Tuesday, May 12, 2020

What Would Haruko Do? Or, a Treatise on Doing 'Nothing' during the Pandemic.

[Image is of a sketch I made of my 'empty' body where someone has decided to have a party by draping in bunting and latching it onto my third eye. This was inspired by Haruko Tanaka's body scan drawings made during an artist-in-residency.]
A friend, Veronique, perceptively said that the pandemic feels like what early sobriety felt like, living day by day. This idea has seemed to resonate among more than a few of our friends.
But besides being ready in an emergency for each other, is anyone else wondering... what exactly are we supposed to be doing right now?

[I have a flashback to Haruko Tanaka's film 'I Love You' where one by one a friend says I love you to her face and it feels like you're trying to perceive either a sense of calm or love... but essentially, you kindof watch Haruko doing nothing.]

'Doing nothing' is actually ingrained in my daily routine since I've been following this Coronavirus Schedule at the end of March. Between 8:30 'Eat Something' and the 9:40 'Get ready for the day' it reads:
7:40 - 8:40 am, Duration 1 hour
However YOU relax - drink coffee, lie in bed and browse phone, take dog for a walk, long shower, game. It just needs to be something that's NOT productive. Aim for the lowest possible effort/energy/motivation here. **If you do nothing of value, you've accomplished this section!! Hooray!**

Another friend was prescribed this 'Do Nothing' as well by a therapist, so in my terrible habit of not not doing anything, I wrote a whole bunch of stuff on nothing instead.
'Do Nothing' couldn't be a simpler instruction although it is an absurd, arresting command. Hey YOU stop that! But it's also kindof serious, like... life and death serious. I wonder if we all know a story about someone who has worked themselves to death? Although it feels like an argument one would have with a nonchalantly defensive person. Maybe like trying to convince someone in a full body cast to lay down who just wants to wiggle out of it because it itches like crazy, and they feel fine and just want to get back to skateboarding. But instead of fragile physical health, it's mental health, so maybe more invisible? (Oh yeah, AND the health of doctors and nurses that would be overwhelmed if everyone all got sick at once by going out and partying en masse instead of doing nothing at home).

And well... it didn't sound like the therapist gave any additional advice... So, when faced with 'Nothing' delivered with responsibility and care, its immediate subtext, is to stop the negative spiral of shame where it seems to start, in a moment of being self-conscious that one isn't doing enough, when really one just maybe doesn't know exactly what to do?

More and more I talk with my friends about trauma, we rarely talk about nothing, but mostly we try to practice talking about shame, not bottling it up.

I wanted to respond to another friend who said that in some sections of my ADHD Guide for/by Artists he kindof takes offense whenever it sounds ableist leaning because in parts it sounds like I provide 'solutions that work', so that would mean that it's just that you haven't tried it, and therefore, it's kindof your own fault for being as disabled as you are. It's true that these sentiments can be a slippery slope of shame as opposed to being absolutely resolute in stating ’this affliction isn't your fault, you didn’t do anything to cause it, or to make it worse, or to deserve it.'

I'm familiar with feeling offended by well-meaning advice...

"Isn't it enough to be mediocre?" "Aren't you enough?" "Do you have to call it Art?" "Do you have to be an Artist?" This was the latest advice I received in the path towards Nothing, and frankly, my problem with all of those sentiments is that, I'm not quite sure that those are the problems/solutions, but also on a more fundamental level... How exactly?

No one seems to tell me how that all turned out when they themselves took that advice to just give up being an artist.

I mean... it's one of the reasons I wanted to Be an artist, it seemed fantastic that people tend to leave you alone and you get to get away with doing nothing! Conversely... maybe (American) artists live on the edge of a dangerously opportunistic/Capitalist lifestyle, where every waking moment is in the service of 'making art'... and so they need to be reminded that art isn't everything, they are not their jobs, chill the fuck out.

But it wouldn't be a surprise if I'm very resistant to the idea regardless of my neurotic tendencies to be a busy body. According to a study on football/soccer goalies, the idea of 'Wait for it...' is too much to handle in the high pressure moment of a penalty kick, which is not too dissimilar from the 'Don't Panic! Just wait it out' advice that stock brokers tell investors when stocks plunge. Even if everyone is aware of the statistics that not jumping to conclusions fares far better over impulsively winging it, at least according to that study, we irrationally prefer acting blindly than to not act in ALL manners of business.

I think Capitalism wires us to only practice 'doing things' so that even 'taking a break' is only in the service of 'doing more things... later'. It makes us forget that 'Doing Nothing', is an option, it makes us forget that we actually need to practice 'Doing Nothing'.

[The image is a hastily made Bingo sheet that reads "Anti-Capitalist BINGO!! (During the quarantine) and less than half of the bingo squares say some form of 'Do Nothing'.]

Artist consultant, Beth Pickens says that we can give ourselves a break for the first unconscious reaction/thought that pops into our head, but we are responsible for our second thought and our first action; and that 'Doing Nothing' (for better or worse) is also very much an action.

And so maybe it's important that we explicitly get told to 'Do Nothing'. There's lots of stuff that my therapists say to me that I forget. I probably would forget to 'Do Nothing' unless someone repeatedly reminded me, 'hey don't forget to feel sad', and when in doubt, 'Do Nothing'.

1. Being given the task to ‘Do Nothing'

I thought I already liked doing nothing, but if I compare it to something like 'not taking a photo' so that I'm 'more present', then my enjoyment of revisiting a moment via photos is all of a sudden 'a neurotic coping strategy'.
(And I'm probably going to keep taking photos, because my memory is terrible, so either I might stress out about forgetting something, or I might stress out about how difficult it is for me to function without a prosthesis.) Reassuringly, as one friend put it, 'we all have different versions of relaxing.'

But there are versions of 'Nothing' that are easily appealing; for one, preparing an empty shelf, so that it can become a safe space for things to go. 'Doing Nothing' actually sounds very similar to two sentiments I currently like that also sets a very low bar for existence:

Before Covid-19: “Your only job is to feel things” (one of my therapists)
After Covid-19: “All you have to do is NOT get Coronavirus” (from a friend)

The ’Nothing’ in these times can be assumed to be the opposite of any other kind of career advancement, or tackling 'important things' that you haven't had the time for. And the advice is specifically in the context of mental health and how different people are taking on self-care.

