being, doing nothing and going nowhere. Yes, this is what I enjoy most in life.
When I had this learning flash I had a realization that I had not had before. I am a nothing man. I did not feel any guilt for being a nothing man. Instead for the first time in my life I felt good about this- I wanted to own it with pride. I accepted this nothing man as a part of who I am and then I thought of ways that I could integrate this into my day-to-day reality. I realize that if a person wants to be successful at anything in life there is a certain amount of “sitting behind a desk and working that one has to do.” But maybe I can find the art in doing nothing (which is really doing something, but just not with the intention to work and generate profit). Maybe I can carry around a camera and a tape recorder and document the things I see, hear, smell and think while doing nothing. Maybe this is a way of making something out of doing nothing? Or maybe I could just let go of my ego and be content with just being, with not being ambitious and simply enjoy my life without the nagging desire to be anything? All of these thoughts and many more rushed into my head as I sat on the park bench, staring out into a large wide open grassy field with dried flowers lingering all around. I sat there for a few more minutes and then got up and continued on doing nothing with my day.