The Importance of Doing Nothing
The Importance of Doing Nothing
By Kevin D. Annett
All we have is the present moment, and that is all we ever lose.
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
My usual urge to grasp the day or my member was strangely absent when I awoke this morning. It might have been the weather. The forecast week of constant rain had inexplicably given way to a splendid clear sky.
As I basked in the sunlight that crept along my covers, the dulcet refrain of birdsong sounded through my window like a blissful Siren, coaxing me to drop anchor and listen. It was a familiar trill, evoking childhood memories of prairie wrens strafing me like Messerschmidts. The little guy was persistent. Once I rolled over and he could see I was stirring, he stopped chirping and buggered off.
I tried sitting up, but leaving the sumptuous warmth of my bed was just not on, so I fell back against the pillows and imagined a certain someone serving me breakfast in bed. The fact that she was many miles away made the thought even more delicious. After all, hadn’t Mister Spock observed, in the episode when another Vulcan had wooed his sweetheart T’Pring away from him, “It is oddly true that having is not nearly as satisfying as wanting.”?
That got me wondering on two counts why it was that my adolescent plan to reach the far edge of our galaxy as part of the world’s first interstellar “sleeper ship” mission - or even to journey to the moon - had never come off. I like to blame Grade Ten math. My crash and burn performance with Algebra and Calculus that year scuttled forever any thought of me joining the space program or mastering astrophysics. Like a hopeful amputee thinking he can race the Hundred Meters, I toyed after that with the option of being the first journalist ever to travel to the outer rings of Saturn. Pure bullshit, in hindsight. But I still look upward at night.
A full hour floated by like that as I mused about Alpha Centauri and my brief moment in the cosmos. Then I heard a scratching on the window screen and my little avian buddy was back, twittering and exhorting me, it seemed, to get my ass out of bed.
“What do you want from me?” I said aloud in my best Joe Peschi imitation. “Who are you, my mother?”
The latter was generally not a happy camper, except when she was telling one of us what to do. At 7:30 every morning her voice would sound over the intercom speaker she’d craftily set up in the otherwise secluded part of the house occupied by my brother Bill and I.
“Up and at ‘em boys!” Mom would announce with a contrived cheerfulness. “Just forty minutes to get out the door!”
“Fuck you” Bill would occasionally mutter, but never to her face, of course. It shocked me at the time. What bothers me more now, and upon which I pondered while prone this morning, was why the hell neither of us simply unplugged the goddamned intercom.
I credit that pubescent experience for my normative pangs of guilt when I don’t bound out of bed each morning. But today the ghost of Mommy Dearest flew off with my feathered tormentor, and damn, it felt good.
In that puff of elation, I lay in bed on principle for another half hour until my hips started aching. They do that more often these days, thanks to disintegrating bursas in my joints or something. I doubt if such a malady would have been mine if I had achieved my dream of a weightless existence somewhere between here and the Crab Nebula. But there you have it.
The nearly empty refrigerator that greeted me gave me the excuse I needed to sojourn to the corner store and my real destination, the nearby post office and the posh mail lady with whom I’m secretly in love. But all that had to wait on me making myself presentable, at least to a thirty-something babe.
My prospects didn’t seem that great when I saw what stared back at me from the bathroom mirror. The first twenty one thousand days do take their toll. Doubting that a shave would improve the appeal of my frayed visage to even the most desperate woman, I didn’t bother. That left only breakfast, but like I said, there was nothing to eat in the fridge, and since trodding my path to the store without gazing upon the object of my desire was too bitter a course to contemplate, I chose hunger.
La coeur a ses raisons, n’est-ce pas?
Going hungry - for love or for food - is not something foreign to me. During my lean twenties, or while living out of my car in the worst of my post - defrocking years, and recently, I’ve learned the art of filling my stomach with enough water to simulate satiation from a full course meal. I find it easier to fake the feeling the older I get. My Dad, who turns 91 soon, tells me that he rarely eats much nowadays because “It’s like fucking: a nice idea but there’s just no there there anymore”.
