The Wonderful World of Doing Nothing

Dot had done nothing all her life. All her life she had imagined she was doing things, rather than going through with the bother of actually doing them. All night long she had rocked herself to sleep with dreams of resounding success with endeavours she had imagined she was doing. All day she sleepwalked through her mundane life while imagining herself achieving brilliant great things to the constant applause of a rapturous audience.

 

In her mind, Dot was not just intelligent, she was a rare genius with one of the highest IQs in the world. She imagined herself being interviewed on television about what an amazing IQ scientists had discovered she had had after years of laboring under the impression she only had an average IQ. ‘Oh I just feel as dumb as I’ve always felt’ she imagined herself saying ‘But I don’t think intelligence is about what you’re given, but how you use what you’re given. The only stupid people are lazy ones’.

 

Dot did not have many friends. The truth is, people found her rather distant, flat and colourless. And indeed Dot was far more interested in the brilliant and vividly colourful people of her imagination rather than anyone real around her. Dot saw most people in the world as clods irrevocably chained in some way to an earth she did not feel she was a part of and did not want to be a part of.

 

Actually Dot never saw that she actually could make her own way in life by burrowing through the matter of the universe and changing things to suit herself. She didn’t think she could actually change anything. She couldn’t change people’s minds, she couldn’t alter the circumstances in her life. Everything that happened had to happen. Dot did not see herself as a free agent and she simply did what she had to do, went where she had to go and hated it. Only in her mind was she even freer than a bird because she dipped, swerved through air, sea and water and even matter and shape-shifted at will.

 

A long time ago when she was a child, Dot had had a series of bitter disappointments and had discovered that her imaginary life was so much more wonderful than shuffling, humdrum, ugly universe of reality. If she wanted to climb Mount Everest, bing! She was there, obligingly posing for a photographer on top of the world in a skimpy bikini. If she wanted to win first place in her exams for the year, bam! She took the prize. If she wanted to be a brilliant piano player, all she had to do was imagine a Mozart piano concerto in all its elegant, intricate moves and pretend to play along with it. That way she was even better than the girl who actually was coming first in her piano lessons.

 

As a teenager, she had drifted like a shadow through the world of her acquaintance. Her exams had come and gone.   Friends had proved elusive. So had boyfriends. She was always imagining that special somebody and those scintillating conversations in her mind that were so much more exciting than what was in front of her. She never imagined the world out there as something to explore or discover.

 

As an adult, she got a job in an office and for years she did exactly the same thing each day – showered, dressed, ate, commuted, worked, had lunch, worked again, went home, had dinner and then went to bed. That was the way she liked it, or thought she did.

 

Then when she was middle-aged, crisis hit. Her imaginary world was too heavy for the flimsy grey life she was living. She realised with a kind of horror, that she had become exactly the person she did not want to be: colourless, quiet, drab and uninterested in life. All she was brilliant at was doing nothing. She played doing nothing like a jazz musician and none of her exploits made the slightest difference to the life she was leading. She didn’t know how to change things.

 

Then one day, she took pen to paper and began to draw. Her first efforts were awkward, but out of wanting something to do she persisted. She drew plants, bowls of fruit, bottles, the streetscape. Sometimes she even doodled intriguing faces. She found a drawing class at night school and took lessons and became even better. She discovered colour and began to experiment with paint, taking herself outdoors although her forte seemed to be still-lifes.

 

She got praise for her work and was encouraged to put on an exhibition. She was retired by then, but found herself busier than ever creating her art. She was happier too, having found at last the perfect fusion of her real and her imaginary life. Through the lens of her art, she could explore the outside as well as her rich inner life and even bring the two together. But the funny thing was, the thing she was best at in her whole life was the thing she had never imagined she would do.

 

***

Old Age Becomes an Escort

A hard slog of a morning’s shift working at the Airport and I was on a break, confronted with the blare of the large oblong TV screen in the staff room.  On it was a juicy chunk of advert for a TV program sandwiched in between the bland, white, crowd-pleasing bread of the morning breakfast show.

‘Grannies working as escorts!’  the screen screamed ‘They’re topping up their pensions!’.  And there was a frankly old woman in a dressing-gown, hobbling down the stairs with a walking stick.  Apparently she worked part-time as a prostitute.  ‘I like sex!’  she said with a bright, expansive smile as she sat in her kitchen wielding her teapot.  ‘I have no inhibitions.  And men love it!’

Okay.  Right.  On the drive home from work I debated the issue in the royal court of my mind where I am undisputed Queen.  All the way home I was thinking, well if it makes her happy then good luck to her.  It is not illegal to work as a prostitute, so she has every right to her own business.  I think everybody has a right to their own business, because I might be wrong.  There could be a God.

Other people can do as they wish, I decided, but as far as I’m concerned, prostitution is way out of the ballpark for me.  My brush with it as a troubled young woman alone in a strange city was enough to put me off it for life.  It’s a nice fantasy, but I found the reality of it dangerous and degrading.

I am not keen on allowing men I don’t know to eat me up and fill me to annihilation point with the alien beat of their unknown lives and saliva and sweat and dirt and semen.  And then for them to just leave, while I lie staring dirt-caked at the ceiling, wondering exactly when the blazing electric light ends and the shadows begin.

My life has to be simple.  Prostitution is not simple.  A woman has to have a hard head to handle it, especially in frail old age.  Anyway I am not going to work as a prostitute.  I have a loving husband in a marriage of 20 years and am very happy.  So that’s settled then.

Later on my laptop after lunch and my usual two cups of tea, I researched the program.  It was a UK study of three mature aged women who worked as ‘escorts’.  I balk at the disrespectful word ‘granny’, but what intrigued me was that this 85 year old woman absolutely refused to call herself a prostitute.  She had created a mystique.  She worked as an ‘escort’, she said.  She entertained gentlemen and charged them for her time.  She advertised herself on an Internet website, revealing her breasts and inviting men to ‘share forbidden fruits’.

Actually I’m kind of awestruck by the sheer tenacity of this old woman carrying on the way she does.  85 years is as old as I optimistically expect to live.  So many people that age are in a nursing home with all kinds of debilitating afflictions and here she is, nonchalantly ticking over her life by amusing herself with men.

Or maybe the wheels will come off in a sad and undignified way.  Most of her family are not talking to her because they see this diversion of hers as compromising the kind of social obligations expected at her age.  But she has continued to work as an escort.  Sex makes her happy even just thinking about it, she says.

The oldest profession has always drawn censure from mainstream society and probably always will.  It is, by its nature secretive and can therefore be quite risky.  One might ask if prostitution is the best thing that an old woman can do with her time.  But then again near the end of one’s life and still of sound mind and body, would it be only natural to turn to doing the things that make one happy?

For my father, nearing his eightieth year and finding himself ‘still here’, what makes him happy is researching the history of Ancient Rome, collecting sea shells and birdwatching.  No conflict with family there.

Is it selfish of this twice widowed old woman to pursue happiness in a way that conflicts with her family relationships and perhaps puts her life at risk?  Is she running from confronting what she describes as an acute sense of loneliness?  Or is it that the family is trying to suppress her instinct for sexual freedom?  Near the end of life, should one temper their desires with respect to other people’s wishes and their family duties?  Or is the woman’s predilection simply none of the family’s business?

I can’t decide.  I can’t even decide if I should decide.  What do you think?