It’s Sunday and I’m sitting in our garden, right outside our home, in my village in Greece. I have a whining dog next to me who’s constantly seeking attention. I just had lunch and I’m now having a coffee. I have my phone in my hands and the Kindle on the table. I’m wondering what to do. I’m starting to feel a knot forming on my throat, my jaw is cleansing and my heart is beating faster. I know this is when I start getting anxious about how best to fill my free time.
I’m reading two books at the moment, none of them is fiction. I could read. I could listen to music – but that feels too indulgent and somehow boring. I could also write but I run out of subjects – or better, there’s stuff going on but I don’t feel like writing about them yet. So what do I do?
Well, I obviously chose to write even if I’ve got nothing to say. Maybe this anxiety and this gap – this empty space – is something worth talking about. I could for example talk about how my anxiety has to to do with wanting to fill this space with something productive. Writing is somehow productive, isn’t it? It doesn’t give me any money but it’s good to think that someone might be getting something out of reading this. It’s also good for my blog, to have stuff online up to date, isn’t it? I mean, not many people read my stuff yet because it’s new, but in this hypothetical fantasy land in my head where lots of people read it (and which sometimes feels pretty real), I have to keep up with it and be up to date.
I could also talk about how the idea of doing nothing – sitting here with the dog, sipping coffee, just looking around, listening to the sounds and just… being – is terrifying. It’s too early in the day for something like that anyway. I need to do something productive first and then we’ll see. There will always be time for doing nothing after all, while waiting for the plane for example, or on the bus going somewhere. Then I’ll have no choice but to do nothing (even though the truth is that even then I’m usually on my phone watching Netflix or listening to podcasts).
And then of course there’s the option to do something pleasant; something I like doing; something that gives me pleasure – like, listening to music or reading fiction or watching a film. But again that’s out of the question because I haven’t earned it yet. Maybe after I write this, after I read a couple of chapters of my non-fiction books and maybe after I meditate a bit (which is obviously different to doing nothing because meditation is “useful”) then I can reward myself with listening to some music or with doing something else I enjoy doing.
In theory and on a pragmatic level, I don’t have to do anything. There’s no urgent stuff, it’s the weekend and I worked enough the past few weeks (even though it wasn’t 40 hours per week, because THAT’s what real work looks like…) But this is hard to sink in. I need to do something that gives me the feeling of worthiness, the sense that I’ve got something to offer. Because just being in this world doesn’t seem to be enough.
Interestingly I don’t need a boss to do this whole thing to me. It’s me who’s keeping an eye on me and who makes sure things are getting done; it’s me who’s gonna get disappointed if I won’t get things done. Guilt is what keeps me on my toes: I do things in order to avoid feeling guilty and if I decide to be lazy and to go for example and watch a film, it’s guilt that will keep me company while I watch.
That’s pretty fucked up if you think about it, isn’t it?