The Point Of You When There Is No To Do, Or, Saturday Morning at 7:54am


I often think life should be lived backwards. I’m not thinking of Youth is Wasted on the Young, or Everyone Should Get a Divorce Before They Get Married, although both those ideas can be true.

No, I’m starting to wonder whether everyone should retire before they start their career.

One morning during my quarterly Privilege blog break, I picked up my lined yellow pad, crossed out To Do, and wrote instead, Things I Might Choose To Do. Then all day I tried to ask myself before everything, “This?”

I’ve been planning and resulting my entire life. My work motto was, “Always Be Closing,” taken from David Mamet’s play, “Glengarry Glen Ross.” I can’t tell you how many outfits, trips, and Thanksgiving dinners I’ve planned, down to the 15-minute increments required for making of mashed potatoes and gravy.

This last week, with no blog posts to write and, for a few nights, not even a husband to feed, I was clearly in a position of choice.  And yet I made lists. I wrote down things like Clean The Kitchen and Return Levis. Finally I tried to plan my children’s lives. Luckily they are considerate and loving people who know how to accept an apology.

So at last, one day, it might have been Wednesday, I put aside To Do. And found myself outside, in my side yard, taking the time to hand water a few new plants. I looked up. It was a beautiful California morning, the sky blue like it had melted to the color, the sun warm on cooler air. A breeze at the edges. Awe, joy, wonder, bliss, all of it swelled in what I have to call my heart because I cannot locate another source.

Northern California Rapture

Even though it’s just a corner of my house – with regular telephone lines, sky, and trees – when I subtitle this blog, “The raptures of living” that’s what I mean.

Technically, when I was a young woman in Manhattan, I could have looked up from, say, Central Park. I had received my initial inheritance. I wanted for nothing. But back then anxiety would have overshadowed rapture. I must be a data point in someone’s experiment about self-created fears.

How much of the anxiety endured when young do we create for ourselves? Maybe unavoidable? Maybe – in privilege at least – the unknown bears as much responsibility as much as the exigencies of survival? We have to build constructs about the world then hustle forward towards self-taped finish lines. Out of breath.

If I could bottle up how I felt in my back yard this week, and give it away at street fairs, I would. It’s not surprising that one can enjoy retirement. “News flash! Middle-aged woman feels happy in garden!” But the only material difference between now and Central Park is a bunch of stuff I know. Stiffer joints. And peace in my relationships.

I’m not yet the Buddha, trailing inner quiet. My To Do has outlived its usefulness by years. But the impetus is shifting.

What might I have done without self-created anxieties, when young? I admit, some worries are real. Life requires work, and failure is scary, and all that warrants nervousness. But the stuff I made up? My To Do lists based largely on imagination?

Ah well. Regret nothing. Only resolve to recognize the privilege of the moment. Only resolve to start afresh from the authentic. Only resolve to say, “Hey life, thanks for the raptures. You did good.”

Only resolve to make sure you know what is the point of you when there’s nothing To Do. Then, probably, go Do something.

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28 Comments

  • I love those “little rapture” moments. And isn’t it funny how often we’re in a garden or park or nature when they occur?

    It’s so easy in this life to overschedule and overplan. We live in a culture that reveres and rewards industriousness. Sometimes that doesn’t serve us, as individuals well.

    03/28/15
    12:27 pm
    Lisa said...

    @déjà pseu, So well put. “Little raptures.” Society does, at times, demand more than it gives back.

  • Ah yes…the collective sigh, I can hear it too.
    I think these moments of bliss happen when we live in the now, not planning ahead.
    Tending to the garden is where I feel more in tune…or walking which is very meditative.
    Having said that, do lists help keep me motivated to get things done as retirement allows us to procrastinate if we so desire….
    Enjoy your weekend Lisa!

    03/28/15
    12:30 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Bungalow Hostess, It’s a balance, isn’t it, a titration between (for me) Netflix on the sofa with wine, potato chips, and chocolate, and constant achievement, and neither is right so building the alternative is important.

  • Ah, Lisa, you are getting to one of the “Good Parts” about getting older…Our lists and “to-Do’s” tend to cover up those rapturous moments which are always right around us. Read this essay by Mary Oliver that I shared in Facebook this week…love her name for it, a “seizure of happiness…
    http://www.brainpickings.org/2015/03/27/mary-oliver-happiness/

    Love, Margy

    03/28/15
    12:31 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Margy Houtz, That essay is perfect. Absolutely it’s a Good Part. Ms. Oliver also reminds me that it’s OK to wax poetic, another balance I struggle with, between logical discovery and poetic inspiration.

