It’s not unusual, caught in between winter and spring, waiting to untangle the mess of scarves hanging on the hooks by the door. Hoping for an invitation to come outside and play.
There are days when “nothing” is easy. Nice and light. Today’s not one of those days. Today, “nothing” feels like a burden, like a yoke around my neck. I can’t shake it.
The best thing to do when you’ve got nothing going on is to drink with someone who has less going on than you.
Step one: reach out.
I try Obi. He’s too busy to talk. In New York City, this is a geographical hazard and a life-style choice. City-dwellers wear “busy” like their favorite pair of jeans. Being unbusy is considered a fashion faux pas.
I used to be busy. It felt so nice. Until the day someone held a mirror up to my busy life and I saw not only how busy I was, but how little I was doing. I was running in circles, passing the same signposts over and over again, tying myself into intricate knots so that I had something to do when I was too tired to run any more.
Still, it was fun while it lasted.
I call Nikki. She hibernates in the winter, while it’s cold outside. Her favorite pastime, searching for her boyfriend’s wife’s boyfriend, Bob, requires temperate conditions, as she is certain he spends much of his time biking through city parks.
Step two: find an excuse to talk.
I don’t want her to think that my call is part of a compare and contrast campaign launched to gauge how much more of nothing is going on in her life than mine. I dig deep into my recent past to come up with a point of concern.
Earlier in the week, while flirting with a potential love interest plucked from the ripe bushes of the internet, said potential love interest gave me the stink eye and called me a “dizzy broad.”
“Dizzy is the last word I’d use to describe you,” she says.
“But maybe I am. Maybe all the times I feel overwhelmed, which is almost all the time, maybe I’m just dizzy from spinning my wheels.”
There’s a heavy pause on her end of the phone. And then a sigh.
“Bob’s dating someone,” she sounds despondent.
“He broke up with Tom’s wife?”
“They’re still involved.”
“Oh.” I am confused.
“If Bob’s seeing someone, I think I should see someone, too.”
“You’re breaking up with Tom?”
“Of course not.”
“I want to teach my dog a trick.”
“That’s morbid,” she says. “I got to go. I’m cyber-stalking someone I think he’s chatting up on OkCupid.”
“Bob or Tom?”
“Bob. Tom’s not seeing anyone else, except for maybe his wife.” And then she adds, “When it gets warm, we’ll picnic in Prospect Park and watch the bikers ride by.”
Step three: scour the web for answers.
I type in a web search: “how to do something when you’ve got nothing going on.” One site suggests spinning until you are sick. Just when I’m about to attempt this, I remember a part of an Eckhart Tolle interview where he tells the interviewer that he spent a year sitting on a park bench watching the world go by. This seems much more civilized than spinning until I puke.
I suit up, coax the dog out from under the bed, and we go outside to find a bench. Surely, something will happen if we sit there long enough.
The sun’s out. The wind is more courageous than a breeze, but too timid to be a gust. My dog snarls at a passing pitbull, but is easily distracted by the treat in my hand. A young mother pushing a stroller takes a flyer from the Pilates studio next door, and four guys from the electrics company climb halfway into the earth to lay cable. Everyone’s edging winter out, in their way.
A Wikipedia article I read a few weeks ago springs to mind. It was about the Hawthorne Effect and how the act of observing can change the actions of the observed. So, I resolve to watch the world with a little more engagement. And then I wonder if anyone is observing me, which makes me sit a little straighter and scratch my dog behind the ears, like a good and kind dog care-taker would.
My neighbor passes and asks me what’s new.
“Not a thing,” I say.
She says, “I’ve got nothing, too,” and then walks around the corner and into the building.
I focus on the sky, at the clouds swimming against the blue, until I feel the dog pull at her leash.
Obi kneels by the bench, tickling her chin. He glances up, sun in his eyes.
“I thought you were busy,” I say
“I was, but now I’m not.”
He sits next to me and we watch the traffic.
“What are you up to?”
“Waiting for something to happen. You?”
“My date called me dizzy last week,” I say.
“I got me thinking. Maybe I am a little overwhelmed from being underwhelmed.”
“Like you’re spinning in circles,” he says.
“Whiplashed from the expectations I formulated from the movies I watched when I was a kid.” A few birds chirp over the hum of running cars, a bunch of crocuses are popping up from the soft earth surrounding a city tree. A mean old neighborhood fixture waddles up the street and tsks at the bicycle delivery guy riding on the sidewalk. “Maybe this is all there is. Maybe that’s the secret we don’t want to know.”
“We’re spun,” Obi says. “And here’s the thing about spinning, you can spin and spin and spin until you’re dizzy and nauseous and think you’re going to puke. And then you can stop and the world will still feel like it’s spinning. But it’s not. You haven’t changed damn thing, except that you feel like puking or you fall down or try to spin the other way. Once the dizziness stops, you’re still in the same place.” He stops for a moment to catch his breath. “You can spin fast or you can spin slow. But spinning doesn’t get you anywhere.”
“I’m tired of winter.”
“Things’ll feel different when it’s warm.”
“They will. For sure.”
“I forgot to tell you. I’m going to Milwaukee next week.”
“You want to grab a cup of coffee before I leave for work?”
Life is what you make it, some people say. Whether you’re dizzy or not.