A Close Read and Doing Nothing

On this Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2011 I could have posted something red. Instead, I am going to write about something read. We have an old joke in our house about doing nothing. It is not ours but one we heard it someplace and it has been adopted by us. The joke goes something like this…

I ask “David what are you doing?”

David replies “Nothing.”

I say “But you did that yesterday.”

David confirms “Yes, but I’m not finished yet.”

The art of doing nothing is a highly underrated creative skill. To do it well, a person may need to revise their world view. One aspect of doing nothing I like to indulge is taking the time for a close read. You see, I don’t skim very often when I read. I burrow in and engage in conversation with the authors or with the characters in the story.  I write in the margins. I dog-ear pages. I leave stickies for markers and notes. I muse and mutter. I laugh and cry. I devour the content as I read. This is what I call “a close read.”

You might ask “where do you find the time?”

Well, it comes back to developing the art of doing nothing which brings me to the circular place of my latest close read.

Waking at just before 4:00 am on Sunday, and it being so close to Valentine’s Day, I wanted to let my sweetie sleep peacefully for another few hours. Actually, even if it wasn’t close to Valentine’s Day I would do this out of respect and love. In la casa de inspiracion, with its open floor plan, this means doing nothing. Yes, I made some toast, smeared it with nut butter, and brewed a small pot of coffee but I didn’t start the laundry or turn on some music, or do yoga in the great room or phone a friend out east. Instead I grabbed my book and slipped up to the loft with my toast and coffee.

Can you guess what I am reading? It is WHERE THE HEART RESIDES: Timeless Wisdom of the American Prairie (1999) by Daisy Ann Hickman. Yes, that is right, the very same Daisy who comments on Creative Potager and who asked me to be a guest blogger on the Sunny Room Studio blog in January. We exchanged books a few weeks back. In the mail from Brookings, South Dakota, arrived this beautiful hardcover gem. I know there is a place for e-books but there is still something blessedly tactile about running my hand over a hardcover book and slipping its jacket off to see what it looks like underneath before beginning to turn its paper pages one by one.

So early on Sunday morning, curled up under a down quilt in the quiet darkness set slightly aside by a small reading light, I began to read. What follows, more or less in order, are a few dog-eared, sticky and pencil-marked quotes about doing nothing that can be found within the later part of the first 30 pages of Daisy’s remarkable book about her beloved prairie…

“From a great crop to a new baby or a bountiful garden, life itself seemed to be enough, and being without a new car, a new anything, was not automatic cause for alarm or dismay.”

“Especially useful in today’s society, with its plenitude of distractions, multitude of ways to avoid and hide from reality, legion of false definitions of success built into a fast-paced society to the point where values and priorities have been distorted, twisted and abolished, where many have simply given up, and where many are looking for an easy way out, a shortcut through life offering nothing but bliss and good times, I cherish the lessons of land, sky and wide-open space. Because oddly enough, with all we have created as a society, genuine happiness seems more elusive than ever: just when we believe we have found it, we being to complain as our discovery begins to feel strange, empty, or curiously nondescript.”

“So now, as we consider a perspective that results in doing more of what counts, less of what causes you to lose your way, you will be ever closer to envisioning a road map to the heart.”

“The prairie offers an enlightened alternative, one that teaches something powerful and true: Doing less paves the way for doing more.”

“Because, curiously enough, time to do less often results in something more: time to recharge and regroup; time to stay in touch with feelings, values, beliefs, and of course, people; time to let events unfold naturally, at their own unique pace; time to do things that support your dreams so you may grow old gracefully, knowing few stones were left unturned.”

“Hectic schedules, a hurry-up, do-it-now mentality, cannot compare or compete with the persistent beauty and quiet strength of the prairie. As we scramble about each day, dashing here, dashing there, the land does the opposite, and without a word speaks to our souls, touches our hearts, and reaches out, like a laser, to connect with our finer, more discriminating sides.”

“When your day is jammed full of must-do, can’t-wait items, there isn’t time for casual exchanges; there is little opportunity for the unexpected, unplanned, spur-of-the-moment cup of coffee with an old friend, the walk to the park with your son or daughter or spouse. Still, these are activities that contribute to a way of life that promotes the importance, the fundamental value, of the human connection: without fail, without exception, without excuse.”

“For encouragement, remind yourself that the less you do, the more you will do: of what counts; of what makes you feel alive and growing; of what helps you become a fully realized human being.”

(Water colour painting “Canadian Prairie” – 2002 – by Terrill Welch)

What are my intentions for this week? To do nothing – prairie fashion.

And you might say “but you did that last week.”

I think you know my response but just in case… “I’m not finished yet.”

I wish you an amazing Valentine’s Day filled with love, hope and time to do nothing.

Sprout question: When was the last time you creatively did nothing prairie fashion?

Thank you Daisy Ann Hickman for coming into my life and being part of our Creative Potager community.

