My husband said something the other day that I should have found disturbing but didn’t. Which, frankly, disturbs me.
“That week we were so sick was the most fun I had all winter,” he said.
I knew what he meant. We never take time off from work to do nothing. We never even take time off to do SOMETHING. We just don’t take time off.
Case in point: Today is Sunday, and I am in my half of the studio, writing. I can hear my husband in his half of the studio rifling papers, printing things, pounding computer keys. I can assure you he isn’t surfing the net for pleasure or leafing through a magazine for fun. He’s working on new art images, contacting contacts, answering business e-mail, in short, creating, or following up on, opportunities.
Any minute now he’ll head over to my half of the studio to tell me everything he’s done. At which time I will be forced to ask him to leave, because I am busy creating my own kind of opportunity: I am getting some writing done so that I can then get some other writing done so that I can then get some research done so that I can then get some errands done.
Which is precisely why a week or so of body-flattening illness, during which we did nothing but lie on opposing sofas and talk, watch “Oprah” and obsessively take our temperatures was like a little dream vacation. Sad but true.
After our illness, I returned to business as usual. My husband, on the other hand, set off on an epic journey down the road to self-enlightenment. This is because he actually learned something from our downtime, which is that unremitting, achievement-oriented striving that takes you out of yourself and deposits you firmly in a mythical future where all that’s left is to appreciate the money and accolades you’ve garnered is a big fat waste of human time. He had already read “The Power of Now” and “A New Earth,” both by Eckhart Tolle. (Tolle, the king of the Now, is a spiritual anomaly who, by his own report, once spent two years sitting on a park bench doing nothing but smiling.)
It is a well-known fact that the road to spiritual enlightenment begins with a single download. What my husband discovered when he went looking, however, was not one but 10 90-minute conversations between Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle, which addressed not just the nebulous idea of living in the moment, but the nuts and bolts of how to actually stay present in a world replete with the stresses of family, work, health and domestic and international strife.
These downloads he listened to all the way to a Miami art show: 14 hours of pep talks, how-tos and earnest entreaties to forsake the What Might Be in exchange for the What Actually Is.
The next day, every nerve singing a song in praise of the Now, my husband discovered an irresistible photo-op: a shop window full of Buddha statues, with an old bench out front for passers-by to sit on. The bench, it turned out, was actually a rare antique, and the woman flying out of the front door of the shop was the bench’s owner who, upon seeing my husband settle his 200-pound frame into it, exchanged whatever serenity she had been enjoying in the moment for something akin to a blinding rage.
But by the time she got to him, he was already sauntering away toward the Miami Art Museum, to see at last the famed Robert Rauschenberg retrospective he’d been thinking about for weeks. Except that when he got there, he realized it wasn’t a Robert Rauschenberg retrospective but a Susan Rothenberg retrospective, a painter he neither knew nor cared anything about.
We were laughing about all this the other morning on our way to Birmingham to deliver art. It was a long day that included a stop at a hardware store, a frame shop, a restaurant and a shoe store. It wasn’t until the following day that my husband realized he’d walked all over Birmingham wearing one dark brown dress shoe and one tan casual shoe.
So while I know I should be living in the present, I am in fact worried about the future.
Given what’s already happening to my husband, can two years on a park bench with no goals and a kooky grin be far off?
Dana Shavin’s website is DanaShavin.com.