What Comes After Doing Nothing?

Isn’t it ironic that right after doing the first set of (non)actions, I managed to land a new job. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful, but wow, you know how new work means major learning curve? I haven’t had a chance to Do Nothing since right after the last (first!) couple of encounters. Not complaining, just… remarking on this interesting turn of events. So what does this mean, how does all this new Something turn into a new Nothing? Not sure I have the answer just yet but I do know this: all the Nothing that is coming will be even more precious because of all the Something now exponentially entering into my life. PS: the new job is only for the summer so another shift will come again as of fall…

Already Here

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Lying there under the trees, I was struck by… well, a multitude of things. I ended up staying there for over four hours, so (inevitably) a lot of thinking went on. Some talking too (with the lovely souls who turned out) and some blissful stillness together as well. But about the thoughts: at one point, because of the late timing of our sitting, the flowers were at the very end stages of their bloom. A few brisk (but deliciously warm) winds picked up and petals just swooshed and rained down everywhere. They fell to the ground, landing on the blanket, our clothes, in our hair. It was quietly spectacular. That beauty was just… there. And so the realization: I don’t have to make anything – nothing needs any making. It’s already here.

The act (or “making” as it were) was simply in the noticing.

Photo by Csenge K.

Haikus for Cherry Blossom Trees – Clare Charnley

UK-based artist Clare Charnley shared this tidbit with me, upon receiving my invitation to sit under an apple tree:

“It’s great to get your newsletters and see what you are up to, though a pity I can’t make the blossom walk! I don’t know if you went to the park near my house, but there is a huge circle of cherry trees there. In blossom time a friend and I go down there and write Haikus on the path in chalk. Not just because of the Japan connection, but because Haikus are stripped down, without metaphor etc and always in the present tense.”

To which I replied:

“I love the way you have taken that instance (blooming of cherry blossoms) and made your connection to it (with your friend, via Haikus). Those trees are in themselves a metaphor for staying close to the present…”

Inaugurating a Project About Doing Nothing

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The first action (non-action? Non-active activity? Non-event? … All of the above?) will take place on Tuesday, May 24, 2016 starting at 2pm. The second one comes shortly after, on Wednesday May 25 at 5pm. Both are in honour of spring and the blooming of the apple blossoms and lilacs. I have been taking an annual “lilac walk” since 2001 and decided to make this yearly ritual the inaugural gesture for the Doing Nothing project.

Tuesday we meet at the corner of Thomas-Keefer and Saint-Patrick, right behind the Atwater Market (so just on the other side of the walking path over the Lachine Canal) in a little parkette called Parc Atwater St-Charles. I’ll be sitting under one of the apple trees. Please come join me if this invitation calls to you. Or, find your nearest apple blossoms (or any other blossoms that are in season near you) if you can’t make it out to this part of the city at this time of day – or, for that matter are far away (from Montreal) – but would still like to participate. Instructions: Spot your tree. Walk toward it. Sit down underneath. Inhale the beauty.

Wednesday we meet on Laurier at the corner of Côte-Sainte-Catherine. There is a big church just before the corner (good landmark). I’ll wait at the corner for about 20 minutes in case you have an ambivalent desire to come then decide at the last minute that indeed you need to be there. At 5:20 I (and anyone who happens to join me) will start walking toward the cemetery on Mount-Royal. Once inside we will wander and visit the cornucopia of apple trees and lilac bushes interspersed around the grounds. Apparently there might be thundershowers on Wednesday so if that’s the case it’ll move to Thursday (in the hopes it won’t rain then either). Feel free to visit the cemetery on your own if the date/time doesn’t work. I highly recommend it.

What Does It Even Mean “To Do Nothing?”

Welcome to my new, year-long project, The Sanctimonious Sect of Nothing Is Sacred (L’Édifiante secte de rien (n’)est sacré). At the invitation of Montreal artist-run centre DARE-DARE, and as part of their current cycle of programming, “La Société des Rendez-vous” I am embarking on what I realize is going to be a particularly challenging task: Doing Nothing (paradox intended). In my initial proposal I wrote:

…What would happen if I proposed a project in which I did…nothing? But I wouldn’t really be doing nothing. I would probably read. Maybe write. Definitely stare off into space. And walk. And what if I opened the offer for others to come and join me in the activity of doing…nothing? Inviting guests to bring a book. A notepad. A pen. Or…nothing.

Usually when I want to engage in this…nothingness I have to deliberately set aside time to do so. And then when I do, I feel guilty and inadequate. What have I done today, this week, this month, to deserve this doing of…nothing? Clearly I haven’t done enough.

What I would find most useful – and audacious – would be to propose a space and extended moment of…nothing. An opportunity for rest. While I could really use this downtime (and am convinced that if I’m feeling this way most likely many others are too), I also see the affirmation of such an activity as an inherently political act; it challenges notions of productivity, what constitutes “failure” (and success) and reconsiders “non-productive” uses of time.

This is my dream project. And, for the next year, at regular intervals and in various configurations, I will enthusiastically hold the space of…nothing. Doing nothing in the company of others who wish to accompany me in this quiet, open, sacred, and decidedly un-productive project.

…And now that I am actually starting, I understand – with joy and a large dose of trepidation – I don’t even know what that means!

So from May 2016 to May 2017 (and possibly on through for the rest of life, if I am lucky) I will not only attempt to consciously Do Nothing, but sit with the complexity of that question. To insert this Nothing into my everyday. To see/accept/appreciate Nothing as Something  (and follow all my Somethings with Nothing).

Nothing as a proposal for the Potential in Everything.