It's easier for me to start with looking at ‘Nothing’ as a skeptic, and I want to look around the concept of ‘Doing Nothing’ to see if there is actually something holding up the nothing? Because y'know... what if 'Nothing' is a big ol scam and there actually is something, like the opposite of the emperors new clothes...

[image of an angry older white guy speaking up at a climate summit saying 'what if it's a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing? Note to self: finally watch that controversial Michael Moore produced film...]

So I have these 2... ‘assumptions’... The first is that to gain accessibility to this wonderful world of 'nothing' one has to accept a kind of anti-faith/hope, and secondly that nothing is all in the delivery, so there’s probably quite a bit that makes 'the nothing'... a thing. But it makes sense to start with: Who is giving the task? and who is receiving the task?

{Assumption A.} Perhaps once given the assignment, it is given knowing that it’s impossible to actually do nothing, it’s all one big thought experiment.
We also can’t just immediately imagine ‘Nothing’, but somehow we understand each other implicitly when we refer to it. We might not be able to agree on what 'God' is, but you know we'd be on the same page if you asked me, 'well what do you think happens after we die?' and I respond, "uh, nothing." There may be a difference in opinion, but at least there's no arguing over semantics.

In the movie 'NeverEnding Story', 'The Nothing' is the villain, a parasite and it made Atreyu’s eyes hurt when he tried to glance at it, but because Atreyu couldn’t comprehend it, it made his brain hurt.
Tangent: For some reason I also want to tell you that ‘Nothing' doesn’t actually have a time-frame. I assumed that like the ‘Neverending Story’, Nothing would have the connotation of being forever, but not even the word ‘Chronic’ means forever, it can also mean: ‘for a very long time’. Being able to do 'Nothing' might just mean being able to just 'be', being able to do 'nothing' might be disappointingly temporary.
[Image from a Calvin and Hobbes strip, where I mostly wanted to highlight the line that Hobbes says: "If good things lasted forever, would we appreciate how precious they are? But then it just felt wrong to take Bill Waterson's words out of context because Calvin immediately follows it up with a statement about privilege: "I like to have everything so good I can take it all for granted."

Nothing, like being bored, feels mundane but what if it's half of reality?
Nothing could mean “zero”, which was a huge useful revelation when it was invented as a tool (in particular as a binary in 010110111). Most people use ‘Nothing’ in a dismissive way, to mean that it is of no value, and nothing is also defined by being not a ’Thing’, or I may use it to throw you off the scent of vulnerability when you ask me: Is anything wrong? And I snap out of it and reply, what? no... no... it's nothing...

Nothing is most profound when we're talking about FEELINGS.
Conversely, in both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Radiohead’s song ‘There There. (The Boney King of Nowhere.)' both try to remind people that Feelings are not exactly a ‘Thing’ (such as actions and behaviors) but it’s not nothing either, it just not something that anyone else can perceive but you, and also ones feelings alone can lead to unintended consequences.

Letting just one kind of feeling rein supreme is problematic as presented by neuroscientists vis-a-vis the movie ‘Inside Out’ and trying to get away from feeling will only make it seem scarier to face, like in the movie ’The Babadook’ (spoiler alert) where you never actually part with it, but you learn from it, even feed it, and become responsible for it.

I’ve also heard it said in another way, in the book ‘Big Magic’ you don’t let fear take over and drive the car, when they’re really only meant to be a passenger.
Sorry another tangent, I'm super intrigued by the passenger metaphor that I heard about from 'Big Magic'. Sometimes it feels like medications put a muzzle or a gag on this passengers mouth. Really, the intensity of the passenger is different for everyone, but personally I can’t imagine a 'Feeling' screaming its head off constantly 24/7, so i’d also appreciate some kind of moderation.

Feeling nothing always sounds dangerous.

Feelings not only help us navigate the world, call out to bring others to our aid, give us intuition, and give us information to work with; it’s also the very thing that gives Quality to life.

We also tend to judge what life is worth respecting whether we perceive it to have feelings or not...

The loss of feeling could mean someone is in shock, or they're numb, but it could also be much much worse. It is also the basis for a sociopath, being unable to curb the impulsiveness of hurting oneself or others.

I feel like if I was smarter I'd put in some kind of reference to Lakoff's 'Metaphors We Live By' or Erving Goffman's 'Frame Analysis', but it's kindof fun to just talk about nothing haphazardly. It's reminscent of 'giving no fucks.'

I think it’s strange that people are more comfortable doing things due to a ‘feeling’ rather than doing things ‘for no reason’, for ‘nothing’. Perhaps it's fun because I optimistically think I can always find something of value out of supposedly something that was nothing. Much like the imagination, it has limitless added value considering that it starts from a seed of nothing. I also find it a silly that people don’t value ‘dreams’ and consider them merely along the lines of a ‘fantasy’ rather than ‘magic', a narrow way of considering the fullness of reality. And for those who only consider reality as something tactile, that strikes me as the mindset of a consumer rather than an inventor, where things simply already exist, and mostly for their pleasure. An inventor gets two things from nothing! Not only do they get to be the conduit for putting something out into the world that didn't exist, but there is flow, joy, MAGIC, in having witnessed the distance taken between something starting as nothing and being turned into something. (Although now that I hear myself say it, it just sounds Capitalistic again... Ughhh)

Maybe 'Do Nothing' is the catchier, Zen way of saying Do you notice that you keep doing this thing? It's obviously unhealthy, so uh, maybe Don’t do That.

I know i’ve been scolded for something I had no idea that I was doing, but in adulthood, That, is our unconscious coping mechanisms (such as working very very hard) that we’ve brought from its usefulness in childhood to get by. But now in more contexts it becomes this inflexible totem into adulthood that (in the words of many a therapist), ’may no longer serve you’. 'That' which we do unconsciously to avoid feeling painful things, or perhaps we can't help but do 'That' even as it throws us directly into the oncoming traffic of re-triggering something traumatic.