  • Thanks Lisa, for the reminder to be in the moment. Live it. Feel it. Return to it again & again.

    03/28/15
    12:32 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Drew, You’re welcome. Thank you in return.

  • Wonderful. I’m glad you had that rapturous epiphany. In my life I’ve been an organized, successful person whose motto seems to me to have remained the opposite of Always be closing. Somehow I was a laid back successful person. I was (in)famous in my last startup for the day I told our Chairman of the Board that we should not reconvene to discuss an important issue on a Friday, but should instead choose a workday. I meant, don’t choose a day someone might want for a portion of a three-day weekend. Luckily the Chairman of the Board and I were lunch buddies, and he knew my predeliction for both serious work and serious leisure. It has often occurred to me that I might make a better European than American worker. Currently, I’m trying to add more structure and focus to my days after an extended period of time when I found myself for too long under the rule of another’s choices. I have arrived at the same place that you describe, which involves for the first time in my life asking, This, for me? Or this? The ‘for me,’ being the crucial element. I had a similar day to the one you describe, last week in my backyard, close to you under the same blue skies. I felt happiness and wonder at bright blue sky, fuzzy new green leaves and flowers, and furry black bees buzzing in and out of the lemon tree blossoms. We exist in such tensions. For me, the art is finding the balance that works for where we are, in each present moment. Happy Saturday to you on this day, which is sunny-blue and windy where I am.

    03/28/15
    12:33 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Katherine C. James, Happy Saturday to you too. I wonder if we felt this on the same day, at the same time, the sky was so lambent and the air so gentle and playful.

  • Thanks for putting these thoughts down so well. For so long, I have lived by my to-do lists. It’s really wonderful to have the choice of “to do or not to do or do I want to do?” Still, it takes some practice or effort to remember to be in the present, not worrying about the past (which my husband keeps reminding me is history so there’s nothing to be done about it now) or the future. When we are in the moment, there is so much for which to be grateful. Have a great weekend!

    03/28/15
    12:34 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Jane, A great weekend to you too. It’s lovely to have your company.

  • Sure do love those mornings when I don’t have to be anywhere in particular. Even with all the articles decrying the perils of being overly, and obsessively “busy” society still seems to equate success in life with being “busy.” I always remember how my farmer step-father handled a stressful stiuation… like when the tractor broke down for the fifth time one day when we were trying to get the hay in and storm clouds were gathering… he’d sit on the edge of the wagon, pour a cup of water from the thermos, and say,”Well, now Suz, let’s take a minute and look the situation over.” He never let the to-do list hurry him. I was 40 before I appreciated that view of life.

    03/29/15
    12:03 pm
    Lisa said...

    @SueB@highheelsinthewilderness.bolgspot.com, That’s such a great story of your step-father. I’d love to hear more about your farm days.

  • I’m one of those people who really DOES need a list. Otherwise, I can while away a whole day enjoying the moment!

    03/29/15
    12:03 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Susan, You must be incredibly comforting to be near.

  • One of our favorite things is to just sit, drink coffee and chat in the mornings. This doesn’t happen every day, but often enough that we miss it if we have to get up and get going. Definitely a choice of retirement.

    03/29/15
    12:03 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Mary Anne, That’s really nice, to make the quiet moments shared.

  • It sounds like you had a relaxing break.

    03/29/15
    12:04 pm
    Lisa said...

    @RoseAG, I forced myself:).

  • Loved this. And am glad to report that one can still have those moments of awareness and gratitude while still being a worker bee.

    Every Saturday night is a night full of happiness because it’s the start of my weekend.

    Two days off and anything might happen.

    Often nothing does but oh the possibilities.

    And if Sunday is warm enough to work in the garden…I’m blissed out.

    A Sunday watching football and folding laundry> Nirvana.

    it’s a miracle when we find ourselves in the moment. Thanks for the reminder.

    xo J

    03/29/15
    12:06 pm
    Lisa said...