© 2011 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

Purchase photography at http://www.redbubble.com/people/terrillwelch

Creative Potager – where imagination rules. Be inspired.

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

25 thoughts on “A Close Read and Doing Nothing

  1. Book underliners, dog-ear-ers, and margin scribblers unite! It’s gotten to the point where I can’t read a book without doing these things anymore, so if I borrow from the library, I have to make sure it’s a book that doesn’t really speak to me so I’m not tempted to make a note or underline something. And really, what’s the point in purposefully reading a book you’re guessing ahead of time won’t move you in any way?

    “…just when we believe we have found it, we being to complain as our discovery begins to feel strange, empty, or curiously nondescript.” That’s a frustrating treadmill to be on. Gonna have to get a little Prairie this week! Thanks for sharing your words and paintings too. Happy Valentine’s Day!

  2. Speechless. Overwhelmed. To think my humble words could generate this lovely blog post by such a gifted artist. But, Terrill, you make the best point of all: that doing nothing is never finished. That we should be inspired each day to do less and therefore more … more of what matters, more of what brings us peace and expanding awareness of the Universe in all its glory.

    May Valentine’s Day bring you and David a sea of exquisite red roses for you to paint … on this lovely day of doing nothing prairie style. Here’s to your many talents, Terrill, and to your most generous spirit. –Daisy

    (At SunnyRoomStudio, btw, when you locate the “categories” feature on the sidebar and look for INSIGHT_2010 … you’ll get all the blog posts from my 5-month book journey last year wherein I revisited this book chapter by chapter to see if its wisdom was truly timeless.)

    • Oh Daisy, it was so much fun to surprise you with this post. Often such things require some pre-planning. But I had all I needed so I just went for it!

      And thanks for the tip to readers where they can engage more with your work. Always good to review ideas to see how they are working. I shall see if I can create a live link in you comment so it is easy for readers to hop on over. Best of today to you Daisy on a rainy bluster Mayne Island Valentine’s Day.

      • You are a whiz at technology, as well, I see! Hadn’t thought of the link to INSIGHT_2010 but great idea, Terrill. AND I didn’t even know that amazon still had the book on their site. ’99 seems like a lifetime ago and publishing was a small nightmare at the time.

        Just as my book was being released, HarperCollins bought William Morrow. My editor, along w/many many other people, were fired at that time … my book, sadly, sort of lost in the shuffle. And without all the technology that we have today, I had no idea what to do. That’s why the paperback never happened. But maybe (thanks to your kind post) I’ll get motivated one day to publish a sequel .. you know, Prairie Wisdom, Part 2 🙂 Or maybe a journal with quotes from the book would be a fine way to go, as well. We’ll see if the spirit moves me one way or another.

        Right now, I need to spend some time doing nothing on the yoga mat 🙂 Our cat, Lola, usually joins me for that. Too funny. Take care and blessings for the week. (P.S. Have you seen Eye of the Dolphin? We watched it last night, and some of the landscapes/scenery reminded me so much of your art and photographs.)

  3. I creatively did nothing while stopping to read this wondrous blog! Yet I was kept reminded of the activity in The Artist’s Way, of the Reading Deprivation exercise, which is a tool to unblock our artist, yet you seem to use “doing nothing” as a tool in the same manner… Julia Cameron writes: “If we monitor the inflow and keep it to a minimum, we will be rewarded for our reading deprivation with embarrassing speed. Our reward will be new outflow. Our own art, our own thoughts and feelings, will begin to nudge aside the sludge of blockage, to loosen it and move it upward and outward until once again our well is running freely.”

    Your Close read of course seems more like an “artist date” spending time in the works of someone else to be refreshed, renewed, and reminded of who and what we are doing and being in our life and creativity!

    • I think you are absolutely correct Jeff. I do not read to fill my time or to escape my world. I read, as you say, as if it were an “artist date” or just a date with the writer. Reading is an active process for me. Being dyslexic, I read slowly – out loud in my head. The nice thing about this particular challenge of mine is that its negative impacts seem to get less over the years and its positive impacts, such as being able to hold multiple ideas and concepts at one time, seem to strengthen. Lucky me.

      Dear readers, the winds are howling outside and branches are snapping off the the trees and banging down with a great racket onto our tin roof. I just checked the weather forecast. There is the following wind warning:

      South to southeast winds with gusts to 90 km/h are forecast for most of the South Coast of British Columbia through this evening. This is a warning that potentially damaging winds are expected or occurring in these regions. Monitor weather conditions..Listen for updated statements.

      By now you know the drill. If I do not reply to comments it is because I am without power. You can trust that all is fine. We will be cozy and snug in la casa de inspiracion doing NOTHING Gulf Island style.

  4. “So now, as we consider a perspective that results in doing more of what counts, less of what causes you to lose your way, you will be ever closer to envisioning a road map to the heart.”