Speaking of nothingness, one of my fellow seminarians was an especially obnoxious Anglican named Ian Gartshore who used to go on and on about his plan to take a vow of poverty. He never actually did so during the years I knew him, but he liked the idea. I once told him that only rich folks think like that, but he didn’t seem to hear me.
Sitting there on my couch this morning, famishing, half clad and ill kempt, and recalling Ian’s smug demeanour, I suddenly had an urge to dig out my leaflets. But then I realized that it would be only me handing them out at the local churches. Besides, it wasn’t even a Sunday, and the last people who are able to read and understand that they are full of shit are church people.
But darkness is relative. The sunlight kept pouring through the window, and since high noon was approaching by then, I felt compelled to get dressed. It was the first real compulsion I had today, besides my brief flush of lechery. The impulse to start doing something felt strange, like a stream’s natural flow was being artificially channeled into some concrete byway by something other than me. So I threw on a robe and let the current take me onto the porch and deposit me on the worn sofa that looks out over the backyard and its overgrown jungle.
Just then Dumb Dumb appeared. He froze in his tracks and regarded me with a half-stupefied look you don’t normally associate with a stray cat. Dumb Dumb’s an odd one. He won his name from his tendency to barrell into our house and race around in a confused manner, all the time uttering a plaintive cry. But today he just sat in the grass and kept staring blankly at me the way my parishioners used to do whenever I preached. I tossed a rock into the grass to see what he’d do but he just stared at the object with the same blank expression.
“You’re a real dumb dumb” I said on cue.
Half-wits notwithstanding, cats normally move the way people should; the way I’ve learned to operate, especially in certain neighbourhoods. It’s a delight to watch felines creep deliberately through any terrain, wholly attentive, alert to any slight movement: the completely focused hunter. Homo sapiens move, contrarily, like game waiting to be pounced upon: especially nowadays, when compact Medusa screens absorb the oblivious gaze of people on a treadmill to disaster. Cats are never taken by surprise.
The phone rang. An unfamiliar female voice spoke into the answering machine:
“Hi, I’m looking for Reverend Annett if this is the right number. I’ve been following his work for a long time and I’m a big fan of his and so I was wondering if he could tell me whether this is the End Times or not. I think I’ve been contacted by the Pleidians.”
Glancing at the yard and noticing his sudden absence, I wondered for a moment whether Dumb Dumb had miraculously acquired the power of human speech and manual dexterity and was calling me from the nearby payphone.
Oddly enough, the phone call got me hankering for some human contact. My hopes soaring with thoughts of the Post Office, I not only dressed but even took the time to shave. But alas: a fifteen minute hike brought my plans to naught. Philatelic Babe was nowhere in sight.
The guy behind the counter started eyeing me as I hung around the envelopes shelf. I couldn’t bring myself to ask whether She was working today. Hell, I still don’t even know her name.
“Can I help you with something, sir?”
I get referred to with that title a lot these days. It’s one of the perks of visibly sagging: I don’t seem to be a threat to anyone. Being aged cuts both ways, of course. Upside: young women smile at me more and don’t realize that I’m actually a dirty old man. Downside: I’m invisible. Sure enough, the postal clerk accepted my paltry explanation for my loitering with intent; namely, that I was just thinking. He paid me no mind after that and didn’t even notice my probing glances into the back room for you know who.
Well, even love must rest, said Byron. I let my paramour recede into the land of mists. The day remained sunny, regardless. I soon joined all the other old farts who make their daily progress around the seashore park promenade thinking they’re walking years off their frame. A former landlady of mine took to renting out her place after her thirty six year old husband dropped dead from a brain aneurysm. Gone before he hit the ground. The guy was a health nut in top shape. I thought of him as I strolled along the path and felt tempted to halt the next group of octogenarian joggers I encountered and tell them that all their efforts won’t make a fucking difference; the fuse has been lit in each one of us and no-one knows when we’ll ignite. But people need their hopes, I keep getting told.
My Uncle Lloyd has the final word on death and The Odds. It took the guy years to finally kick after the doctors routinely warned him that he was a goner if he ate another piece of pie. With that sentence hanging over his head he’d often scarf down an entire chocolate cake with the same overjoyed expression.
