On having Nothing to Report
Maggie came downstairs the yesterday morning and I asked, “what have you been doing?”
“Nothing,” she said, “what about you?”
“Nothing,” I said.
And then I thought a minute and came up with half a dozen things I’d accomplished in the last couple of hours.
None of them seemed worthy of reporting - but they weren’t nothing.
It’s Tuesday morning, and the hour or so before I sit down to write this essay I sit and do nothing.
Again, not nothing, but nothing worthy of reporting. I made coffee, checked Twitter and my email, brought the coffee outside, checked Twitter again, aimlessly scrolled the internet, drank my coffee, turned on some music, decided the music was too distracting and turned it off again, looked at my empty mug and thought about whether or not I should get another cup of coffee, decided that would require standing up and going inside so I checked my mail and Twitter again, opened up a new document and started to write this essay.
All that nothing had somehow given my subconscious an idea of what I might want to write about.
I actually thought I was going to write something political but that’s the bit that came out instead.
The political part
Actually, last week’s January 6 hearings focused quite a bit on nothing.
The big takeaway is that doing nothing is a decision that we make.
It’s easy to forget that when a show we’re streaming is coming to an end and a little pop-up appears telling us the next episode will start in 15 seconds, 14, 13, 12, …
If we do nothing, then the next episode begins.
It takes effort to not do nothing.
I’m not saying we should never do nothing. I do nothing all the time. Well, nothing worth reporting.
My nothing isn’t at the level of not calling off an angry mob who is trashing the Capitol on what they believe to be my orders, or not calling in the National Guard to help out.
But there are consequences for my doing nothing - sometimes good - sometimes not.
The thing to remember is that doing nothing is a decision.
Is my hour of doing nothing before I start writing an example of doing nothing for good?
I don’t know.
In a way, I can’t know.
Chuq wrote an essay about how he is able to capture such compelling nature shots. He calls it “2 Hours of Boredom, 30 seconds of Panic.”
As an observer I think of it as 2 hours of nothing to report, 30 seconds of the stuff you might show to others.
He takes some of the most beautiful pictures of birds and people often want to know how he does it.
I imagine that many of them think the secret is in the lens he chooses, the camera he uses, and the apps he might use to bring out the best.
He undersells the fact that he has a great eye. He and eye could go out with the same equipment and he’d still produce images that take my breath away while mine would be the “oh that’s nice” variety.
He does, however, know that for him the secret is patience. He writes, “it comes down to being there when the shot happens, and knowing what to do when you see it. And that means hauling out the camp chair, sitting down, watching and waiting.”
Those two hours when it looks to all observing that he is doing nothing, he doing so much. He’s scanning for the shot to appear. He’s waiting quietly. He’s paying attention.
He’s just doing nothing worth reporting.
And then the bird appears and he has less than a minute - sometimes much less - to react, and frame, and capture the image that presents itself.
Even then he mostly rejects what he’s shot as not interesting or not worth keeping.
But the sitting down, watching, and waiting aren’t nothing.
And he’s not just sitting, watching, and waiting from his couch at home.
He’s where the birds will be and he’s brought his gear.
Back in January I noted that January 25th marked the thirtieth anniversary of my first date with Kim.
She was seeing someone at the time but over the next few months we saw more and more of each other.
At some point she essentially stopped seeing the other guy but she wasn’t ready to say that we were dating each other exclusively.
We both went to grad school during the day and I worked in radio at night. On weekends she usually went with me to concerts and other station events.
It went on this way for months and could have probably continued like this, but one day I told her that if she didn’t want to commit then I was going to take someone else with me to a radio station event Saturday afternoon. The woman I went out with was meeting friends for dinner so I came home after the event to find Kim waiting for me.
Kim told me it was the smartest thing I could have done.
We were engaged six months later and married six months after that.
But in a way, thirty years ago yesterday was the day our lives together began.
For the most part it was filled with nothing punctuated by those wonderful moments that you share with friends.
When I think back of my life with Kim, I mostly miss those moments together with nothing to report.
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 122. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe