I’ve not really been good at knowing what to do with my down time for a while. There’s some good reasons – shaky employment, lack of funds, and exhaustion running into a mindset that I should be “productive” – but those have become more like excuses for why I’ve not yet figured out how to snap out of the habit of just staying inside and fooling around on the web all afternoon.
But this weekend I was determined to do something about that. I studied local event listings for a few days, weighing options – and just as quickly rejecting them. A movie would cost money, a museum I’d feel like I had to dress up, a hike I’d have to wake up early for or else it wouldn’t be worth the bother…and the whole exercise also was starting to feel oppressive, too, like I had to do something Worthy Of A Weekend or something.
And then I had an idea. In an interview once, John Cusack mentioned a friends’ theory that all twelve-year-olds are “the Buddha” – “you can see things with a clarity and a precision that you then have to spend the rest of your life recapturing.” You’re old enough to pick up on and avoid bullshit, but you’re young enough that the vagaries of puberty and adult nonsense haven’t clouded you.
So I became twelve for a day.
Worrying over-much about my appearance went first – I didn’t care a lick for makeup then (and barely do today) and the most I’d do for school is put concealer on any of the first pimples that were then showing up. In summer, I rarely even did that – just combed my hair so it didn’t look totally stupid, brushed my teeth, and called it good. Got dressed only because society frowns on going naked – but didn’t care whether my shorts were dirty or flattering or anything. Same with the t-shirt. If it covered my bits and wasn’t too hot, good enough.
If I didn’t have any friends to hang around with at twelve, I’d usually just go outside anyway, either to sit around a cornfield through the woods at the end of my block, or to laze at the neighbors’ pool, or to sit in our hammock out back and read. And read real books, too. At some point I’d trot inside and make myself a sandwich and then bring it back out and eat it there. I don’t have a back yard today, but – I have a camping hammock, and Governors’ Island has a section set up exclusively for lounging in hammocks. That, and a lunch packed into a bento box I have for work, sounded ideal.
Unfortunately it wasn’t until I was already on the island and stringing up my hammock that I discovered I’d forgotten the books I’d meant to bring. 45-year-old-me was ready to call the trip a bust, but twelve-year-old me would have shrugged – who said I had to read? I also sometimes just…thought.
– But I also wrote, worried 45-me. – and you don’t have your pen or your journal 0r –
– So? said 12-me.
I couldn’t get the hammock strung, so I gave up and decided to just walk around, letting 12-me steer. Curiously peering in the windows of the closed-up houses in the Officers’ housing area, or wandering into the ones that were open to house-snoop. I curled up like a cat on a rocking chair on one porch, just watching people – listening to someone playing bagpipes across the park, quietly singing along as he played Rising Of The Moon. Then I got curious about the history exhibit in the house next door, striking up a conversation with the kid costumed like a Revolutionary soldier (“yes,” he admitted, “this costume is just as hot as it looks”) and eavesdropping on another volunteer leading two kids on a “history scavenger hunt”. 12-me got really intrigued by the story of Patience Wright, a Revolutionary-War-era sculptor who used her connections to spy for Washington’s army.
12-me really wanted to try the minigolf course the artists’ collective sets up each year, so I did, playing by myself; getting quietly psyched that I was above par on a couple holes, but laughing off how I completely blew it on one hole. 12-me didn’t really care about athletic achievement; it was just supposed to be fun. I found a spare Adirondack chair by one of the food courts and sat down to eat there, munching through a big bowl of cherries for dessert and just spitting the pits on the grass around me. As I ate, I either browsed a magazine I happened to find in my bag, or did people-watching – I saw a young Orthodox Jewish family pass by me at one point, and smiled when I saw Dad pushing the stroller and Mom hiding a super-soaker behind her back; at one point, as he leaned over to say something to their older daughter, she shot him right in the back of the kippah with it, then hid it behind her back again, giving him an innocent, “who, me?” look when he turned to her.
I passed a couple of other random public art pieces as I wandered, and 12-me made me stop at one in particular – it was a “Little Free Library” box, which the owner had stocked specifically with weird post-apocalyptic books. 12-me grabbed the only thing in English – The Purple Cloud, a weird last-man-alive book I’d never heard of before. – You’re near the hammocks, 12-me reminded me, – let’s just check. So I checked – and found one free. And I lay there in the sun, gradually dabbing my face with splashes of water from my thermos as I read (unfortunately, 12-me was also prone to forgetting about sunblock). Sometimes I read, sometimes I closed my eyes for a five-minute catnap.
By late afternoon I was done, and walked through most of Brooklyn Heights looking for a bus stop after I got off the ferry, not caring how I looked – mussed hair, dusty sneakers, bright pink from sunburn. Hit the shower as soon as I got in to wash the dust off me and take the edge off the burn before I started dinner.
And the strange thing is, even though I basically did nothing, it was the first time in a long time that I felt like I’d really done what I needed to do. And I think 12-me is going to be taking the reins a lot more often now.