So instead of trying to Not do That which psychologically we know is impossible to not do, one is tasked with re-considering the automatic-ness of how we may return to "That" time and again; and let's switch it up, and try this brand new unopened 'Nothing' instead.

Some deceivingly simple language has the ability to override overthinking, passing into our unconscious unnoticed, especially to those who are eager for a challenge (again working hard, being productive in order to avoid something else.) 

{Assumption B.} But I don’t think this is a prescription given to just anyone either, I think it’s specifically a challenge to those who constantly have high expectations and therefore constantly challenge themselves and have heard plenty of advice to ‘be less hard yourself’ ad nauseum, and it probably wasn't very effective.

Maybe that sentiment assumes that the personality for whom this advice is particularly helpful, is for those who were going to fail and work hard anyways… so trying to be in the mindset of the paradox of ‘doing nothing’ may inadvertently trigger existential reflection, where the goal is to help someone sit with their life that continues to have meaning, with stories that we tell ourselves, where plenty of interesting things continue to happen without even trying.

i found a scrap of a note i left myself:
spiritual path = letting go of control?
Goals = control?

I told a therapist that my plan was to have a joyful art practice based on serendipity, he really didn't like that... he said something about me not being grounded in reality and some story about an ant and a grasshopper, but I will admit that perhaps I'm just discounting all the things I've actually worked hard to put in place... or I probably just forgot that I applied in the first place... Maybe do nothing is the only time we ever have to realize what it is that we do/have done?

- - -

As soon as the stay-at-home orders changed my life, I tried to do nothing, and all I could do was notice was how I kept doing something, kept breathing, kept thinking, kept fucking up not doing anything

One of the ways I figured I was depressed, is how often I think about not wanting to leave any legacy, not wanting to make any commitment too big. And I would think of it like a virtue, kindof like when you see a sign that says 'take nothing, leave nothing' at the beginning of a nature trail... I thought it was very 'buddhist' of me, except I don't meditate like a 'buddhist', it's so so hard for me to get around to it...

Maybe because the whole idea of a leaving something behind, a legacy, feels embarrassingly patronizing, but it does go deeper (sadder) than that for me. I'm beginning to admit that I have a fear of not being able to adequately maintain success, and the fear is debilitating. I'm just starting to question this because I'm working on feeling it out; when I think I'm taking up too much space.

This is how far I've gotten so far: I'm open to creating some thoughtful ripples and immaterial things. My ideas aren't just nothing; they reflect values that I live by. It just happens that sometimes these values leave a legacy, which I wouldn't have any control over anyways, so maybe I should think of it like... I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

One friend said that to get past 'artist block' she just imagines that no one cares, and that would ease the anxiety of it for her. But because there are moments where I so sincerely care, it's hard for me to imagine No One caring...

- - -

In the NAVEL assembly Queering Death, Ari held a 'Spiritual Will (aka a non-material will) Writing Workshop' that is purposely not a legal will that passes down ones finances/holdings/possessions. "Instead a Spiritual Will could express appreciation to those who are significant to you, or have brought particular joy, pleasure, and memories. It's an opportunity to express love, regrets, apologies, forgiveness; it could be a way to share your spiritual autobiography.
How did you decide what you believe? How does your life reflect those beliefs? It tells the story of your life: Who are you?, how you lived, who you loved, what you want people to understand about you. [It can be used to] collect and pass on your family history, articulate particular wishes about what happens to you as and after you pass, articulate particular wishes for what will happen to people you love or are survived by. And really it bequeaths values not valuables." This practice is more inclusive of people and kinships (not just hetero-normative families) and it takes death rituals very seriously, thankfully not solely in Capitalist terms. He also offers that we can always share this while we're alive, not just when we're gone. So that's what we did.

[Are you Jewish? Then that responsibility to pass on values may have sounded a whole lot like an ethical will, which I'm pretty sure it is. The whole workshop mostly felt like a memoir writing workshop, but it did bring up particular stories that it seemed like very many of us had never told or even written down...]

But also a lot of good therapists help people like me to remember that monstrously difficult issues can be broken down into smaller, definable, manageable steps, like A --> B --> C --> D.
'Noticing' is always seems to be the first step, so let’s say that Noticing things represents getting from A --> B. I think 'Noticing' and 'Do Nothing' are meant to go hand in hand.

But for the past two years it was starting to frustrate me that I feel like I’ve been stuck at step B for a very long time. (Josh Korda says that talk therapy takes about 7 years to reach a secure attachment style...) And that eventually i’ll discover over time that my disappointment in everything will feel alright… that being at B is enough, because perhaps there isn't more to life than that. [Insert British/European pessimism about rising up in one's social class here.]

But some friends said things to me recently that helped me understand that there is more beyond B and how to get there. (Sorry, not sorry Nothing, But I want to try and fail!)

For no good reason I keep aspiring to do things like art (but I have imposter syndrome so its complicated) and when I begrudgingly do it, it's a surprise when I keep getting propelled forward. In 'Your Art Will Save Your Life', Beth Pickens calls this strategy: 'Taking a Contrary Action.' and it is one of the weirdest placebos that has ever worked for me.

But it's still left me feeling incomplete because essentially it feels like sleepwalking; just putting down one foot then the other. It means that life has felt like something that happens to me, not that I really live it.

Now taking that new step from B --> C, I think that verb that I hadn't comprehended before is to ‘Know’ why you wanted something in the first place, it is the ‘why’ of A-B-C-D. The reason could dawn on you like an epiphany, or it could be remembering why you started in the first place, but it's all about You in this moment taking charge! No one can do any of these steps for you, but it’s especially true in terms of finding the courage to respect yourself enough to go from B --> C.

An actual recent conversation:
Me: “Hi friend, I’m finally on unemployment but I either keep working or I feel guilty (about doing nothing), honestly i’d love any advice"

Friend 3: “oh sweetie… idk, gotta look inside yourself for that."

 Another recent conversation:
Me: “I’ve noticed that I’m not doing any of these things I know I’m supposed to do; like meditate, contact this A-I-R, contact the airline, the deadlines are coming up so soon and I don’t know how to make a decision
(So speaking of making a Decision, I should've started off with saying that that's the "D" in the whole A --> B --> C --> D example. It also could mean “Do/Done/Did”, that action.)

