Not burning the midnight oil: On putting our feet up

I am not very driven. Given any excuse, I’d rather have my feet up and a book in hand, than be slogging away at the computer or, even worse, doing the housework.

Some of the highest praise I’ve received from friends on social media is: ‘All the pics I see of you are with your feet up somewhere’.

Maybe I’ve finally discovered my ‘brand’: Just Being. I cherish time to be, time to sit and stare at the lemon tree, time to stare up at the clouds as they drift aimlessly by. Time like this fills me up. Setting aside time daily to Just Be celebrates the wonderful fact that I am a human being, and not a human doing.

Too much time spent hustling, slogging or grinding (all those very tiring verbs) empties me out. I’ve had my own small software business for the past fourteen years, and currently it makes enough to pay myself a small salary, contribute to household expenses and leave a bit of breathing space. When I’ve made some sales and I know that our monthly expenses are covered, I feel quite justified in spending an afternoon on my day bed.

I have no inclination to burn the midnight oil to grow my business and increase profits, so that I can scale up (God forbid!) and eventually hire others. In fact, I can’t imagine anything worse than having staff.

This might all be very different if I was a single mum. So I’m hugely grateful that we’re a dual-income household, and that at least one of us does often stay up late or get up early to grow his business.

All this is a long way of saying that I have a very special relationship with my day bed. It’s a second-hand, white, wrought iron day bed with a thick mattress covered in blankets & cushions. I always sit in the same spot on it, facing the lemon tree and the garden. The cushions in this corner are angled just right so that all I have to do is plonk myself down.

Six years ago, we saw it in a secondhand shop in Fish Hoek. ‘I love it,’ I said, ‘but we don’t really need one.’ For days afterwards, this inviting-looking day bed stayed in my thoughts. The next Saturday, the boys went out and I stayed home. ‘Stuff it’, I thought, and impulsively called the shop. It had just been sold.

Later that day, we were having lunch at home when a truck pulled up outside. It had the wrought iron day bed on the back. The boys had gone and bought it as a surprise gift.

Now, one must never approach a day bed empty-handed. There are a number of essentials for the perfect experience. Something lovely to drink: a mug of tea, a creamy coffee, a sparkling drink with ice cubes clinking. Something yummy to nibble on: biscuits, a nectarine, a bowl of salt & vinegar Lays, a Tex choc, or sometimes all of these. Something to read: the latest crime fiction or a long-awaited sequel by a favourite author. And, just in case inspiration strikes: my journal, a pen and a freshly sharpened pencil. Oh, and glasses, of course.

The worst is finding myself ensconced in my spot and realizing that I’ve forgotten my specs. In winter (because summer is too hot to have wool anywhere close) I like to have my knitting bag alongside. There’s something so comforting about knitting a few rows and watching the rain drizzle on the leaves of the trees. (Never mind that I’ve been working on the same scarf since our son was a toddler.)

And as I settle myself back against the cushions, take a meditative sip of tea and crack open my book, the feeling of being marooned on my own cosy island makes my toes wriggle in glee.

This conscious decision to carve out time to Be in my day, does not mean that I’m not awfully aware of, and struggling not to get overwhelmed by, the drama and suffering going on all around us. It does mean that I am choosing where to place my focus, how to spend my time. I am choosing not to doom scroll, even though, as Oliver Burkeman says: ‘These attentional technologies give us a feeling of acting on it. Even just scrolling is more active than watching a TV bulletin. And commenting and retweeting and all the rest of it is obviously significantly more active. And so there’s this feeling that you’re somehow doing your bit…

But does spending an hour doom scrolling or compulsively hitting Refresh on the latest news bulletins, help anyone? No, it does not. It only fills us up with anxious noise, polluting a potentially peaceful moment.

What if giving myself twenty minutes to simply sit and be, to nurture the peace inside that needs space to breathe and grow – what if that somehow has an impact on the world? On a woman far away, huddled in an underground subway station, holding tightly to her cat?

What if my deep, slow breaths, taking in the quiet grey sky, the lemon tree heavy with fruit, are somehow linked to this woman far away ? What if, as I sit here feeling the moment expand around me, she lifts her head from where it has been bowed over her knees, and leans back against the cold wall. What if her shoulders relax and she breathes out a long pent-up sigh? What if, just for that moment, she is gifted the grace to Just Be. What if?

2 thoughts on “Not burning the midnight oil: On putting our feet up

  1. Cathy, you’ve created a space for every reader. Maybe that woman breathing against the cold bricks breaths in the peace you have emanated. I’ve just finished the boiled frog. Sometimes I couldn’t read another page anxious about the next assault. Very honest courageous writing. I did wonder if Karl ever went for help – he needed it seriously. Penny


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