Less

I didn't seem to do much this week off from school. Usually we travel to family in Florida. Usually by the night before school I'm run-down and dreading going back. Usually there has not been much rest. Some things are different this time. I still don't want to go back to school, but that's an entirely different matter and I'm not really dreading it. We traveled but to colleges instead of warm locales. And the night before school I'm run-down but it's from a persistent cold instead of from running around.

Basically we did less and it really did feel like more.

I'm typing this from our living room couch. This is where I have spent most of this week off. I've read books, magazines, and some online stuff. I've avoided most of the news, haven't turned on the television or logged into Netflix. Other than traveling to the colleges, I haven't spent a thing.

I've also spent most of every day in the company of my family. Nothing beats that.

My mother took care of our dog while we were away and baked us cookies. My brother had a birthday and helped my daughter find props for a photo shoot. My wife took care of me. My daughters made me smile. The dog was her always lovely self. The cats took turns lying on me to make me feel better.

Less really is more. This is what I'm trying to remember. This is what I'm trying again, over and over, to learn.

The culture keeps selling more. The soul needs less.

This Is Leisure?

My job wore me out so much today that if we had other access to healthcare, I would put in my notice and never look back. Driving to my daughters' school to pick up our youngest I gladly left the job behind and in favor of family time. My girl suggested we go for coffee. We picked up her older sister and drove to the coffee shop. Along the way I asked if they would help me clean the dining room later. We're having people over soon and the house isn't Martha Stewart clean. After the day I'd had at school, it was tough to imagine doing the cleaning at all, so it was a relief when they both said, sure, no problem.

(When they were babies and toddlers, people warned me about how difficult girls would be. They weren't. As they moved through middle school, I was warned how terrible they'd be as teens. Nope. Trust your kids, not people's warnings.)

We came home and my older daughter went to work on the dining room. It's where we dump bags, coats, mail, and most everything else. She cleared all her stuff. I swept and dusted and then my younger daughter cleared her stuff. My wife would clear hers later. Finished in the dining room, I took garbage down to the basement, saw the vacuum cleaner, and remembered that the den carpet really, really needed cleaning. Oh, and the washing machine reminded me of the clothes waiting to be washed. I carried the vacuum up to the first floor, got the laundry from the second floor, brought that to the washer, went up and vacuumed the den, and brought the vacuum back to the basement. I took the broom from the dining room and was about to put it away but instead swept the stairs.

Somewhere in all this I got wondering what happened to being tired from my awful job. I scanned my body and mind. Yep, still tired. But instead of collapsing, I was cleaning the house and somehow feeling less tired. What the hell?

For dinner we were set to have eggplant parmesan. I began prepping while still wondering how all this work was energizing me. It came to me that all of it, strange as it still seems, was a kind of leisure, perhaps the best kind.

Leisure is doing what I want to be doing. It isn't collapsing on the couch. It sure as hell isn't browsing the web, reading the news, or flipping channels. My current job doesn't fulfill me because I can't do things I want to do. Coming home to clean, do laundry, and make dinner doesn't sound like a good time, but I chose to do those things. I wanted not just to have them done but to be doing them. Along the way I got time with my girls, time to think, some solitude and peace. The dining room and den are clean, the laundry is washed and dried, and dinner was delicious.

Here I am now writing, listening to New Chautauqua by Pat Metheny, and thinking about the differences between being a vegetable and enjoying real leisure.


Much of the thinking about leisure draws on "Reclaim Leisure" which is chapter six of Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism. It's a book I recommend.

At Home

Home from school I opened the door to find our dog yodeling from the top of the basement stairs. I stood shaking my head at an animal who has no sense of decorum. Her yodel is a high-pitched yelp and whine that involves her tail wagging her body. She curls her snout into what we call the horrible smile, a kind of baring her teeth without snarling. Her tongue lolls out of her mouth and she bobs her head up and down, sneezing like she's having a seizure. It's some greeting.

My part is to yell in a high voice, "it's you!" which is what I imagine she's saying over and over. "Oh my god, it's you!" I tell her while clambering upstairs. I stop near the top of the stairs and take her head in my hands for a good shake. Sometimes she lets me come into the kitchen but times like today she really, really needs to show me exactly how much love she has for me and I stay on the steps accepting it.