Friend : “I’ve noticed that one of my coping strategies is to wait (do nothing) and in retrospect I always wish I had acted sooner, but rather than try to make a rash decision, maybe first contact the A-I-R so that they can help you make that decision, ask them to find out who else is going, because it sounds like it’s important to you to be around other people, maybe see how many other people are going, and if you can get their contact info to talk with them to find out their plans to help you make a decision?”

Friend 2: “Hmm… maybe instead of thinking about what you still have to do, can you turn it around so that you can get them to meet your demands? Like, even if I know that  I’m the one who is ultimately going to have to make a decision at the last minute, there’s this way I can figure out how to make something seem like it was their idea even including waiting until the last minute. It sounds like you’re more worried about what information you have to give them, so maybe how can you make it about what you want?
[Note: Usually being told, just do what You want to do, makes my brain freeze up, stop working, but something about how I got this advice to contact the A-I-R from two different friends, clicked in my head in a different way.

A strange paradox for me is that I intuitively trust my friends, but I don’t intuitively trust myself, ipso facto, their idea of a good time is now my idea of a good time. In retrospect, I have never regretted taking friends' advice (which sure, is really my own intuition to know who to trust, AND I'm still the one that has to 'do the thing'.) I really do believe that I simply don’t know what’s fun until I am in the present in it with a friend, and that seems more than enough. Maybe I don't have to always feel bad about not knowing what I want, maybe that's not actually a prerequisite to living a fun and exciting life?]

So to re-iterate, B --> C usually involves re-orienting things so that opportunities are specifically For me, not simply obstacles and problems that are affecting me, nor something that's for someone else/some external reason. I can’t speak to whether or not there’s a healthy or unhealthy way to get through A-B-C-D-Repeat, but going from A --> D, skipping the personalization of “why” and the fore-thinking towards “how”, going directly from Wanting something directly to the Doing of the thing, that’s going to look like you did ‘nothing’ to make that happen.

As someone with Intention-Deficit-Disorder (ADHD) that asks a LOT of questions, this is how non-adhd people look to me. And maybe it is automatic like breathing, shitting and sleeping. I might worry my head off going from B-->C -->B-->A-->C-->B but in some cases "D" just happens involuntarily over time.

And so back to “Nothing” that the ‘doctor’ has ordered, it has everything to do with Being yourself.
I also re-visited Adrienne Maree Brown's 'Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds' and the page I happened to be looking at was chock full of glorious references to 'Nothing', so to celebrate I made this weird spinning GIF!
[Moving GIF that says 'Possible references to 'Nothing' in Emergent Strategies by Adrienne Maree Brown (and just from the pages 108 & 109!: resilience, humility, to be ready for you when you find me, staring at the truth in numb silence, an absence of theory, abandonment, nature and death, a space to not say a word, a non-linear spell, remember you are water, time, more time, and then more time, heartbeat in your ears, part of a balance of choice and not having to choose]

When it works, it's a huge relief. Sometimes it's more than just a relief. In the spirit of Adrienne Maree Brown's second book, the Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, I think it's worth describing things in terms of sex.

Like being tied up BDSM style and the Dom says, ‘Feel that? I’ve tied you up good, now you can’t do anything. Stay there, and do Nothing.” and for a lot of control-freaks, nothing could be hotter. A bottom whimpers to get fucked, but it seems that no one ever asks, “During the Revolution, who is going to be the Top if everyone is a bottom?” Which is to say, who is going to be doing the fucking work

I think there's is a subtext to all of this treatment, being allowed to “Do Nothing”, and paying someone something, showing up to something in order to be told to do nothing and have it sink in.
A lot of it seems like placebos or a ceding of authority, as for some people it WORKS but the essence of a placebo is that it is nothing that actually seems to do something (and obviously for some it does nothing so they probably don't care much that it doesn't work for someone else if it doesn't work for them...) But back to the sex metaphors, when someone fakes out a giant cracking whip to your ass, there's nothing more real and important than that surge of anticipation. Also if you never stopped getting whipped, you'd never be able to enjoy the lingering of the sting, so again, 'Nothing happening' is feeling happening.

Authority is a trip... a... Power Trip? Haha jk jk, for reals though, I wonder if it's because I wish I had grown up with consistent responsibility via rules that I yearn for a kind of authority that everything is going to be ok? At the same time, 'Church' has NEVER been appealing, and instead I have always felt suspicious of people who claim 'to know' (a possibly unhealthy source of my skepticism? Or is that healthy critical thinking?)

[Image of a meme that always ends with Andy from Parks and Rec saying "and at this point I'm too afraid to ask" so my sad dark humor version says "I didn't get the kind of love I needed as a kid, and at this point I'm too afraid to ask." But considering the context of nothing, therapy says we're meant to give up, and figure out how to move on.]

Therapy requires trust in the positive relationship between Therapist and Patient. If all someone is supposed to “Do” is nothing, then it can be assumed that one has done more than enough already, or that there is nothing more one can do.

The side effect of the prescription of 'Doing Nothing' is that one has to unconsciously sit with the idea that someone (the therapist for one) thinks you’re good enough, even if you don’t think you’re good enough, that your values alone mean that you can be left alone with this sole task, and that you have the strength to be able to "Do Nothing", that may be quite a feat.
The same friend who was tasked to 'Do Nothing' spoke of a clever twist on getting frustrated during meditation when being distracted by a thought: instead of being like 'damn, I broke concentration getting distracted by this thought', instead you can actually say to yourself, 'Good Job for noticing a thought'. Every time your attention drifts, you can just keep on congratulating yourself every time, because you really are noticing it, it's not just some positivity angle.

And that Therapist, they also wouldn’t want to take that self-loving process away from you, so it’s best that they themselves, the therapist, do “nothing” more in explaining how you’re going to pull off a whole lot of “doing nothing”.

I have also heard of other ways to “Do Less” rather than to do “Nothing” and it is helpful too. In a conversation about the unfortunate toxic-ness of ‘Shoulds’, the sentiment “You should Do Nothing” betrays the whole sentiment.

