This past weekend I went to visit my friend Marty and stay with his family at their cottage on Lake Ontario. Within 15 minutes of my arrival and just awkwardly standing around (hovering) and looking uncomfortable, Marty turned to me and said, “Girl, you’re one of those too type-A’s aren’t you? We’re going to need to teach you how to relax.” If I was momentarily offended, it was only for the briefest moment because I realized he was more or less right. Without something to do, I didn’t know what to do.
I had left work early on Friday to spend the weekend somewhere away from my family, from Internet connections, and any work or responsibilities. I brought with me only a change of clothes, bathing suit, and a book (of short stories, not a textbook!). And of course the goal was just to relax. And it’s not that I never relax. But I’d say there’s a big difference between what I had planned for the weekend versus sleeping in an extra hour on Sunday morning to avoid morning chores, or sneaking in an episode of New Girl during my lunch break at work. Sure, those things are relaxing and enjoyable, but those moments are inseparable from the feeling that your time is stolen, that those were brief moments snuck out of the day with the ever-present phantom of your to-do list lurking in the corner of your mind. It’s almost relaxing but rushed, if that makes any sense.
But this, now this was different. Even if I wanted to, it’s not like I had brought any work with me to do. I didn’t even have the Internet so that I could pacify myself with the ‘productivity’ of reading the New York Times. My time was completely free and more-or-less unstructured*. As Marty said, “Here we sit, read, and stare. And eat.” So I sat outdoors in a lawn chair and read Murakami until I began to wonder if men only thought about sex and if it was common for housewives lead secret lives when they were alone at home. And at night, when there was a fire, I stared at the flames and listened to the arrhythmic crackling of the burning logs (apparently due to small bubbles of air trapped in the wood that expand and cause the wood to pop) until I zoned out and my mind went to a place of nothingness. It was almost as if I was meditating, but without all the overtones of spirituality.
By Saturday I was beginning to get the hang of it. After waking up, I read another two Murakami short stories until we headed to the beach. To avoid boring you with the details, I’ll sum up my day with this photo:
And then the weekend was over. Early Sunday afternoon, I was on my way back home. It was my father’s birthday and my mom wanted me to help her pick out a cake before dinner. When I finally said bye to Marty and climbed back into my mom’s car, she looked at my tanned skin and muttered something about skin cancer. When I told her what I had spent my weekend doing, she asked me if I was bored. I was in the middle of nowhere and didn’t even have the internet! And the honest answer, would be no, despite the short period of adjustment to the absence of the familiar pressures of busyness around me, I really did enjoy those moments when what mattered most was the feeling of ripples of sand under my toes or watching twirling sparks shoot up from a campfire into the night air. I wasn’t terribly sad to leave, and I would hardly call it a rejuvenating zen experience, but it was a relaxing weekend – and that was all I wanted.
*Even during the other weekends I had ‘taken off’ this summer, I always had some sort of highly structured itinerary that filled up my hours from dawn to dusk. I would make plans to visit this museum from 2-5pm, and then have dinner with that friend from 6-8pm, and then a movie at 8:30 pm, etc.