Saturday, May 28, 2011

Doing Nothing

Like many of you, I would say my normal state of motion seems perpetual. My office always seems to be piled with work. Something in the house always needs fixing. And between phone and computer, I'm usually reading or responding to something. That's not to say I always do what I need to do. As easy as it is to find a task, it's just as easy to find an excuse. However, even if I play hooky, I tend to think about what I should be doing even though I'm not doing it.

But sometimes doing nothing is a good idea. And not just doing nothing because you can't get a signal or aren't near your desk. Rather, I mean willfully doing nothing for nothing's sake. Yes, it's a rare occurrence for most, but that doesn't make it any less a good idea. And thankfully a recent change of coasts gave me just that opportunity.

We were working in San Diego, and hit a day where we started early and finished early. Still, there was other work to be done, so I headed back to my room, a task made easier by the appearance of a rainy day. But by 3:30 or so I had done all I could do that had any urgency. And since we were three hours behind the east coast, most of the people I needed to talk to were gone. A glance outside showed that the sky had cleared, and a slight wind was blowing. So rather than review another budget or write another memo, I decided to take a walk.

We were at the Hotel Del Coronado, one of the great resorts in the country. It's a landmark Victorian era structure on Coronado Island, where every room is just steps from the beach. I walked out and made a left, heading towards Mexico a few miles away. There were a few other people out there, some joggers chasing the breeze, some parents chasing their kids, but no crowds and no one paying anyone else any mind. The only sound was the waves hitting the shore rolling in and rolling out. I strolled along, eventually coming to some rocks where I sat and gazed out to sea.

As I generally do when I'm wandering someplace different, I had taken my camera along on the stroll. So I pulled it out to try and capture what was in front of me. But pictures of big spaces like that always look so inadequate when compared to the real thing. Or as Paul Theroux reflected in his essay "Sunrise with Seamonsters" about travel writing, "a picture is only worth 1000 or so words."

In that spirit, this is what I saw. The water was a green gray canvas spread out like a sheet. The sky met it at the horizon, the sweep of it a pale blue that seemed to go on forever, so far in fact that I had to swivel my head from side to side to take it all in. Far in the distance I could see islands in the mist, small bumps that disappeared and reappeared like they were ghosts. If I looked straight ahead it was easy to convince myself that there was no one else on the beach, or even the planet, but me.

Yes, they were things I should have been doing and people I should leave messages for. But for one glorious hour I did absolutely nothing. I sat and stared, listened to the birds, watched some crabs scuttle along the sand. Truth be told, I didn't feel bad, and I didn't feel like I needed to do something. Rather, if I was honest, I thought the best thing I could do was to sit for another hour.

Each week I fill this space hoping that you will read and enjoy it. In the best of all possible worlds, I hope it makes some small impression on you. And so if by chance this is a week where it has any effect on you at all, I urge you to do the same as I. Should you find yourself in a similar situation on this coast or another, in the mountains or just on a path in the woods on a weekend walk, find a place and an hour to just sit and look around. In short, follow the guidance of the great baseball player Satchel Paige: "Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits."


Marc Wollin of Bedford thanks Beth, Chris and Scott for giving him the opportunity to do nothing for a brief time. He hopes they got the same chance after all the others left, and took it. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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