Lloyd was the original Epicurean. He really didn’t give a shit about when the axe descended. Maybe having been nearly shot, execution style, by the Hitler Youth at Normandy Beach and subsequently starving on beet roots in a German prison of war camp had something to do with his stoic indifference to the Reaper. Lloyd had a serious diabetic problem from his prison time and being raised in deep poverty as a kid in north Winnipeg. But that condition never stood in the way of his diving into a third helping at the Bonanza restaurant smorgasbord, where he’d gleefully take me and his other nephews. I used to watch in awe as he routinely chowed down on a mountain of steak, pasta, hors d’oeuvres and desserts that could have sunk a freighter. He did Thoreau proud, sucking the marrow out of life.
Lloyd, and my own father, come from a generation of people who were not overly concerned about their fragile mortality. Eat, drink and be merry, for today we may die. They were grateful to still be alive after the Depression and the War and took nothing for granted. War vets from that era recovered a hell of a lot better than the Vietnam generation. They had a humbly realistic view of life and harboured none of the narcissistic self-obsession of folks these days. Maybe that’s why I liked my elders so much, growing up.
Musing thus and feeling my own seventh decade, I sat on a bench for some time, gazing out on the waves and the meandering seagulls and the slowly approaching Horseshoe Bay ferry awash with lots of busy and worried people “in a big hurry to get nowhere”, to quote Orville Renwick.
Orville is a wheat farmer near Melita, Manitoba who gets the jitters whenever he visits a “big place” like Souris, population 1,876. The land and the sky and his family are enough for him. He is content, and I envy him.
Thinking of Orville and his equally happy brood - who used to lay some fantastic meals on me when I was their minister - I felt even more rooted to my perch on the seashore. There is after all no such domestic joy-nest awaiting me, nothing and no-one to go home to, and so one spot is as good as another. Upside: the entire world is my home as a consequence, and I “own” everything and everyone. Downside: having it all means you have nothing and no-one, really. Love must be as specific as one woman’s soft and accepting touch.
A long time ago I wrote in my journal that I had no home in this world, that my only security resided in a future, just society. That promised land is as far away as ever these days, but the search and the struggle for it has made the void recede a bit. Is that assurance my equivalent of worldly happiness? It will have to do. My slippery mortal slope is quickening like the sudden descent on the roller coaster ride at the PNE.
The wind rose suddenly and a salt spray gently bathed my face the way a mother should. Dusk was falling. My usual urgency had subsided the way the day was doing, leaving a raw I Am.
Curiously, the velvet night seemed all at once like the Japanese garden on the UBC campus which I’d first explored as a teenager, laid out to symbolize an entire human life. After all the twisting and turning paths, here I was, in the quiet bamboo hut that looks back over the panorama of the entire garden. With stillness has come an understanding gained over the long journey. Once, in my endless searching through the foliage, standing still would have seemed impossible; now, I realized that I had come to at that inner land where even contentment lay.
But of course it was not enough.
Joe Hendsbee was right. The battered old communist longshoreman gave me the straight goods early on in my life, as we mused together over beers in the Lotus Hotel.
“So what’s it all for?” I asked him with my seventeen year old credulity, after listening to his raw monologue of being shot at and beaten to a pulp by Mounties and mob goons during unwinnable strikes.
“What, life?” he belched.
He squinted at me like I was Ronnie the Retard who begged for change outside the pub in return for the chance to recite his latest poem about his abduction by nubile female aliens.
“I mean, shit Joe! You’ve had a completely fucked up life. Blacklisted, no work, an ulcer, two ruined marriages …”
“Yeah, so?” he barked. “What d’ya expect? I’m a goddamned radical!”
Now I was the one who looked confused. But Joe was nothing if not patient. He took a final swig and patted my arm.
“You make a choice” he said. “Like when I got offered a supervisor job if I’d quit the union. You decide whether you want in or out. Everything else follows.”
I was contemplating all that when he belched again and retorted,
“But Christ, don’t trust me, Kev! Don’t ever trust anything you hear sittin’ in a fuckin' chair!”
I doubt if I’d ever met Joe Hendsbee or all the ones like him who have helped me make the choice if I’d been on some cushy career fast track somewhere, sitting in a chair. I thought long and late on that defining fact until sleep beckoned me to what passes as home.
