The Art of Doing Nothing

In Anne Butera's backyard more grass disappears every year and is replaced with gardens

“Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

—Henry James

Ah, summer. Here in Wisconsin summer is well and truly here. It’s been hot and humid. Even on the steamiest days I try to spend as much time outside as possible (when it’s not raining — we’ve had SO MUCH rain). We’re cooped up all winter; I don’t want to be cooped up in the summer, too.

When I’m outside I’m usually puttering in the garden, but just as often I’m reading or writing or sketching. Sometimes I just sit and watch. The birds. The butterflies. Bees. Clouds.

When’s the last time you sat still just looking at flowers?

The borage just began to open in my garden

This summer I’ve been unplugging. Staying off my computer and phone. Trying to be more present in the moment. Sometimes that means I’m doing nothing.

I recently read an article from the New York Times about how doing nothing is important:

Fallow time is necessary to grow everything from actual crops to figurative ones, like books and children. To do the work, we need to rest, to read, to reconnect. It is the invisible labor that makes creative life possible.

And yet this isn’t something that’s praised in our society. But it’s something I’m striving for. It’s one of the reasons I moved out of the city. To live slower. More intentionally.

Four years ago I wrote a series on my blog called Savor Summer. I invited my readers to join me in savoring the days:

I need to remind myself daily of all the things I love about the season. I need to remember not to let the days slip by without doing something summery, something fun, something good for my soul. I might not be going on any summer vacations, but I can make my days feel like summer vacation.

I feel the same today. Yes, I’ve been painting every day.

And yes, I’ve been taking care of the business side of my art* and yes I’ve been going to my part-time job at the library, but I’ve invited ease into my days. I’ve let go of some of the other “stuff” that isn’t truly necessary and certainly not in the summer. I’ve been taking time off on the weekends for quiet idleness and I’m letting go of any pressure to fill my days.

What about you? Do you want to join me? What will you do to savor summer (or winter if you’re on the other side of the planet)?


*updating my web shop with a lot of new paintings including that rose and updating my Etsy shop with new prints including these iris.