    @flwjane, Ah yes, the Friday night happies! And these moments used to come upon me randomly when I worked, often when driving when the horizon lay in front of me. I guess I’m trying to search them out now, make them more a regular part of life. You seem able to do so.

  • I seem to naturally prefer routine, plans, organization, and accomplishment, but I consistently find joy and beauty in life’s interruptions.

    Glad you’re back!

    03/29/15
    12:06 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Town and Country House, Thanks! What a lovely way to see an interruption.

  • Sounds like you’ve found a nice balance between planning/duty & spontaneity/doing what you want to do! I’m about your age & retired recently too–worked as an airplane planner/liaison between engineers & mechanics, so I hear you on the need to plan at work. I’ve never been a planner in my personal life, though–I’ll write a list occasionally, but I realized I rarely refer back to lists, so I began writing fewer of them.

    03/29/15
    12:08 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Megan, I’m still planning, and balancing, but I love to report here the moments of progress. Interesting, I don’t refer too often to my lists, but the making of them helps organize my thoughts.

  • I Love this post and live for rapture moments and also my favourite feeling- relief!

    Nothin better than gardening x

    03/29/15
    12:07 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Faux Fuchsia, Relief! Tell us more!

  • Thank you for today’s hit of much needed rapture. So often found in the little things right in front of us,

    SSG xxx

    03/29/15
    12:08 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Sydney Shop Girl, My sincere pleasure.

  • A very beautiful post.

    03/29/15
    12:09 pm
    Lisa said...

    Thank you @kathy.

  • I love those moments when I’m about to change modes. Waiting for the bus to go to work, sitting in the subway car with all the glass partitions and windows reflecting each other and the travellers, and coming home after a long, closed-in day of work to step out on my balcony, smell the night air and search for stars in the sky.

    Thanks for the reminder. I’m going to move soon and your post reminded me there will be a river near my new apartment. I see riverside walks in my future now …

    03/29/15
    12:10 pm
    Lisa said...

    @mademarian, This is very beautiful. You are referring to “liminal” moments, on the threshold. If you think about it, riversides are constantly “thresholding:).”

    03/29/15
    3:08 pm
    Marie said...

    @mademarian, I love the word, liminal!

    03/31/15
    3:20 am
    mademarian said...

    @lisa, Thank you so much for the appreciation! Your kind words made myself much clearer to me. This could be something to work with …

  • what to do
    when there is
    no to do
    just glow

    03/29/15
    12:11 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Rosie, How wonderful to have a little poem in our midst! Thank you! I did not think I was glowing, I knew the day was, perhaps me too:).

  • I am new to your blog and delight at your reflections. I now know that all my own inner turmoil is shared by many other 50+ women. Praise the Lord for this wonderful cyber world where we can connect with other like minded souls. I have created my own blog but I still cringe at putting it out to the world, all in the process of accepting myself as I am.
    Thank you, thank you. Keep opening your heart up so the we can learn to open ours as well.

    03/29/15
    12:13 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Robyn McLeish, Welcome! The community is extraordinary, here, and on other such blogs in the ‘sphere too. And my blog has been one of the primary vehicles in my own particular path towards evolving, and accepting, myself. You may find the same thing, on the other hand, there no reason to rush in if you are’t ready.

  • Sounds like you are really enjoying life and your retirement Lisa. My husband retired very early and we’ve enjoyed every minute with absolutely no regrets. I’m so pleased that you are happy and content.
    Sam

    03/29/15
    4:07 pm
    Lisa said...

    I love to hear that you’ve been happy with that choice. I’m not sure I’m all the way to content, all the time, but I’m happy so very often I have to pinch myself.

  • ” .. make sure you know what is the point of you when there’s nothing To Do.” This is the perfect description of my current fears. I’m in my mid-60’s, with a 16-year-old. Very late, surprise pregnancy. I married 34 years ago to a man with an 8-year-old daughter. Finished grad school, tried to have more children, after 9 years I had my first son. When he was 6, the very, very late child. So I’ve had children continuously for 34 years. And a demanding career, which will probably end before I want it to (depends on getting grants). And the marriage will end when the 16-yo goes off to college. So I will go from years of way, way, way too much to do (my preferred state) to nothing to do. And I have no idea what the point of me will be then.

    03/29/15
    4:10 pm
    Lisa said...

