what I don’t do

Recently, someone walked by me at an event and said, “Oh, I’m so glad to see you sitting down! You’re always doing so much, so it’s nice to see you resting for a bit.”

I laughed a little, and probably said something about how I sit down a lot, not to worry, please, but as per usual, that comment got me thinking: how is it that I write so openly about my life, a life in which I am fiercely, vocally, and unapologetically protective of my down time (time that I measure in days, not hours), and yet people still think I’m go-go-go? 

photo taken a couple months ago

I’ve tried to set the record straight, writing about my boredom and the books I read and the unpressured hours spent in front of the fire tapping away on my computer, but it’s no use. People, including my own mother (but not my husband or kids — they know the truth) still think I’m crazy-nuts busy.

Therefore, I’ve concluded that the only reason people think I do so much is because I write about The Things That Happen (because the things that don’t happen aren’t interesting, yo). BUT I MAINTAIN: If you wrote down all the things you did — told stories about them, took photographs — you, too, would look like a whirling dervish. 

photo taken yesterday (the book made me angry, and not in the way the author intended, either)

It’s all about the spin, see? Take Wednesday night this week, for example. That night when my husband came home, I was listening to French café music (because Kate said to), drinking red wine, parbaking a crust for a (future) quiche, making meat hand pies, pulling a baked mac and cheese from the oven and putting pans of not-finished granola back in, flipping the camemberts (take two), and salting a Tomme cheese. 

Sounds busy, right? But here’s another perspective:

When my husband got home, he stretched out on the sofa and listened to me rant about a (very strange) phone call I’d gotten that afternoon. Then, while we waited for the kids to come to the table for supper, I plopped down in the rocker to sip my wine while he read the post I’d written that day. After supper, my son vacuumed, my daughter washed the dishes, and my husband hunkered down at his desk for some computer time; I reclined on the sofa with a book. Later, my son and I played several games of Rummy (because he’d been begging for several days), and then I read out loud to the kids. The kids disappeared upstairs, I did some more reading, and my husband fell asleep doing the crossword puzzle. 

Here’s the irony: If I’d written about and photographed those calm, do-nothing moments, it would’ve made them feel like Somethings. Documenting imbues things with an outsized (or maybe appropriately sized?) importance. THIS IS THE PROBLEM. 

Maybe it’d be helpful to look at it another way.

photo taken back in the Spring

Yes, I do things like make cheese and write and manage the household and work in a bakery and stay at home with the kids (who aren’t home very much anymore) and keep a budget and go running and cook, but there’s a whole heck of a lot more I’m not doing. Some things, like not caring for young children or dealing with a health crisis are due to my current life stage and/or good fortune. Other things, like not working full time or mowing the lawn or maintaining the vehicles or cleaning the house is due to teaming up with the people around me and/or lifestyle decisions and/or good fortune.

But it’s when it comes to my personal choices that the list gets really long. Some of the cool, fun, good, interesting things I don’t (typically) do include, but are not limited to, the following:

*travel
*listen to music
*follow sports
*sew
*keep up with fashion
*play an instrument
*eat out
*read the newspaper
*stay up late
*hunt and butcher
*take classes
*shop (except for groceries)
*decorate the house
*meditate
*play with my kids
*make my husband’s lunch
*go to church
*send birthday cards
*get pedicures
*dye my hair
*comb my hair
*floss
*have many close friends
*teach my (homeschooled) kids
*fix things
*go on dates with my husband

While the first two lists are both humbling and grounding, there’s something sort of magical about making the third list. By naming what I’m not doing, I can better identify what I want to do. Also, it kinda creates a snowball effect: If I’ve made all these choices, then what are some other choices I might want to consider?

Now your turn. What’s on your don’t-do list?

This same time, years previous: fight poem, the quotidian (11.18.19), the quotidian (11.19.18), spiced applesauce cake with caramel glaze, in my kitchen: noon, sock curls: our latest infatuation, the quotidian (11.19.12), orange cranberry bread.

15 Comments

  • Becky R.

    Mmm, interesting post. I think you are much busier that most people, and that is where the comparisons come from. Most people do not bake their own bread, make cheese, cook every day, make homemade things that they can buy, etc. So you are busy, Jennifer, busier than most people. Most people spend inordinate amounts of time surfing the internet and watching TV if they are not working at a job or chasing kids, in my experience. The ways you choose to spend your time are somewhat unique, and they require that you are up and going. I bake bread, make homemade things that I can, cook every day, etc, and other women who know that feel I am very busy. I am just doing things I want to do instead of doing more sedentary things I don’t enjoy. Consider that. I think the person who said she was glad you were resting was probably expressing some guilt because she is not as active as you are. No shame to her, but she is comparing what she knows about you to what she knows about herself, and that is like comparing your outside to her insides.
    I’ll have to check out that book. What made you mad? If you want to share, that is.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Except the thing is, I AM sedentary. Like, so sedentary that when I go to bed at night it’s my butt that hurts, not my feet. (“Comparing your outside to her insides” — I like that angle!)

