By Jasmine Taylor
I think I am a bit of a workaholic. I say this because nearly every aspect of my life is focused on productivity. I complete numerous tasks each week at work, I cook and clean at home, I grocery shop, I exercise, I write articles for online blogs. The only time during my week when I am not solely focused on accomplishing tasks is on Saturdays, when I typically spend the 24-hour period laying under a cushy blanket and binge-watching Netflix and eating Cherry Garcia ice cream until 2am the following Sunday. I ‘work-push-achieve’, and then I recover my energy by holling up in my room and doing nothing. As much as I admittedly enjoy my Saturday inactivity, staying in my room and doing nothing gets dull. Especially as the weather is warming and the world outside my home wifi network becomes increasingly more inviting.
As the days grow longer and Austin’s beloved Bluebonnets and Orange Paint Brushes come into bloom, I think back to one exceptionally spring-like day back in February that drew me momentarily from both my winter hibernation and my ‘work-push-achieve’ mindset.
I typically spend my Saturdays cooped up in my bedroom, only venturing outside for 20-minutes twice a day to walk my little dog, Biscuit. After spending Monday to Friday sprinting out the door to catch the MetroBus, logging several hours in front of my computer screen collecting data and writing reports, and invoking Ms. Frizzle-esque enthusiasm when teaching elementary school children how to ride bikes safely; I habitually recuperate my energy by taking one entire day in which I close off all contact with the outside world. I do not open my window. I do not speak to anyone. Some Saturdays, I do not even text friends or check my social media. For me, recovering from a hectic work week means withdrawing into myself. I fill myself with alone-time energy, and then I am ready to face Monday with verve and passion. I revive my exhausted body and mind with the most potent energy source for little introverted souls like mine: several uninterrupted hours of solitude.
My parents are both introverted people with whom my fondest family bonding memories mostly involved listening attentively to audiobooks during long car rides, or curling up together in my parent’s bed to binge-watch Grey’s Anatomy. From them, I learned to spend leisure time quietly reading, napping, or watching Netflix. I learned these activities are just as much fun when enjoyed alone, if not more so. Further, since I grew up in northern states like Illinois and Massachusetts, leisure time in February meant wrapping myself up in fleece blankets and shielding myself from the ice and snow until mid-May. However, on this particular Saturday in February, a month I instinctively associate with icy roads and blinding blizzards, the Austin sun permeated gently through my closed blinds, warming my bedroom with an enticing light. I could hear the other tenants in my apartment complex chatting giddily as they hopped into their cars and zoomed off someplace else to enjoy the gorgeous weather. My human need to feel included quickly overroad my introverted desire to remain indoors and rewatch episodes of Steven Universe. I decided that instead of spending this Saturday recovering by avoiding doing anything productive, I would give myself a soft goal for the day: Go outside and enjoy the sunshine!
I pulled on my favorite exercise leggings, strapped on my dirty white Keds, and tied my silk bandana over my head to protect my kinky afro from getting frizzy underneath my bicycle helmet. I planned to ride my bike all the way to Zilker Park and find a spot to lay in the grass. Instinctively, I began to prepare Biscuit for my departure by filling his food and water bowl to place in his crate with his favorite toys, a tennis ball and a rawhide bone. However, it dawned on me that my little dog had been forced to hibernate along with me as I had shielded myself from the winter chill. It seemed almost cruel to leave him behind while I enjoyed the sunshine, so I brought him with me.
I grabbed my pet carrier with backpack straps, put my little guy inside it and strapped him to my back. I pedaled fervently for four miles toward my destination, all the while getting stares and giggles from passers by directed at the fluffy white dog peeking ardently over my shoulder. I barely took note of my surroundings along the way–I do not recall seeing people paddle boarding on Ladybird Lake as I road across the boardwalk, although I am certain of their presence. I rushed because even without a deadline, I wanted to arrive at the park “on time.” Finally, I did arrive “on time.” The park was full–not crowded–with college students, families, and fellow dog owners taking their little friends for an afternoon romp. It was then that I realized I could not remember my journey to the park. That morning I had been so focused on forcing myself to leave my room and get to Zilker Park while the sun was still risen and sunny, I had inadvertently engaged in the rushed productivity of my workweek that I try to avoid on my precious Saturdays.
It is hard to let oneself relax and experience the world around. From an early age many of us, especially members of the millennial generation, feel incredible pressure to be productive at all times. If we are not working, creating, serving, then we are wasting time. Even my mission for leisure became a sort of assignment that I worked to complete as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Once I took Biscuit out of the carrier to walk around however, I felt myself slow down. I let myself slow down. My little dog, increasingly mellow and slow-moving in his elderly thirteen years of age, became my reason to decelerate. Biscuit strode at an even pace down a gravel path, occasionally stopping for a few minutes at a time to sniff at a tree or a patch of grass. I fought the urge to tug on his leash to urge him to walk more consistently, to get more exercise and therefore give our outing purpose. I followed his lead and took things slowly.
At one point I stopped to lay my hoodie down like a. pillow on a grassy field and just rested there. I watched a couple play with their young daughter off to my left, to my right a group of friends sat chatting on a picnic blanket. I let my eyelids lower and shut. My breathing slowed. Biscuit nuzzled by my side, panting. I was present.
Spring is a perfect time to practice being present. Balmy weather can draw us out of our winter hiding places. We can let ourselves be drawn to the outdoors. As much as I had wanted to remain in my quiet bedroom and calm myself by vacuuming my carpet or playing 2048 on my smartphone, I felt almost exhilaratingly happier by comparison after leaving my apartment and spending time in the sunshine. I made no specific plans, I had not arranged to meet a friend, or accomplish any specific goal beyond leaving my apartment. The strongest goals I made for myself were based on those of my unburdened little dog. My only goals were to feel the sun on my skin, smell the breeze, and lay in grass.
I returned home later not feeling ashamed at my aimless wandering, nor convinced that I had pointlessly expended energy I could have conserved, but instead that I had spent this spring-like day reconnecting with what I love about the world outside my bedroom, or my office space. On a warm February day I experienced a taste of the sun, and air, and grass of spring. Now that Spring has officially arrived, I look forward to more weekend adventures in aimless wandering.