Rest and the City

Photo credit: Aleksandar Cvetanovic on Unsplash

My house needs to be cleaned. The laundry needs to be done. The tax documents need to be sorted, totaled, and entered into the spreadsheet for my accountant. The kitchen needs reorganizing. And don’t even get me started on the state of the basement and the garage.

All that said, you know what I’ve done over the past 72 hours?

Practically nothing.

And I’m fine with that.

Seriously—I did a few errands, shredded some documents, scooped the litter boxes, and took out the trash. My biggest accomplishment was trying out my new Swiffer Wet Jet on the kitchen floor.

Apart from these few things, all I did was read and binge Sex and the City.

Because I needed to rest.

To “rest” is defined as to “cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength.” Yet many Americans—myself included—have a hard time with the concept. We should be working, we think. Or accomplishing other things. Or doing stuff for other people. Or bettering ourselves. Or something other than lounging on the sofa while we watch Carrie and her friends at the coffee shop, lamenting about men and relationships, especially when we’ve seen these episodes so many times we can practically recite them.

There’s a part of me that wants to excuse my behavior. After all, I just came off a very busy, very stressful period that started with preparation of a major appellate brief, followed immediately by my elderly parents contracting covid from a home aide who didn’t wear a mask, followed by my father’s hospitalization, followed by ultimately-unsuccessful efforts to get him discharged to rehab rather than home. Even now, I feel as if I should stop writing and call to see how everything’s going even though I know I’d likely interrupt their afternoon naps.

In any case, after the rehab place delivered a hard “no” on Friday afternoon, I effectively hit a wall. I forced myself to do some mindless tasks—downloading documents a client had sent and preparing bills. I knew something was going on when I decided to do some shredding, a task I routinely put off because there’s literally nothing else you can do when you shred—you can’t even listen to music or watch a video, because the noise of the shredder drowns out everything out. I shredded for more than half an hour, stopping only when I’d filled the recycling bin.

And then, I was done.

The weekend before, when Dad was in the hospital and nobody knew if he’d survive and Mom wanted to be left alone, I curled up on the sofa and binged Mozart in the Jungle. By Monday, I’d gotten through all four seasons in between phone calls and taking Mom her birthday present. I launched into a week punctuated by more following up as well as a typical week’s chores and responsibilities. And by Friday, as noted, I hit the wall.

Friday night, I tried to make plans for the weekend. Strangely, I couldn’t figure out what I should put on my list. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to get up in time to get to the library to pick up a book they were holding. Coming up with any other plans felt onerous, like slogging through mud as I strained to see through the fog.

In the morning, the Informed Delivery app informed me that I had a certified letter at the post office which bore the return address of my malpractice insurer. There’s nothing like a potential crisis to get a person moving: I took the world’s fastest shower, fed the cats, and left for the post office without even making tea as my mind raced through the list of who might be making a claim against me.

Fortunately, the certified letter was merely a notification that my insurer had parted ways from my broker so that I’d have to make new arrangements when my current policy expired. Crisis averted and adrenaline still rushing, I stopped at the library to get my book, after which I decided to stop by the emissions testing place to get my car’s emissions checked. I went in, handed them the state notification card and my key, and settled in with my library book. Forty-five minutes later, I was advised that the testing machine’s camera was down, but if I wanted to wait another half an hour, they might be able to get it to work.

By this time, the adrenaline had worn off. The lack of caffeine and breakfast was catching up with me. I told him I’d try another day, collected my key and card, stopped at the farm stand to get eggs, and came home to make tea and an egg sandwich. At 1:30 p.m., I finally sat down with breakfast and my new book.

Six hours later, I read the last page.

Photo credit: Christin Hume on Unsplash

That evening, I tended to some simple things, like checking in with my parents and making tuna casserole. Then, with vague memories of last weekend rattling around in my brain, I settled in with Sex and the City until bedtime.

When I awoke, mild gastrointestinal symptoms discouraged me from in-person church attendance. Instead, I fed the cats, made tea, and watched the service on YouTube. From there, I went back to Sex and the City for several hours until I forced myself to do essential errands and take out the garbage. From there, it was back to the sofa and fictional New York life until bedtime.

The interesting part is that just before I went to sleep, I picked up a notebook and made some notes about the sequel to State v. Claus. I hadn’t worked on the sequel since the beginning of the month, before the brief and parent issues consumed me. I didn’t try writing actual prose—I just made a list of things my main character would need to consider and deal with in relocating. Idly, I played with the notion of restructuring the book to shift points of view and show how others felt about the lifestyle on which my main character was embarking. And then, I went peacefully to sleep.

Rest can be hard to justify. There are so many reasons not to rest, especially in a culture that prizes productivity. So many things need to be done, really ought to be done, would be good to do, might just as well be done. On this lovely sunny day, I could get up and go out for a walk. I should put in a load of laundry. I need to schedule an appointment to have my garage door fixed—that, or take advantage of this gorgeous day to clean out the garage and move everything so I can put the car in the side with the working door. I could also take advantage of this work holiday to organize my office so I can return to a calmer space.

There are those who dispute the workaholic notion that rest must be earned. Rest is a right, they say, just like sleep and food. It creates energy, the fuel for the rest of the day. You wouldn’t fault a car that had run out of gas for not starting; you’d recognize that it’s out of fuel, and you’d refill it before trying to drive.

When I Googled “resting,” I found the topic to be fraught with instructions about what I should do in order to rest properly. I should meditate. I should enjoy “gentle movement”, presumably yoga or a walk. I should do this or that or the other thing. I also found an article talking about “terminal leisure” versus “instrumental leisure”; the former activities are those we do simply to enjoy them, while the latter are things that might serve a larger purpose, like staying healthy. The author suggested that reframing our view of our leisure activities as instrumental might help us enjoy them more.

I can’t say there was any “instrumental” purpose involved in binging Sex and the City. Nor, for that matter, was there any instrumental purpose involved in reading my library book. They’re stories, albeit in different formats, and I enjoyed them as such. I didn’t study them to see how they might make me a better writer or a more enlightened human. I didn’t look for moral lessons (although I couldn’t help noticing that a couple story lines from Sex and the City had not aged well). I simply derived pleasure from them, as well as from the complete lack of obligation accompanying them. And maybe for precisely that reason, my creative brain began—just a little—to revive itself.

Curiously, this long weekend’s rest has felt more like a luxury than any vacation I can remember. No planning, no packing, no arranging for a cat sitter, no fretting about what I’ve forgotten, no getting used to an unfamiliar place. Just rest in its purest form.

For many, such a concept is out of reach, or at least it feels that way. It can be argued that the more a weekend’s rest feels unattainable, the more you need it. Respite care services exist for a reason, namely that caregivers cannot continue to serve indefinitely—they must rest. It’s not for nothing that so many people are emerging from the pandemic having quit stressful and unfulfilling jobs or taking early retirements: they need the break.

As I sit here, sipping tea and writing while music plays quietly, I find myself with the curious urge to go and deal with the garage situation. The sun is out, the temperature is mild, and there seems to be no reason not to. I may find myself exhausted after I do it, but right now, I’m willing to take that chance. I am ready to work, because I have rested.

Photo credit: Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

P.S. After writing this post, I spent two and one-half hours cleaning and reorganizing the garage. I felt quite virtuous and even moderately energized when I came inside. Now, a few hours later, the energy has dissipated. Clearly, I need to do some more resting. After all, I’ve earned it.

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