      It’s hard to explain without knowing the book, but the tone of the townspeople — the outside perspective — put a lot of the blame for the tragedy on the very people who should not be blamed: If only the girl hadn’t done such and such, or the boy hadn’t made that phone call or done whatever, as though they were responsible for the systemic evils and everything would’ve been okay if they’d just hunkered down and “behaved.” Plus, the characters/themes were disappointingly cliché. It was an easy, fast read, though, so at least there’s that!

    • Jennifer Jo

      Yes, sometimes, but in a more theoretical way — like wishing I was “natually” more up on fashion, or that I had a better eye for house decor/arrangements — but not enough that I actually DO something about it. (Though there have been times when I DO shift gears and go after something, like when we moved to Guatemala for 10 months.)

  • suburbancorrespondent

    Okay, this is having the opposite effect on me than intended: you work in the bakery, you spend hours making cheese, you cook a LOT, you have a garden, you do volunteer work, and you STILL have time to do all that relaxing? Now I feel inefficient as well as lazy!

  • Dottie Pendleton

    My “To Don’t” list: worry about things I cannot influence, dwell on past mistakes/hurts, fear the unknown, judge others and myself, think life should be different from how it is.

    My “To Do” list (still not nearly achieved): Be Untroubled (from Ursula LeGuinn’s interpretation of Tao de Ching)

    Love your writing and your inspiring seemingly perfect balance of industry/sloth…it’s dynamic isn’t it

    • Jennifer Jo

      We stopped going to church when the pandemic started (the church went virtual, but we didn’t watch), and even though they’re meeting in person now, we still aren’t going. (We have attended some things, like the retreat, and the kids sometimes go to Sunday school and/or youth group gatherings.) I plan/hope to start back up once the pandemic is over.

  • SB

    SO TRUE! I love routine and get bored easily, even though there is plenty I *could*be doing (like learning Spanish or writing cards or helping the world), but I spend plenty of time watching cooking and cleaning videos on YouTube or reading a book or walking the neighborhood or just “wasting” time. What I don’t do:
    – any nail care
    – I only wash my hair 2X a week
    – Have social media or any apps on my phone
    – color my hair
    – shop for recreation or pleasure
    – help my kids with their homework (with rare exceptions)
    – go to the gym ( I did pre-pandemic and loved it, but that was 1.5 hours 4x a week!)
    – watch streaming shows (just YouTube videos of late)
    – Go out to meals
    – chauffeur my kids around ( pick them up from piano lessons once a week on my way home from work. Otherwise, they walk or take the bus to most everything.)
    – I enjoy cooking and deciding what to make, but it’s almost always pretty simple and fast
    – play in an orchestra (hope hat changes when it’s safe!)
    – Go to multiple grocery stores — I almost only shop at one grocery store
    – Shop at Costco/BJs/Sam’s — ugh, we had a membership for 1 year and I found it so stressful and time consuming to go
    – Instagram, snapchat, vsco, etc. (I do check FB, which I hate, but still do…)
    – (Mostly) Shop for or give/send Christmas gifts (except to one sister a year — we have a rotation with my 6 sisters). I don’t for my kids, friends or husband, and it’s honestly never been an issue.
    – I’m sure there’s a ton more, but that’s off the top of my head.

  • GraceandGrit

    I liked them idea of a To Don’t list.
    *Own or watch TV
    +Read very much (I’m not entirely happy about that)
    *Can or preserve except applesauce
    *Twitter or Tictoc, even though I have accounts
    *Nail care except for fileing
    *Shower/wash my hair more than twice a week
    *Work outside of the farm and house
    *Listen to much music, which I miss but my default these days is NPR, NPR NPR
    *Baking except for granola
    *Go gymming or take exercise classes
    *Have a dog, which is a bit of a heartbreak but the current state of affairs and also very easy
    *Have a horse or any other time-consuming non edible animal. Well, we do have a cat and no plans to eat her.

  • Thrift at Home

    Oh FASCINATING. I thought you were a busy-busy go-go-go person! I love the idea of a Things I Don’t Do list:
    deep clean my house much
    clean out cluttered spots much
    play with my kids
    do seasonal decor (well, a little Christmas crap)
    have a pet
    do crafts with my kids
    listen to podcasts
    listen to music
    attend church meetings
    call/write politicians
    Facebook
    make music

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