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This is about nothing

by Rebecca Durham


Rebecca is a poet, botanist, and artist. Originally from New England, she now lives in Montana where she works as a botanist. She holds a BA in Biology from Colby College and a MS in Botany from Oregon State University. Rebecca's writing has appeared in Orion Magazine, MPG Publications, and Superstition Review. Her botanical art has been featured at the Montana Natural History Center. She is a MFA candidate in Creative Writing with an emphasis in poetry at the University of Montana.



          I am going to do some self-prescribing– a heavy dose of nothing. Yesterday I had to go outside in a hurry after my daughter and I came home from the creek to a messy house full of scattered cat litter. Responsibilities and duties threatened to topple me. I think I mumbled something about taking care of something outside. Sure, there were the hoses to put away, leaves to rake, grass to weed, lawn furniture to stack and tarp for the winter, carrots to harvest, garden to put to bed, cracks in foundation to fill, steps to paint, fence gate to cement, posts to stain, and bird feeders to fill. But what I really did was nothing.

            Nothing seems so elusive these days. I dream of doing nothing. Well actually I dream of everything, and then wake confused about why I have to do all these things when a minute ago I was doing something that seemed a lot more relaxing. There are box elder beetles on the inside walls and spiders in the basement, every direction I turn something demands my attention. There is a three-inch gap in the tile that needs grout and every time I shower I think I need to fix that. And put that drain bacteria in, and paint the bathroom, clean the bathroom fan, and wash the towels and wash the bathmat

My cat is trying my sanity by spreading litter all around the house hourly. I am like Sisyphus rolling the ball up the hill except the giant ball multiplied into millions of tiny grey balls crumbled with cat pee. The cat learned to push open the toilet lid with his head and play in the toilet water. Now I have to weigh it down with rocks. Every day is a parade of dishes, laundry, cooking, working, creating, doing, rushing, cleaning– rinse, repeat. When did life become so hectic and insistent? When did I become a one-woman warrior against entropy?

            When I got outside I hid by the bushes to do nothing. I stood there under the willow tree I need to trim, next to the leaves I need to rake and I was still. It’s not really okay to do nothing, not when there is so much of something and everything to do. It was almost dusk and the last light caught the narrow willow leaves. I breathed. Breathing is actually not nothing, neither is existing, but I don’t want to get bogged down with semantics here, because this is about nothing.

            As I watched the leaves I came to a few realizations. Whether inspired by the peace I felt doing nothing, or by the relief to be the watcher and not doer I can’t say. Let’s just say that from now I am going to embrace nothing. So please let this serve as an open apology. I will not be writing you a holiday card. I won’t be finishing assignments. I won’t be creating anything fabulous, and I won’t be wowing you with my ability to do it all. The pumpkin might rot on the peeling stoop until March. What’s for dinner will now come in packaging, be served at a restaurant, or need to be foraged from the rambunctious garden out back. I will not return your call or text or email in a timely manner. I will set up an automatic response to any inquiry, whether it be personal, professional, or academic: the person you have reached is not in service. Please leave your something after the beep. Nothing will get back to you.

I don’t have any paper to print this on, so I can’t even tell you about this. I added get paper to the to do list but it’s down at number 34 and the to do list pages are torn from being turned so much. I list more and more to do and look back and those damn items are all still there, undone. I’ve made up a person to scold for not getting these things done. I’ve named him Larry. Larry, why didn’t you wash the sheets like I asked? Larry, I told you last week to get the chip fixed on the windshield and take the car to the car wash. Since Larry doesn’t do jack shit and says nothing in defense, I am resorting to other measures. I’ve made to do lists for my family for when they visit for the holidays. My mom is going to be on purchasing and organizing and house maintenance. Her husband is on outside chores and car maintenance. They don’t know this yet.

Embrace nothing, breathe with me— remember what it is like to feel free.


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