The unadulterated joy of having nothing to do

Image from vintagenatgeographic.tumblr.com: Canyon Walls of Jebel Akhdar in Oman|National Geographic | September 1981

How do you spend a day off? With nothing much to work on, no-one to see and no washing to get done (OK, there’s loads of laundry shoved in your wardrobe, but you’ve run out of washing powder)? Can you even remember the last time you had literally no plans for more than a few hours or so? Allowing myself to have a day off where I embrace boredom in all its nothingness is essential to my wellbeing, so I try and do it at least once a week. Boredom may seem like a less-than-covetable state of being, but it’s a state that we often have to force ourselves to be in. So why do we find it so hard to actually enjoy free time?

We’re lucky enough to live in an age where we can very easily record, publish and post anything and everything we do on the internet: whether it be photos, thoughts, rants, or covers of Elvis Presley songs – allowing us to create our identity through showing off our skills to a large (and hopefully accommodating) audience online. In recent months, I’d forgotten how to truly be on my own, in my room, doing my dreaming and scheming and crying and sighing (I’ll stop linking to stuff that your dad would like soon, I swear) and just exist as a solo thing.

A friend of mine recently told me that instead of switching off through meditation, she likes to take time out from the white noise of the world by listening to an album all the way through, while lying on her bed, without doing anything else whatsoever.

For the past couple of Saturdays I’ve done a pretty similar thing. I’ve planned absolutely nothing to do in the day, while still waking up early(ish – before 9am anyway) to experience most of the day. No guilty trot down to the supermarket at 3pm as to “not waste the day”, no listing all those pairs of shoes on Depop because you’ve been “meaning to do it for months”. Just free time. 

After an uncomfortable hour at the beginning of the day, you could well find yourself pretty excited about all of the hours suddenly at your disposal come lunchtime. It might compel you to complete a sudoku puzzle, moisturise your entire body to within an inch of its life, or sit at your desk and commit the lyrics to Who Am I? (What’s My Name) to memory (which’ll come in handy on your next date – trust me). 

Whatever you end up doing, you’ll be pleased to discover that taking an afternoon off from delegating tasks to yourself for the sake of it actually helps you become more productive in the long run. It creates the space in your mind that’s necessary to remember how you like to fill your time without anyone else’s influence, as you allow yourself to be drawn to activities you naturally feel like doing. Remove obligations, to-do lists and Twitter timelines, and you’re faced with the option to do anything you like.

Here’s how I spent last Saturday: after slathering newly-opened No7 creams all over my face that I got last Christmas, I sat down with a notebook and wrote down the names of 10 Bruce Springsteen songs I’d quite like to learn on the guitar. I then spent the next three hours with 11 tabs open on my laptop and a guitar on my lap (the extra tab was for YouTub-ing each song to revel in how glorious the music video was). I totally wasted the afternoon, but I had so much fun doing it.

The summer is really busy for all of us, with birthday parties, weddings, barbecues and the World Cup all making us into obliging attendees of gatherings and get-togethers (often with a six-pack of Kronenburg in hand). However, during those inevitable rainy evenings or lonesome Sundays you stumble upon, try to avoid the temptation to waste away the hours continuously dragging your finger from the top to the bottom of your phone screen in search of that yearning FOMO feeling that makes you thirsty for an Aperol Spritz.

Instead, embrace those precious few hours and enjoy the space that boredom brings – you might even find yourself with a 10-track cover album comprising Bruce Springsteen’s best hits (release date TBC).

bruce bored gif.jpg

One final thing: if you’d like to listen to the latest episode of Girl Chat, all about periods (tee hee hee), you can do so here.

Escapism: through books, #spon content and meditation apps

I read an article about anxiety among pop stars in the social media generation last week. You can read it here. I liked it cause I think it accurately captures the zeitgeist (wow, I sound like my old drama teacher) in that yes, we’re all conscious of having a political and #woke conscience, just as those generations did before us with punk and whatnot. But social media – for teenagers coming of age now – has formed part of their identity, and we’re now starting to see that in the pop landscape.

In the piece, the writer identifies two types of Gen-Z’ers on social media, the ‘fame-hungry narcissists’ and the ‘hyper-aware over-thinkers’. If like me, you strongly identify with both, how do you find your place on the internet? If you’re aware that having a presence on social media will do wonders for your ‘brand’, but also know that spending too much time trying to expand this network isn’t something that comes too naturally (preferring to spend your free time reading or mastering the art of a paper aeroplane), do you decide to take steps away from this dopamine-fuelled activity and ditch the smartphone altogether? (This is clearly the the hyper-aware over-thinker stepping up the mic.) I’ve had a dream twice within the past week or so where I snap my phone in half and it crumbles into ash. I then wake up and reach for my phone to see if anybody’s texted me.