For some reason I was in the mood to make our dinner of roasted vegetables and cheesy egg cups. Chopping vegetables is clear and simple, worthwhile and rewarding. Things my school work often isn't. Vegetables almost never argue back or tell me suck my dick, nigger! Eggs crack without slamming fists into the lockers saying, fuck this place! I washed and sliced cauliflower, rinsed and quartered brussel sprouts, peeled and diced carrots and potatoes, and threw in a bowl of leftover chopped leaks. When I doused all that with olive oil, salt, and pepper, it allowed me to massage it together, spread it on a cookie sheet, and slip it without fuss into a 425 oven for half an hour. Even the clean-up was easy work with results about which I could feel good.

While I cooked, my wife was online at the kitchen table finding jobs to which I might apply. She cast the net wide, doing work I dislike and feel inadequate in doing. I told her, "This is awfully nice of you." She told me it was nothing and that she was happy to do something to help. As if she doesn't help me pretty much every day of the twenty-seven years we've been in love. When she was engrossed in the computer screen, I took the opportunity to stare at her, wondering how someone grows lovelier each day and is devoted to me. Then I decided to accept it, my good fortune, and felt like the dog standing atop the stairs wagging her whole body. I thought, "it's you! Oh my god, it's you!"

Our younger daughter came into the kitchen dressed up in character. She twirled and smiled, glowed really with happiness and security, knowing no one in the kitchen would find her anything but wondrous. When my wife questioned part of her look she consulted the book from which the character springs and read a section to us, losing herself in giggling. She left me smiling as she said that she had better get ready for dance, something she does mostly as herself rather than in cosplay regalia.

The cat wanting to get in on the action jumped onto a chair near where the dog was lying and swatted at her without baring her claws. "Come on! Let's brawl!" The dog, alarmed by any interaction with the cat stood up wagging her tail and retreated to another room. The cat rolled on her back and stretched her paw through the back of the chair for the hell of it. It looked like it felt good that stretch and roll.

Who knows where the other cat was? She's mysterious until it's time for food.

Our older daughter joined us for dinner while her sister was at dance. It took three times of us asking but she came up with something to tell us about her day at school — a screw-up with the metal detector and entry system that had them all late for first period. I watched her eat three servings of roasted vegetables, two pieces of toast with jam, and four egg and cheese cups. When my wife mentioned how much she had eaten our girl replied, "I'm hungry" in a tiny-kid's voice straight out of her first three years. She then told how she and her friend swam 4,000 yards though swim season has been over for months. Like a shark, she's the perfect swimming and eating machine, and one long, lean muscle.

It's evening now. Our younger girl is still at dance. Our older girl is rubbing the dog's belly and criticizing her for being lackadaisical. My wife is on the couch still looking at jobs for me and for her. The cat is on the foot stool not attacking anything. Who knows where the other cat is? I have a record on the turntable and these words coming out of my fingertips like magic lightning. The house is warm and were it in my power I would never, ever leave this place, these animals, and most of all these people. What with all that and the writing, I can't imagine what else I might ever need.

Happy New Year

There are all sorts of parties and gatherings happening tonight. We're not at any of them. Instead, the four of us — my wife and daughters and I — are in the kitchen making appetizers and other silly foods. The dog eagerly awaits any drops. Our youngest girl is rolling sushi, something she taught herself while school has been out. The older girl is eating bacon-wrapped scallops, something she learned at a very young age. My wife and I are floating in and out of different food prep, dish washing, and occasional kisses and smiles at how lovely this all is.

In school I often have kids write about wants versus needs. This evening fits both of those requirements. I easily get lost in things I want and forget simpler pleasures. I'm not saying that I have to focus on family and love every second, but here at the end of 2018 I am content, happy, thrilled to be spending the evening as a family, just the four of us (and the dog and cats). I'm ending the year in love.

There have been times when I've really forgotten how important my family is. I'm not proud of that but I'm not too ashamed either. Forgetting allowed me to come back. I'm looking around this kitchen at one daughter who will soon go away to college, another daughter full-grown but naive and childlike in the ways I love, and my wife who is cancer-free and healthy, totally in love with her girls, and still somehow the same woman I fell in love with so long ago on the Oswego shore of Lake Ontario.

Mine is a good life. 2018 was a pretty good year. I remember tough times but they were far outweighed by good times, love, and warmth. 2019, for whatever reasons, already feels like a great year before it has begun. It probably has to do with the company I'm keeping on the eve of 2019's beginning.

Happy New Year to all of us. To mess with John Lennon's lyric, let's make it a good one without any fear.