My therapist put the pressure of 'Shoulds' this way:
"Well, you already know you have difficulty doing a thing, or you already know that doing something is already pretty hard, so what good is piling onto that, reminding yourself that you’re not doing enough when you already feel like you’re not doing enough? Not only is it kindof redundant, but when has it ever made getting the ’thing done’ any easier? Maybe the pressure of the ‘shoulds’ of it are what is optional, even if the task itself isn’t!"

But alas the guilt continues, for writing about doing nothing, is also not to do nothing, so you’d have to take anything I say with a grain of salt as large as this essay. (and you're not even halfway?! I wouldn't blame if you if stopped and rather did nothing instead, or maybe I'll just say that was my intention allll along.)

[Image of the photo I took of one of many Bread and Puppet posters that I cherish. This one has bright orange flowers on it and reads 'RESISTANCE TO THE WORTHLESSNESS OF THE MACHINE OPERATED DETAILS OF LIFE'. So succint, unlike this writing... They make so many wonderful posters...]

Maybe I've got the tactic all wrong, that coming from the therapist... what if it was meant to be intentionally frustrating?

It's hard to say that frustration is automatically a bad thing, in the same way that I don't believe that happiness is automatically a good thing. My therapist said something about helping parents build up 'Frustration Tolerance' in kids and while describing that, Nothing came up again! My therapist basically tells parents. 'Get out of your kid's way' and allow kids to be mad.

(I'm sure folk of the whole political spectrum can relate to 'X just needs to get out of the way' as practically universal advice, maybe Nothing is whatever you need it to be? And it's already the perfect container to do such a thing.)

So the kid gets mad AND they to see that it's all part of the experience. You could make all the accommodations in the world but what is essential is that the parents' understand that their responsibility (beyond doing nothing) is to create a loving environment where their kid is held accountable in a consistent, communicated way. And this is not actually about discipline or policing, it's spoken a lot in ADHD management; that more responsibility, not less, is empowering.

My therapist also mentioned that 'Nothing' comes up in a childrens book she loves (and when in college may have created a dance entirely based on it) called "Hey Willie, See the Pyramids" by Maira Kalman.

(Lulu's little younger brother) “What is nothing?”
Nothing is when you are given a very small portion of ice cream by an adult, and you look at the plate and at the adult and you ask for more and the adult says you have a huge portion and you say, ‘That’s it?  That’s nothing.’  And that is nothing,” says Lulu.
What i’m trying to say is that there’s plenty of irrational versions of what it means to ‘do nothing’, but to live and to aspire to “nothing” isn’t one of them, that much is clear.

TLDR; The point of the task to ‘Do Nothing’ is an attempt (a cerebral gift) to reverse the guilt of ’not doing anything’ into intentionally doing nothing, on your terms, to the best of your ability. How much should you regard the opinions of others for what you are or are not doing? It should be close to nothing because it's one of the reasons we get into a mess in the first place. Maybe these nagging feelings are a passenger in your journey, but they’re not allowed to drive.

The nice thing about ‘Nothing’ as a form of advice is the gravity in which it operates. The harder you do ’nothing', either you exhaust what really wasn’t truly ‘doing nothing’, or you end up with no greater reward other than yourself and your time, or you forget what it was you were supposed to be doing, and then you remember, ‘Do nothing’, and you resume.

If you worry about not doing enough nothing (which I do, and I define as ‘being in the present’), you may realize that the anxiety produced is something, but not something worth having, so in a choice between anxiety and doing nothing, you end up giving ‘Doing Nothing’ another shot because hell, it was wayyy better than a panic attack. (it’s weird, because after a panic attack, sometimes I wonder to myself, what the hell was all that about? Now that i’ve cancelled all immediate plans that were overwhelming me, it was like I was worrying all about nothing…)

[insert nothing here]

Ok got it,

So don’t do anything,

What about showing up to therapy?
What about starting the arduous process of finding out if meds are helpful?
What about questioning suicidal thoughts?
What about taking responsibility?
What about trying different tactics to figure out if any of them makes one feel less crazy?
What about prioritizing and loving yourself? 

[Image of my favorite meme of all time, there's a dog surrounded by flames, with a hat and a cup, and like a dolt he just says 'This is Fine.']

Rather than just call this out as 'Black & White' thinking, I think, again, it should be noted that it's real easy to point at cognitive distortions but not nearly as easy to work through it. Let's go back to the concept of early sobriety...

Did you hear about the AA meetings where members were allowed to drink?
Did you hear about the AA meetings where they would bully newcomers?

First off, can I just say how impressive it is that Alcoholics Anonymous is potentially one of the most successful and longest running forms of Anarchism in America? (I know it's a powerful system. Everyone just has to agree to show up. Studies done on it have proven to be impossible due to its anonymity and not counting those that go because it’s court mandated.) And also, there are 12 steps, but technically no rules! In the TV show 'Feel Good', the creator, Mae, tries to show that there is not a one-size fits all answer to addiction. But everyone tries together and many talk about the importance that someone in the program somewhere is available to connect to, 24/7.

No one actually owns exclusive rights to, dictates, or watches over the various '_____ Anonymous' groups or meetings to rein them in for quality control. BUT! If the program is to be... more helpful than unhelpful, you could say that two ground rules may be a good idea, even if they’re not explicitly written down: no drinking during AA meetings, no bullying people during AA meetings.

Doing nothing however free-form also has its limits. And finding/discovering those limits, might also be another part of why someone told you to do the anarchic task of ‘Doing nothing' in the first place. I think those two basic rules apply pretty well here too: no doing things and acting as if that counts as 'Doing Nothing' and no bullying yourself or others in the name of 'Doing Nothing'.

At least for now, I know that my friend who told me to do nothing is still doing nothing. (And it’s contagious! as i’ve also been telling people to do nothing as if I know what i’m talking about). Specifically what he has been doing that constitutes as him doing nothing is that he is adamantly choosing to be unproductive when guilty feelings may arise per the clear instructions. He is still getting required tasks done as they come, but mostly he’s playing animal crossing, playing with his dog, and reading a ton more about astrology.

