Nothing to do but…

I was thinking this afternoon, while baby slept on me and rain washed the windows and the house was (for once) very quiet, about how my best writing – literally the writing that people consistently respond to with “You’re a really good writer” – is writing in which I have felt something, and wanted to convey that something to others. To everyone that read it, in fact. I could recall each time, that I had wanted to share a feeling – of triumph, of loss, of fear or jubilation.

In my scientific writing, I’ve rarely (never?) been so effective. Feedback has ranged from “You talk too much, and you write too much” (Masters’ program advisor) to “Your writing illustrates why I’d rather read writing by people whose native language isn’t English” (French PhD student during my Masters) to just plain “Wow, this is overkill” (on my 47-page BSc. Honours thesis). It’s never been grabbing, or exciting, or possibly even that interesting. And although scientific writing isn’t really expected to be, at its best, it can be, which is what I’d like to strive for. Because frankly when I’m writing something that doesn’t excite anyone reading it, I’m pretty unlikely to be very excited myself, and life is too short to write boring writing, or to be bored while writing.

So all that led to me to another thought — the idea of “Well I had nothing else to do but…”. I was thinking about this because I was at the tail end of an hour being ‘baby trapped’ in a chair too uncomfortable to fall asleep in, but too far from anything useful – a book, my phone (on which I can read my Kindle books, of course), a pen and paper – to accomplish much. I got thinking about how for the first 2 1/2 months of her life I really couldn’t do much with her at all – couldn’t carry her, ergo, was mostly bound to a rocking chair or couch or other seating, waiting for my busted-up pelvis to heal.

And I thought about how that might have been a great time, in theory, to learn R or QGIS, to read a large classic novel, or write. A lot. In reality, I barely made 150 pages into the first book in the Dune series; I was somehow constantly babe-in-arms-nursing, babe-in-arms-asleep, hobbling to (or from) the bathroom, or some other menial task. The first two, of course, infinitely more satisfying than the latter, but I digress. But I thought about how in recovery where, say, one didn’t have a tiny infant to care for, one might make some choices, having “Nothing to do but…”… fill in the blank:

  • … watch bad TV on Netflix
  • … watch realms of 1940s classic films
  • … read Eric Toensmeier’s Edible Forest Gardens cover to cover (both volumes)
  • … learn R, or QGIS
  • … paint one’s toenails a different shade each day of the wee
  • … or anything else.

The point is that you could literally choose anything to say you had “nothing to do but” do — but what you actually chose to do, would make all the difference. Scene spoiler: I watched a lot of bad TV on Netflix (Suits, to be precise). We also watched a lot of Allan Savory videos, Gabe Brown, natural building, hide tanning, and other skills-related videos.

But the important point I’m trying to make (now, in hindsight) is that we choose how to fill those unfilled slots of time wisely, so that we emerge from them with a new set of ideas, different thinking, refreshed, restored, or at least, re-educated. It’s too easy to say ‘I didn’t have time’ when, in fact, we often do: it’s just that it’s been poorly allocated.

With that… I’m going to go finish what I haven’t had time for.

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