    Ah, the upcoming known end of a marriage can be like holding your breath in a very cold room, afraid to let your teeth chatter and terrified that if you don’t you’ll freeze. I am sure things will feel and look very different to you in that eventuality. I also am sure that you may not have the same things to do, but if you prefer having too much, you will be able to recreate that and bring value to all around you. If you were one of my 30-year old friends, I’d say ((())). Aw heck, I’ll say it anyway. Hugs don’t age out.

    03/29/15
    9:47 pm
    Marie said...

    @Marie, Perfect description, thank you! And thank you so much for the hugs. I know that I am fortunate to have my children, and to have a job that I love, so I shouldn’t complain too much about losing them. But I see too many changes looming all at once. I know that I will find ways to occupy my time, and will get to a new normal.

  • A wonderful introspective post, thank you. What is it about the skies in our area that send one into raptures? I feel it often too, although there is something to be missed about England’s grey skies.

    I’m beginning to believe my father is a rare person as he is truly the most happy person I’ve ever met with not an anxiety in the world (and believe me, he’s had to overcome some tremendous obstacles, especially in his younger life). Never a day goes by without laughter. He has an incredible ability to make those around him laugh too. I think that is the secret to an anxiety-free life.

    03/29/15
    8:10 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Chronica Domus, The one thing I missed the year we lived in England was the big Western sky. And your father sounds just wonderful.

  • Beautiful post.

    It seems to me this time of just letting our hearts fill with joy at the simple beauty of being there in the moment are one of the most profound gifts of growing older. And in a way it is like a newfound link to our earliest days, forming a circle.

    I attempt to balance my tendency to do to much, with my tendency to sit and do nothing, but am coming to realize there is no real balance, just a need to understand when the time is ripe for each.

    03/30/15
    4:17 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Mardel, So true. Balancing would leave us in a gray middle. Understanding ripeness, and timing, so much better.

  • Love this post. The line about your children, so funny :D

    Do you have any suggestions for fending off anxiety as a young-ish person?

    03/31/15
    7:13 am
    Lisa said...

    @Danielle, Glad you liked the line about my kids:).

    Anxiety when young. I think the first thing is to realize that a lot of it is just physical, and not something to be afraid of in itself. All your neurons and chemistry is firing high, you’re bound to vibrate. That said, when I look back, I mostly wish I’d had someone older and wiser to help me understand where to focus my energy, rather than just shooting off anxiety all around. Find a mentor, if you can, just someone who is happy to act as a sounding board.

    Otherwise, breathe. Look out the window. Wish I had some better advice:).

    03/31/15
    7:23 am
    Danielle said...

    This is great advice. Thanks, Lisa.

    I struggle with anxiety and trying to “fill the time” with all the things on my to-do list. It makes me really nervous to have free time during the week! But this morning I found myself with a freed-up schedule and some time to focus on the important stuff. Paying rent, catching up on bills, listening to my favorite podcast. Hearing the birds out the window. Your writing helped :)

    03/31/15
    7:28 am
    Lisa said...

    I’m so glad to be useful. It’s the real joy of growing older.

  • I’m a list maker. I love it. I LIVE for it! Until I realize that it provokes anxiety over what I wasn’t able to cross-off for the day. Thanks, Lisa, for giving me a new perspective on “What I choose to do”!

    03/31/15
    7:27 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Mamavalveeta03, My pleasure:). And exactly, every day I felt like I had not done enough. So dumb, when I was the one making the plan.

  • Nice post. It’s always been hardest for me to let go of the illusion of control.

    03/31/15
    7:28 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Wendelah, Thank you. It’s worth the effort – in my experience even if you retain control to loosen the grasp.

  • so well said. I am blissed out now more than when I was young. I am very alone now, by choice and it helps me stay true to myself for now. I can look out over my horses back and see the horizon dotted with the debris of my lifes wrecks and crashes. They were real and scary at the time, but now from here I see them as monuments of refuse marking a moment in my life, nothing more. I am here, in this sunny field, grooming my horse who knows everything….and see out there a wreck of a memory meaning nothing now……I will leave it out there, not to disturb this beautiful day.

    04/01/15
    3:21 pm
    Lisa said...

    @susie, Ah so beautiful. Such a clear picture. Thank you.

  • No, Lisa, thank YOU for coaxing these thoughts into focus for all of us………

    04/03/15
    8:31 pm
    Lisa said...

    <3

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