Busy and idle

We set out for Easthampton on November 1 to belatedly celebrate Sita’s birthday (October 27) and for us to get our Faro fix. Tessa and Steve came down from New Hampshire, interrupting their endless home improvement chores.

Sita’s birthday brought back memories of her arrival 34 years ago when we lived in Senegal,. I thought about my experience of taking care of a toddler while also establishing myself professionally. Sita is way ahead of where I was three decades ago and I think I was way ahead of where my mother was when I was a toddler. Three generation of progress in self-confidence. We are learning!

When we drove back to Manchester on Sunday evening we heard that in Maine 22 inches of snow had fallen. We found about 1 inch on the ground in Manchester, a sure sign that winter is at the gate. It put some urgency behind finishing the winterizing. I understand why people become snowbirds and go to Florida or live in condos. This annual ritual of inversing the spring chores is getting more and more tiresome.

The chair re-upholstery project is proceeding in fits and starts. I managed to redo the springs and then ran into difficulties which the ‘How to upholster guide’ was not able to guide me through. I tried and failed, I failed some more and tried some more; then I stabbed a tack through my finger and leaned on another one and realized it was time to go to bed where Axel noticed my despair.

In the meantime he developed an allergic reaction that I should have predicted, what with the horse hair and dust coming out of an old chair, in the middle of the living room. What was I thinking? It took us more than a week to realize that the chair might have something to do with it. But as so much else in our lives, everything was dependent on everything else: the chair was upstairs because the basement had flooded and was in disarray with no surfaces available for practicing upholstery. But the realization of the connection between the allergies (also experienced by a visiting friend) speeded up the basement cleanup and now the chair is downstairs and no longer staring me in the face. It is going to be awhile before the thing is finished. There are many competing wishes for things to do.

This morning is Veterans Day, a holiday that crept up on me, a  very pleasant surprise. We have holidays that are written with a capital H, those I never forget, but we have a few with a small h and those I am never sure mean a day off or not.

I love waking up on such days, surprise gifts of liberty and freedom. How shall I use those precious hours where I am my own boss? The chair? Tessa’s quilt repair job? Blogging? A new knitting project? Axel read some lines from Mary Oliver’s poem to me, while listening to Suzie Suh on Spotify, “[…] I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass […] how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields which is what I have been doing all day….[…]”

The notion of being OK with being idle is hopelessly difficult for me to practice. I wrote a poem about that some years ago.


Always having something to do/‘om handen hebben’ in Dutch/to have around one’s hands.

A fear of being left/with just my thoughts/hands idle.

Waiting for something else to start/someone to come/while the clock is ticking away/there’s time to waste. [NB: We Dutch have the most clocks per square inch in the world]

Knitting will do/ or a computer/with files to manage/ pictures to sort;/ a piece of paper, a pen/ for a poem, like now;/or better still, water and a brush/ for painting a coffee cup/my own hands/or the dead daffodils/ in the middle of the table/ that stand in stale/ and useless water.

The minds, the hands/ never still./ Never still in the car./ Commuting to radio tunes/or news from parts of the world/ that are falling apart.

I am practicing stillness now./ No pens, brushes or something/ ‘om handen.’/ I am practicing just being present/ with nothing to do.

But my thoughts/ have another idea.

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November 2014
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