I look at these activities and I wonder, perhaps we have devalued 'Play’ and made it synonymous with doing 'Nothing’? The next radical thing I guess would be to value ‘Play’ insomuch that one can 'Queer' ‘Capitalist Work’ so that it's synonymous with ’Nothing.’

I think we’re almost already there, when anyone would ask me what i’ve been up to and I could barely remember doing anything other than my desk job, i’d reply, ‘oh nothing really’.
If you were to ask me why i’m not pursuing my ideal job, i’d probably reply, “you’re right, and I don’t really want to be stuck just doing nothing with my life” And i’m sure i’m not the only one.

(Sidenote: I did have a professor at MSU that said the worst thing you could do is get your dream job. He LOVED the movie 'The Matrix', so you may be able to fill in the context of what he meant.)

2. Taking on 'Do Nothing’ as a radical task, (as in throwing a wrench into the gears of the machine…)

Being anti-work is to be anti-shame, anti-ableism, and anti-Capitalist market value.
It is resistance so that bad things can't just keep on going. I kindof want to push back on the possibly ableist idea that, 'Doing Nothing' is a choice. It's very possible that being stuck in bed, 'doing nothing' is NOT a choice. That may be more of a degree of privilege and awareness, than of ability.

But before I go deeper into the politics of Nothing, I also want to share a story about the known usefulness of nothing as I came to understand it, coming from a background in art education.

'Do Nothing' is also very much related to what I learned in art education, (in particular, *Visual Thinking Strategies) that unless someone was holding a gun to our head, we can setup/facilitate/introduce an idea and its context, but otherwise what we “doing” as educators is to be encouraging, not being didactic, being useful doing nothing.

*VTS was meant to de-stigmatize the authority of the museum to encourage more local visitors even if that means radically ignoring all of the official labels as 'the only facts worth knowing', and to encourage longer looking as well as rationalizing/reasoning skills:
(encouraging facilitation) “Let’s take a moment to take a look at this
(encouraging facilitation) “What’s going on in this?
(encouraging response) “What do you see that makes you say that?”
(encouraging facilitation) “What else is going on in this?” (until satisfied)

And it does feel like one would have to go through a good amount of education in order to understand the good of teaching through ‘Doing Nothing’. Many older docents were quite upset that they no longer could extol their knowledge of the great Masters, but instead under this new paradigm were required to keep their knowledge to themselves. So this effective strategy was not without a serious backlash.
This makes complete sense if you think about the concept of, "who is doing the thinking?” because the more a teacher guides the thinking, or the breakdown from mind to hand to perhaps an external product, there is no ‘reward’. Therapists too have talked about how in some forms of meditation or psychoanalysis, the less talking, the more that a patient is presented with the hard reality that ‘there is no right way’ and when looking for advice, the how-to guide, the best teacher is… nothing. And yet you begin anyways.

Influential teachers are essentially teaching one thing, that learning can be fun, exciting, (and we don’t say this out loud, but potentially barrier breaking, we don’t want to jinx it, nor let on to the state that that’s what we’re really doing). The M.O. is specifically to get students excited about learning, and the repercussions of that is a citizen who is curious, someone who knows what mastery feels like, and someone who will at some point figure things out either with the teacher’s voice in the back of their head, or their own voice

Providing “Nothing” when there is definitely something, is not as vague as ‘Do Nothing’, it is a suggestive approach, which I think is similar to Rorschach tests/tarot cards. It’s probably a good thing that we don’t think we should take our dreams as seriously as our conscious lived experience, that we make unconscious associations and meaning, because then we haven’t totally suppressed all of the information we have within us. It’s just coming out coded, which camouflages itself in nothing, waiting until one is ready to make a change

- - -

Another friend, Zach, told me that he plans on studying more eco-politics and he's a big fan of this farmer from Japan who created a 'No-Till' farming method, also called 'the natural way of farming' and 'Do-Nothing Farming'. Masanobu Fukuoka set out to prove that his crops can yield much more by him doing nothing more and more each year, and supposedly it worked! 
 But in a way, that's still aspiring for 'more' in a quantifiable way, rather than question the concept of there always needing to be more... (or consuming less) which then probably becomes a pipeline problem (where you end up with more waste and using more resources rather than actually solving a problem of energy, or hunger etc. through increased production.) It seems that all that is 'worth doing' is the kind of thing that increases someone's market value. So Capitalism for the win!

- - -

Now I want to talk about 'Doing Nothing’ as a form of solidarity, like 'Buy Nothing’. 

[Images above are most likely from AdBusters, promoting November 29th as 'Buy Nothing' Day.]
Taking a break is no easy feat not only because one assumes that one 'works' through problems for better or worse, but in this Capitalist environment, it's a fish in water; where everywhere we look we're seen/valued/treated in terms of our labor, and it's hard not to believe it. I thought, maybe if I think about Doing from the curious angle of 'doing nothing' maybe there is actually an imperative to waste time.

What is a bit frustrating about the word ‘Work' is that it means a kind of unfair toil that we want to end, and at the same time, ‘Work’ is exactly the word for the kind of activity that gives us meaning. The actual process of struggling through something different is a merit based quality that many people eschew, but besides external validation, it’s also true in the sense of intrinsic motivation. Mastery is something that is a bar that we set, even if it’s established by others (like the canon of Great Masters), it is still something that doesn’t begin and end at the same place. We feel better if we believe that we’ve worked hard at something, and feel terrible if we see that process, no matter how flawed, thrown out. We even now have studies that show that when exchanging value is involved, it is at best a temporary motivator. But their own studies do not encourage Behavior Economists to denounce Capitalism, rather they claim that we need Better Capitalism. One thing that perhaps they haven’t considered is that Capitalism may have no greater plan than to reproduce itself regardless if there are humans to enjoy the fruits of that labor. Inadvertently Capitalism may extract so much from the earth that it could potentially leave us humans with nothing.

[Image, (I had this in the previous post, but we could all probably use a break from all of the blocks of text.) It compares how Monetary Incentives Work (which looks to not be much fun since it's 25 cents for a 5 second ride) and how NonMonetary Incentives work (which says below, your enjoyment powers this ride continuously).]