    Loved this quote to re-quote your post…I am actively doing nothing today…it does make one do more of what counts…

    Happy Valentine’s Day…and Oh Yes! Happy National Potato Chip day….I’m laughing 🙂 I guess that is something

    • Patricia good to see you joining in on the actively doing nothing so you can do more of what counts. I wish you all the best with your nothingness. And as for National Potato Chip day I don’t know… I bet it is important to potato growers and all those that openly and secretively (which may be even a larger number) love potato chips. Oh those evil salty, crispy, delicious bites of bad health! Where are they!? Not kept in the cupboard I can assure you.

  5. Terrill – I love the joke that you and David share about doing nothing!

    This is my favorite quote that you shared from Daisy’s book:

    “…remind yourself that the less you do, the more you will do: of what counts; of what makes you feel alive and growing; of what helps you become a fully realized human being.”

    Emphasis on the words “of what counts.” What a great guidepath on my journey today.

    Sprout question: When was the last time you creatively did nothing prairie fashion?

    Sadly, almost a year ago when we were on Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. Thank you for the wonderful reminder.

    • Laurie that was awhile ago. Sounds like you are due for some time off from your “to-do list.” My experience of you Laurie is that you have many balls in the air of things that you are passionate about and enjoy – I know this place well.

      It is easy for me to say no to something I don’t want to do but much harder to say no to something I WANT to do. Do you find this as well? There are just so many delicious exciting opportunities that it is hard to choose! However, saying no to even things I love doing and want to do leaves me free to more deeply enjoy the things I am doing. That is the beauty of doing nothing well. Even then, I can hear my family and friends shaking their heads and laughing. They may be thinking I have never employed the art of doing nothing because of my saying “YES” to as many things as I do. But I think it is a fine and shifting balance that is as much internal attitude as it is external practice.

  6. dear terrill,

    thanks for sharing that. in our family too, we do “nothing” and often and surprisingly get a lot done because of that!

    i fell in love with the following thought by oscar wilde when i discovered it via one of my father’s oscar wilde books when I was much younger, but only understand it with the clarity required as I have grown into an adult: “To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.”

    thanks for sharing the beautiful excerpt by Daisy also. a lovely reminder, indeed.

    gratitude. always.


    • You are welcome Annie. I like that Oscar Wilde quote too. I can see that doing nothing prairie fashion is a popular pass time. Annie if you you haven’t been by Daisy’s blog you might enjoy the visit. Today there is an excellent post with many of her poems.

      Well, the wind warning has passed and we still have electricity. Yes! However, I am still going to be off line much of the time until Friday. That is what happens when one does nothing… pretty soon they are doing something 🙂

  7. I so liked the sentiments expressed by Daisy Ann Hickman of how a crazy hectic schedule can and does interfere with the moments in life that are important. I like that it gives permission, actually it encourages, us to “do nothing,” so that we will be amazed at what happens during that nothing time. Thanks for sharing her writing with us.

  8. I’ve always been a prime practitioner of doing nothing and can’t tell you how uplifting it is to hear you and Daisy speak so positively about its’ merits. Here in NYC there’s a tendency for people to get caught up in the whirlwind of around the clock activities. While I love walking through all the energy in the streets, I also love strolling through quieter sections of Central Park to relax among the trees and open light and space…

    • Savvysavingbytes I would be one of the people you would find in the quiet sections of Central Park if I lived in NYC. I have found these kinds of places when I have lived in cities and I usually visited them early in the morning when they were most likely to be at their quietest. Victoria B.C. is a city that I most noticed had a split between who occupied the city during the day and who at night. When I worked in the city the turn over between night and day in the early morning was a fascinating transition to observe. It was less noticeable at night but still evident.

  9. Beautiful synchronicity, Terrill.. I was just saying that I must write a post about the Art of doing Nothing, and here it is!! Love it! And, a perfect reminder for me as I contend with the overwhelm of grad school finals. An interesting yoga to surrender to the flow. 🙂 Daisy’s book looks Wonderful! Thanks for sharing the Beauty.

  10. Pingback: Enchanted Bouldering Forest « Creativepotager's Blog

  11. The art of doing nothing is a highly underrated creative skill.

    Ha! How true! I can’t say how many times I’ve made good on that proposition! This is a fascinating post, and a lovely testimonial to the work of Ms. Hickman, a talented writer who is obviously quite moved by your showcase. Our own Valentine’s Day was spent ‘creatively doing nothing’ by waiting on a line at nearby “Krause’s Candy” for chocolate strawberries, a line that was about 70 deep, with police officers directing traffic outside, and tempers on overflow! Ha! Lucille and I went alone for a nice dinner at a local restaurant, where we enjoyed a very nice meals and exchanged our cards.

    Hope Valentine’s Day on Mayne Island was one to remember my friend!

    • Sounds like it was delightful Sam. Believe it or not we have snow today. Just a skiff but it is still enough to make everything white and wintry. David cut the lawn yesterday. That must have been what did it.

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