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The art of nothing

I'm just wrapping up week two of post-musical existence, and life still seems strange. Actually being at home seems bizarrely empty. My evenings are somewhat void of distraction. Sounds seem unsettlingly stifled.

When I leave DLHS at 3:30, no longer attempting to get to the bank and Kmart and Dairy Queen and pick up my brother from school and get him home and ask my mother for money for black nylons that'll be abounding with runs and rips by Thursday night's performance anyway before speeding (figure of speech, of course) off to practice every night, I have the most astonishing realization that I might actually get my homework done, my article written, or some much-needed television watched.

(Being home by 4 means I can indulge in the "Gilmore Girls" reruns I've lusted after for the past two and a half months. Imagine my disgust with the entire broadcasting universe when they replaced the time slot last Thursday with some supposedly riveting drama about pregnant teenagers or black people being shot at or some such travesty. Blech.)

On the phone last Sunday, my boyfriend asked me what I was doing that day. I responded: "Nothing." It wasn't the sort of shrugged answer that kids give their parents when asked about what they did in school that day.

Shocked, I realized I was only being honest. (I suppose I shouldn't imply that kids aren't replying with absolute integrity when they say they don't do anything in school -- true, once you get to senior year nobody even really cares if you show up for class or not, except for the portion of the class that's there and is so significantly worried about you missing out on something that they petition the teacher to not give a lesson for the day. However, once you get to high school, sometimes you're supplied with easy answers to the question; my physics teacher told us to go home last week, shake the ketchup residue from the bottom of the plastic container, and explain to our parents that we're using Newton's first law. So what if I can't remember what Newton's first law is? I remember talking about ketchup.)

Last week I wrote an essay for a scholarship that isn't due until January. Yeah, January. Two months away -- at least seven Sunday nights (apparently prime homework time slots) still hoping to be spent scrambling to put something together in time -- but it's done. I suck at being a slacker teenager. I actually put off procrastinating. It's okay, reader, you can think what you're thinking; I find it extremely disturbing, too.

The truth is, I've been telling myself since September all the "stuff" I'd have time for once the musical was over, once I was getting more than a few hours of sleep each night, eating food that was specifically not fast, and not piling up excess stresses amidst my clutter of missed classes and alto harmonies and timely entrances and spending far too much time at the middle school. I was living for the ease of life after the musical, the flawless image in my delusion-plagued mind's eye of simplicity and lack of time constraints or aimless anxiety.

Chatting with my buddy Brittney in our religion class Monday, we lamented the week ahead, knowing it would be unbearable. How could we be so certain? Because it was an entire five days of class.

While we grinned over shortened class periods due to the afternoon's Care Week wrap-up assembly, I realized my silver lining had mutated into a new form. No longer anticipating closing night of Les Miz, I was pretty narrowly intent on ambling toward Thanksgiving break's promise of five days unrestrained by school (or homework -- teachers, please, take note!).

It seems easy enough to fall into that sort of mindset. One can hear it everywhere, bouncing off of buildings and sifting through the mail, radiating from microwaves and reflecting off rearview mirrors. Once I'm done with high school. Once I find a new girlfriend. Once this episode of Family Guy is over. Once I burn another 3,000 calories. Then...then what?

Getting through a particularly unpleasant public presentation or an especially hectic work week or an always-abhorrent five-page research paper doesn't guarantee ease "once it's done." Graduation doesn't mean I'll suddenly lose my affection for eating ridiculous quantities of ice cream, just as surviving this week and the next and the next won't promise that I'll realize I can stop stressing over books to be read or essays to be written or colleges to be accepted to.

Getting to the weekend or Tuesday the 16th or tolerating all the time that has to pass before New Year's doesn't mean that your anxieties will clear or your tasks will somehow appear more manageable, either.'s Barack Obama-oriented song "It's a New Day" (I can admit my addiction, which I think makes it okay...right?), beyond being entirely catchy and altogether glorious, has definite brilliance in terms of insight. He sings, "I've been fighting for tomorrow all my life," and I wonder...does he mean he's been reaching for an unreachable day?

Nah. I don't think so.

He can fight for tomorrow without forgetting today. We can look forward to Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Arbor Day without losing every moment between then and now. I can get revved up for a long weekend without supposing that my entire existence until then consists of merely tolerating the hours and getting done the amount of stuff that I've developed some crazy notion about having to do.

I know you've heard it, but sometimes repetition works: don't waste a minute. Don't waste a minute thinking in have-tos and should-bes -- it's okay to sit down. Don't waste a minute running around like a chicken with its head cut off -- it's much funnier when done by an actual chicken. Don't waste a minute trying to figure out the best use of your time -- that's certainly not the best use.

Do have long unplanned conversations about seemingly irrelevant topics. Do drive without knowing where or for what purpose. Do say yes when asked to do something spontaneously. Do listen to what's going on around you, no matter how many voices are vying for that attention in your head.

Carpe diem, reader.

Thressa Johnson is a senior at Detroit Lakes High School.