To want nothing more from the planet would be an absolute 180 from the way that currently believe that we can simply create pollutants and live far enough away from it. Eventually that distance will reduce to nothing. What good are all the possessions, all the money you’ve made once you’re dead? Didn't we already talk about what happens after you die? Nothing! 

Nothing couldn’t be scarier, or more offensive (to Republicans).

It also probably drives someone crazy because that no good do nothing sunufabitch just sits on his ass all day and is the epitome of Lazy. If that person doesn’t have a bonafide medical reason for doing nothing, then someone else has to pay for their lack of work.

Why is ‘Nothingness’ a useful tactic in the medical field (for being left alone), but not in economics? 'You're poor? Congrats, you've earned the right to be left the fuck alone. And here's a few safety nets btw in case you need them, we need you to be healthy for the overall health of the nation.' See: Pandemic.
Maybe it’s because one of the hardest feelings to curb in humans is the toxic spirit of revenge, and this includes feeling scammed by a freeloader. When I see a lot of policies nowadays passed by Republicans today it really feels like it’s all motivated by immediate revenge, not by any long-term policy. Take abortion for example: No employer should be forced to pay for you to enjoy having sex (no government sponsored contraceptives/progressive sex education) and even under extenuating circumstances you are responsible to bring that child into the world (because fetuses have feelings, and it keeps women in their place) unless you've chosen to be gay, ya'll are exempted from the adoption program (because biologically you're not reproducing the ‘right’ way.) 

So if they feel that way just about sex, which I think of as a private matter, of course they're not going to be any more pleasant about the the idea of you not working with all of your 'private time'. 'How dare you have enough money in your pocket to not have to even do anything? Why does retirement exist? The Pandemic needs to end so that you can cut our hair, raise our kids, and tend to all the things that we like to do for fun.'

What is an additional offense to all of the above is that Wars are what happen when there is excess capital [citation needed], so there is an argument to be made that nothing may be less damaging than too much of a good thing.

There's a lot of fear of the incoming shit-storm of 'nothing' right now: What about when countries have run out of food? When they have nothing? Wasn't the dismal economics part of the reason that people blamed/scapegoated Others just prior to WWII?
Well, as a counter point, with the settlements in the New World, yet to be the robust corporate America we know today, when the pilgrims entered winter and had nothing, Indigenous tribes shared food and their expertise, but perhaps they shouldn't have given anything? I’m sure if there was such a thing as time travel, the idea of giving these colonizers 'Nothing', not trading, not sharing, not mingling, 6' distancing might be seriously considered with the knowledge that 80 - 95% of all indigenous people will eventually be wiped out by European diseases, and that as for a meeting the definition of genocide, it will be mostly considered a necessary evil.

So here is the Democratic/Liberal problematic version of Nothing:

it-doesnt-look-like-anything-to-me-westworld | Post Apocalyptic Media
A profoundly common phrase in the TV series, "West World". It has a 'Matrix' like quality to it where it shows you exactly what Elon Musk is thinking and how confusing his reality must be.

At some point during 'West World' part of the tool to know if someone is running the usual protocol is to see if they can register something that should NOT jog their memory, because this would mean that the character recalls that in some lifetime they had some kind of relationship to it. Here, wiping memories is part of what makes slavery possible. The show then... well... a lot of confusing stuff happens, but at some point it uses the trope of when 'doing nothing' means to allow something awful to happen.

Some people believe that they are acutely aware of 'Nothing', and that it needs to be thought of as a choice whether done unconsciously or not.

Many of us have heard that if we 'Do Nothing' then we're implicit in the violence to other people. But it's never clear like in TV & Movies: "Sir, we're about to execute this person, do you recognize them?" and then the character goes on to be haunted by their decision. What a fantasy that things could be this clear.

But we also argue that if we don't do 'enough', even if we think we're trying as hard as we, anything less than systematic change, (if something could revert easily back to being awful) it might as well mean that nothing has really changed substantially. And that would signal that there needs to be a change in tactic! Unfortunately this is usually part of a constant call to action, which leads to burn out. (Which is really just our bodies deciding to Do Nothing without us intending to.)

Personally I'd like to see less military spending and that energy being shifted into preventative care and repair, and not just within the U.S. borders, just like we've seen the most accepting decrease in consumption in my lifetime, which I believe is connected to how we were all asked to be more responsible. For some that meant to stay at home, even if that means do nothing, and most of us are giving it a shot, and usually we all don't agree on much!

I want to say that returning to 'normal' is akin to returning to 'nothing' which would say a lot about ones privilege, but I also think doctors and nurses in hospitals would very much like to return to a manageable level of work, and I want that for them too. What is so frustrating about anyone wanting to return to 'normal' is that 'normal' is meant to signify a time before a disturbing change, when thankfully 'nothing' was really happening, no change to the status quo. But this supposed stasis doesn't mean peace for everyone, it just means a subjective, individual, personal, private level of peace.

I have a potentially infuriating suggestion. What if it doesn't matter who wins the upcoming presidential election because neither side really knows how to encourage 'Nothing'?  (Before there was a backlash, Biden was still hoping people would go in person to the polls? Does it seem to anyone else that just like Trump he changes his tune depending on the amount of backlash in the media from his conservative base?)

I wonder about things would change if someone represented a very different change in attitude? What if that person didn’t stigmatize homeless people and rather created a full fledged system that fed, clothed, secured, gave temporary privacy to, gave facilities to clean themselves, gave dignity, gave work, gave mental and physical services, produced social programs (aka parties) and to have the same for their pets? So regardless of poverty, we could allow more people to live in the very excess that actually exists. What’s so terrible about being without a private home? Wouldn’t this be the greatest use of re-distributed wealth, that we can finally do ’Nothing’? But we don’t really practice doing nothing, so it’s alien to us. Most of us anyways can only imagine that there is always work to be done, not less, more. I think it's very telling that the homeless people I know (including perpetual couchsurfers) prefer to make art rather than do nothing when they can't just get a job. I also think it’s funny that when my retired uncle describes his day of gardening and finding stuff to do, it sounds a lot like when I've been in the middle of my career as an artist. Some people are allowed to do Nothing because they’ve "earned it", and some people will slowly, systematically, be preyed upon because they are a scapegoat population that represents ‘Nothing’.