Something that intrigues me is the increasing number of people monetising their lives by just, like, travelling around the world. I’m fascinated with travel bloggers and how they use social media (yes, that thing you just tweeted a pic of your Wetherspoons round on) to fund their ‘adventures’. I wish it was as blissful as it looks but I don’t buy into it. Even more so after I watched this Vice News clip about these total #vanlife phoneys (please watch it if you have 10 mins and marvel in how messed up reality can be faked online). Millennials are more into travelling and ‘experiences’ than buying a tonne of nice stuff, apparently, so travelling the world as an influencer and getting paid for it seems like a pretty obvious way to do life, and with the inclusivity of the internet (so long as you have a Wi-Fi connection and, surely, a senior figure in your life who can bail you out of bad situations) it seems more possible than ever.

But is the content the top travel bloggers are making really that interesting? I’m always trying to find interesting things to read about travel, as everyone’s travel daddy Bill Bryson once said  in an interview: “A basic error with travel writing is assuming everybody’s interested. You have to work from exactly the opposite assumption: nobody is interested. Even your wife is not interested. You have to somehow make it so that they become interested.”

When I read that, I laughed out loud. I felt like I’d just been given the best advice about writing about holidays or trips, in that no-one cares about the ‘Today I visited this church. Wow, it was so pretty!’ kind of vibe. I’m not slating enjoying a holiday and writing about it (obviously!) but my favourite pieces about travelling are always the ones that show travelling for what it can be: rare moments of wonder and feelings of unbelievable freedom – interspersed between long bus journeys, waiting in stuffy airport lounges, finding your companion unbelievably tiresome (even if you’re travelling solo) and maybe – just maybe – small pangs of homesickness (…you can take the girl out of Peterborough). That’s why I could read Bill Bryson’s books over and over, his petty moans about the irks of travelling make the experience so much more enjoyable to read (and sure as hell beat the #spon posts from the #vanlife elite).

I am so close to finishing reading John Waters’ travelogue about hitchhiking from his native Baltimore to San Francisco, and it’s one of the most original book structures I’ve ever come across. Before he ventured off on his trip, he spent a few months imagining the best possible thing that could happen – and the worst case scenario – which form the first two-thirds of the book. So, the first 200 pages give the weird and wonderful Pope of Trash – director of cult films Hairspray and Pink Flamingos – the ability to show off his endless, no-holds-barred imagination (the ‘Best Trip’ is so heartwarming because you’re so happy everything’s worked out so well for him, and the ‘Worst Trip’ actually made me retch while eating a mushroom omelette as we meet a gruesome character who picks up near-dead roadkill and collects the creatures in her car). It makes for such a hoot of book! Here’s the link to buy it. Or watch this video. (Or ask your local library to order it in!) Also, while I’m talking about holidays and trips, our next Girl Chat episode (landing next Wednesday, April 18) is about holiday romances. Check out the all the ones preceding it here.

I’ve digressed hugely: back to the phoney #vanlife-rs. Perhaps it’s the cynicism of the person typing, but I’m sceptical of influencers and wonder how satisfying their ‘jobs’ really are. This, by the maker of parody Instagram account Deliciously Stella is interesting – as it was her idea to satirise the whole movement, but she still got sucked into the allure of free stuff anyway. I would love to think that I could travel the world on an all-expenses-paid trip as a travel blogger with #hashtag revenue streaming in, but not at the expense of missing all of the opportunities immersing yourself in another culture brings by having my head glued to my phone. Bryson again, in Neither Her Nor There: “I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”

Something not totally evil about technology though: I’ve used the Headspace mediation app every day for the past three weeks (21-day streak, holla!) and it’s already made a huge difference to how I deal with my often extremely busy mind. There have only been benefits so far, which have weasled their way into all aspects of my everyday mundanity: dealing with 3,000 unread emails at 9am, coping with the petty but way valid stresses of sharing a house (and kitchen) with several people and, well, getting back into the habit of writing again.

At the time of writing this, it’s 8:30am and I’ve managed to write almost 1,000 words already – before my ‘working day’ has even begun. I woke up in a rotten-as-hell mood this morning (disclaimer: there’s a 90% chance I have glandular fever, sigh) but I took 10 minutes to listen to the Headspace dudes’s familiar tones, grabbed my laptop, and wrote the post you’ve just read.

For those who deal with anxiety as frequently as you brush your teeth, clarity of mind is not to be scoffed at. There are 10 free days before you have to subscribe: something I got way too pissed off about (capitalising on meditation seemed as icky to me as, like, the standard £15-a-session yoga classes everywhere in central London) but after four or five days of not subscribing in protest after my trial, I felt myself spiralling back into a pattern of negative thoughts. I was curious to see if the next 10 days would feel as good as the first did. In fact, they got even better, so now I’m telling you about it.

If you’re a student, you can get Spotify Premium and Headspace for £5 a month, (sign me up to a degree course already, purely for the discount). Btw, although it might seem it, this is definitely not #spon content.

Anyway, I’m all out. Until next time!

Follow me on Twitter @taralepore