So here I am again: broke, beseiged, alone, and sometimes down for the count but never completely done. But hell, what d’ya expect, people? I’m a goddamned radical!
Don’t bother waking up, you didn’t miss anything:
A Post-Mortem on the Canadian Election
By Kevin D. Annett
I have no patience for those who urge us to accomodate to the clique of grasping wags who purport to run our government. Whether Tory or Reform, they are nothing but shallow, self-seeking men who outdo each other in emptying the public purse for their own benefit. We shall never find peace or right in this country until we set aside all legislative corruption and Foreign Rule by Decree and establish responsible government in the Canadas under a Republic of the People. - William Lyon MacKenzie, The Advocate, September 16, 1836
The man who can cause two ears of corn to grow from where there was none is more worthy than the entire race of politicians. - Gerrard Winstanley, Surrey, England, 1649
An old bedraggled guy whom I’d never met sat down next to me on the bus the other night and asked me if I was going to vote. I told him why I wasn’t.
“I never have” he coughed, shifting the enormous bag of recyclable cans he carried from his lap onto the floor. “Not in this fucked up country. Nothing ever changes. They won’t let it change.”
I doubt that any honest political commentator could have summed up the national scene any more accurately than did my friend with the cans. Yesterday’s federal election “results” have once again presented our situation with striking clarity. Nothing ever changes. They won’t let it change. Because if voting actually changed anything, it would be illegal.
Watching the Court Appointed Mini Me, Justin T., strut his smiles and banalities as he resumed the mantle of PM reminded me of the antics of Big Bill Thompson, the puppet Mayor of Chicago under Al Capone during the 1920’s. Big Bill, like Little Justin, liked to pretend that the voters backed him and loved him, when everyone knew that the only reason he occupied the top chair was because Al Capone had put him there and kept him there. Nobody won public office without the top gangster’s okay. And so today in Canada.
In case you missed it, the outcome of the Canadian “election” was that the “Liberals” are still in what they pretend is the driver’s seat. They and the “NDP” lost a bunch of seats to the “Conservatives” and the “Bloc Quebecois”. The “Greens” gained one, the “People’s Party” lost one. And that was about it. And yes, Virginia, all those trained parliamentary seals are still the sworn servants of what’s her face in Buckingham Palace, and nobody else.
What to do about it? We the people … self governance
How? Today …
The bland contrivance called elections in Ca
that same deafening silence all over the nation: like the kind that hovers over mourners at a funeral.
Having done a lot of funerals, I can spot the difference in people between genuine despair and resignation. The death of one person, or of an entire nation, doesn’t really mean that much to most people’s lives. We all just try to carry on, even when the unfairness or cruelty of the Ending is painfully clear. The party may be over, but at least we’re still breathing. We all seek the small, post-mortem consolations, even as our air chokes and our children vanish and the murderous lie sits enthroned over our lives.
All across Canada, people know it’s over. Seven out of every ten people I’ve spoken to since June want a new Republic, they’re sick of the present regime and they want it gone, but like the starving guy on the bus, not one of them could say how it was to be done. Our collective imagination and will seem to be as dried up as Saskatchewan prairie thistle.
Or so it seems. Human beings are strange. Something quite beautiful and new can simmer and churn inside us for generations, apparently dormant, until one bright morning it erupts in a torrent of change. All that time the masses may seem like “sheeple”, but in truth their apparent acceptance of the status quo actually concealed a gestating.
After all, people are not stupid, despite what the professional politicos tell you. The ones called the masses will only risk something when they think they stand a chance of really winning, and not simply replacing one boss with another one. And their own experience tells them how rare an occurrence that is.
Fortunately, we don’t have to wait much longer for the birth of something new in Canada. I not only feel the baby kicking; I see it beginning to emerge. Not only is our country coming apart, but people from top to bottom know it is and are expecting something different.
It’s been a long wait.
The truth is that you can stop anyone randomly on the street and if you talk to them and get to know them well enough, their sense of political reality is far clearer and stronger than any of the so-called politicians or media pundits. The latter are paid not to do or see anything outside the corporate game plan and are literally crippled in every sense.