In this country (because of Capitalism) we celebrate those who tell other people to fight the system and ‘Be something, and Do Nothing’, where a lot of hustling (creating something from nothing) sounds perfectly 'normal'. There's quite an imposed hierarchy here, of those who are smart enough to tell people to do nothing, and those who aren’t smart enough not to figure out how to 'Do Nothing' the right way.

[Images above include a photo of Pastor Joel Osteen in his private jet, a quote that's pretty similar to 'Idle Hands are the Devil's Workshop' but said by Henry David Thoreau, and the empty Santa Ana prison]

I also think of a prison, where supposedly those who threaten the community must be put in a nowhere place to do nothing, to feel like they are nothing, so that they don’t supposedly hurt somebody. It makes no healthy sense because the organizations that Need a prison, are the ones that profit off of actually forcing people who have nothing, to work for nothing. To be The organization that gets to decide the what and why of a Prison (they don’t seem to care too much about the How, a chink in the armor) is everything. I can’t imagine the war for who gets to claim the right of doing ‘Prison', ever ending, ever looking towards a future without prison. So the ‘Nothing' isn’t simply existential, but a euphemism for being imprisoned/exiled/tortured. Just thought it was worth bringing up considering that there is finally a discussion of various states releasing people from prisons and jails.

There’s a few quotes in ‘Learning from the Virus’ by Paul B. Preciado that seem applicable:

“In the domain of sexuality, the pharmacological modification of consciousness and behavior, the mass consumption of antidepressents and anxiolytics, and the globalization of the contraceptive pill, as well as antiretroviral therapies, preventative AIDS therapies, and Viagra, are some of the indicators of biotechnological management, which in turn synergizes with new modes of semi-technical management that have arisen with the surveillance state and the global expansion of the network into every facet of life. I use the term pornographic because these management techniques function no longer through the repression and prohibition of sexuality, but through the incitement of consumption and the constant production of a regulated and quantifiable pleasure. The more we consume and the better our health, the better we are controlled.”…

...“Let us turn off our cell phones, let us disconnect from the internet. Let us stage a big blackout against the satellites observing us, and let us consider the coming revolution together.”

To be honest, I have to read the whole article still, but although many have voiced that they do not, I actually absolutely agree with the conclusion. The reason being that I believe that most Americans have lost our relationship to ‘Nothing’.

It's not just that taking breaks is better for Productivity, (which is still true, and studies show that we should go down to a 21-hour work week) but as my therapist pointed out, breaks are enlivening and not only does it generatively affect our work, but it generatively affects our relationships as well. And since we live in relational systems, there Would be a fundamental ripple effect of being offline, off the grid. And it's a kind of Revolution that would be familiar & accessible to more people, like camping, or a 2-week silent meditation retreat, or say... experiencing a giant pandemic that grinds The Economy to a halt. Even though maybe it's only a Revolution to a populace that doesn't work 70 hours a week and not having much Living to show for it...

There are books that tell of different cultures that experience time differently, Africans waiting at a bus stop, not doing anything for hours, living in a much slower pace of time, possibly even a non-linear concept of time. I have once suggested at the beginning of this pandemic we all need to close ourself off from our computers, our phones, all social media, and it may sound a whole lot like camping..., but it’s about returning to the feeling of when ‘nothing’ is better than something.  
It probably needs to last at least 2 weeks, and we really shouldn’t try to record it either for posterity (I'm taking in account of my desire to take lots of photo documentation), but rather, it should be something that we return to at least every year, doing the two or three weeks of nothing. It will remind us that we have so many options when we’re unplugged with nothing to do, that we probably have a ton of privileges that become really apparant when we consider how far away we can get from ‘nothing’, or how personally we are rarely considered a ‘nothing’.  

Doing nothing is no small individual feat,
it is to practice death in life,
it is to remember your worth outside of a Capitalist Market Value.

Even when doing nothing, you'll still be a brother, a mother, a cousin, a neighbor, a best friend, an acquaintance... and you may discover that in relation to each and every person, if you were to ask them flat out: Do you think I have to do anything? And maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but for the most part, (as long as one can shut up and be a good listener...), of course being present in that relationship is enough!  

So in the end, Pandemic or not, one might think one is not doing enough, but I hope we can all get to that thoughtful place (where it's not just about feeling insignificant when you look up at the stars, some of us already feel insignificant...), a mental place, where we don't feel like we have to be something, to be able to do something that would feel good, to do something that we know is important, OR to be able to get away with doing nothing. Maybe with enough nothing we'll get there. As Asher Hartman once said to me, 'the bar is NOT too high.'

Weird questions I thought to myself:

The absence of a change, 'Nothing' is always the 'control variable' in a scientific experiment, but it's also the sign that nothing has worked. Does that seem strange to anyone else? I mean, if life is dynamic, then wouldn't that be like checking a moving river to see if anything has changed? What if doing nothing is exactly what one was hoping for? How is that distilled from everything else that may have caused nothing to change? (the only scenario I can imagine would be like trying to test a medication that makes one live forever... enter doctor: "We've given this 30-year old woman the same medication for 50 years and she is still 30 years old! If only the original researchers were alive to see their results!") 

Also, actually being away from phone/computer/internet/corporations individual for two weeks WILL happen, but when?

Will anyone else be around?

Should it be coordinated and done en masse?

Do I put a little e-mail notice that I may be 'out' for some reason? (Obviously looking for a job per Unemployment rules)

What if I can't handle doing further 'nothing'?

Am i an asshole if i’m stubbornly angry and no one else is around?
Am i an asshole if i’m stubbornly angry and my friends who are around are ok with it to a point?
Am i an asshole if i’m stubbornly angry at myself?
Am i an asshole if i’m stubbornly angry, but... to a point?

At which point is something ‘real’, besides being “to a point” or besides being “enough”?

The big pain-filled question here is “aren’t you enough?

This writing is not for anything, I don’t even know if i’m writing anything, but is something better than nothing? What if I'm writing so much because I'm planning for the impending 'nothing' that I plan on doing? Is that like how a lot of men I know only know how to exhaust themselves rather than say, bring it down a notch?

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