Mrs. T and I boarded a train in New York last Sunday, and twenty-six hours later we got off in West Palm Beach. The next day we drove to Sanibel Island. Since then I’ve read three and a half books, watched nine movies, taken a sunset cruise, plucked a stray coconut out of the Gulf of Mexico, and found a great new place to eat—but I haven’t written a single word that is destined for publication.
The two of us thought it would be wildly romantic to take a sleeper car to Florida, so I’m sorry to say that long-distance train travel chez Amtrak leaves much to be desired. Our roomette was cramped and shabby, the dining-car food strictly institutional, and the ride was too bumpy to permit easy sleeping. On the credit side, though, were the wonderfully kind people who looked after us on board and the ever-changing views from the windows of the tiny compartment into which we were shoehorned, as well as one seeming disadvantage that turned out to be a plus: Amtrak’s Silver Meteor, believe it or not, has no wi-fi. No sooner did it pull out of Penn Station than I was cut off from the outside world. No e-mail, no Twitter, no nothing.
Since there was also no point in complaining, I powered down my laptop and called time out, and what started as an enforced break soon turned into a full-fledged holiday. It helped that I’d already written and signed off on the two columns of mine that appeared in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, and that I didn’t have any other outstanding deadlines. As a result, I had no need and felt no compulsion to resume my usual schedule once we reached Sanibel. Instead I hit the beach, which is a few steps from our back door. Not only did I stop writing, but I read no books about which I plan to write. Yes, I tinkered with the script of a new play on which I’ve been working, but that was mostly for fun: I find it restful to snip away bits and pieces of superfluous dialogue, in much the same way that another person might enjoy sitting in the sun and whittling.
I suppose I could justify this protracted stretch of inactivity by claiming that I’ve been lying fallow, letting my creative batteries recharge themselves, but I’m not going to do any such thing. I don’t think inactivity needs to be justified. It took me the better part of a lifetime to figure out that you don’t need a reason to take it easy. Now that I’ve finally learned my lesson after years of compulsive overwork, I don’t propose to unlearn it by coming up with elaborate justifications for doing what I’ve been longing to do for weeks and weeks.
Pope Francis, it seems, agrees with me. “A time of rest, for those who have completed their work, is necessary, obligatory and should be taken seriously: by spending time with one’s family and respecting holidays as moments of spiritual and physical recharging,” he recently declared. So now I have it on impeccable authority (if you believe in authority, papal or otherwise) that watching the sun set, especially on Sanibel Island, is sufficient unto the day thereof, especially when I’m in the company of Mrs. T, who likes it as much as I do.
A couple of days ago a friend of mine posted as follows on Facebook: “I feel more purpose in cleaning out my closets—a/k/a, making my life less chaotic—than working on this article I’m supposed to be writing.” To which I replied, “I vote for clean closets. Articles will keep.” So they will, and so they have, though not, alas, forever. Today I start easing back into something more closely resembling my normal routine: I have to see a play in Fort Myers on Wednesday and review it on Thursday, and on Friday afternoon I’ll be flying up to New York to see two more shows on Broadway. But come Sunday I return to Sanibel, and when not actually earning my keep, I plan to keep on doing plenty of nothing.
* * *
Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald perform “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’,” from Porgy and Bess: