A seamless follow-up question to “How are you?” in each summer-small-talk conversation. My response? Well, it seems to vary according to the interviewer. Someone who expects a corporate summer internship, to ensure I’m on the “right track,” might evoke a response along the lines of:
“I was going to London School of Economics (LSE) for a month, but I just got knee surgery in June because I tore my ACL in April, so I’m pretty much recovering all summer and taking a couple summer classes to get ahead on my major.”
(It’s important to mention I had somewhat prestigious plans for résumé building to keep them off my case about summer internships. The summer classes help because it shows I’m keeping my mind stimulated).
Someone who is big into sports—perhaps they played a sport in college as well, might evoke a conversation that goes something like:
“Well, I tore my ACL April 14th… not in a game, no, in a 3v3 drill right before Penn… freak accident… surgery was June 2nd so I’m about six weeks out… it’s a nine-month recovery so I’ll be back in March… thanks, I appreciate it, it’s not too bad though, I’m actually doing really well… yeah, I wanted to waitress again this summer but I’m making rehab my full-time job instead.”
(It isn’t necessary to mention LSE or summer classes here since they don’t care about the academic side—they just want to hear about lacrosse. They’re likely going to say how much it sucks and how being injured is the worst thing ever and use that to segue into a tragic story about their career-ending knee injury in college with their head tilted at a 30° angle, a hollow look in their eyes saying, “Poor thing, you have no idea what you’ve done.” Parents with sporty kids have a better grasp on modern sport medicine, know that kids these days come back stronger than before from ACL’s, and politely spare me the sideways gaze.)
Someone who understands the concept of summer vacation, the importance of a summer break, and knows I have the rest of my life to work so why rush into it at 21-years-old, will excuse me from my rehearsed responses and reply with a genuine “Good for you” when I hit them with the one line:
“Nothing. Nothing at all.”
I was pretty bad at doing nothing in the first days following surgery. My entire life, I’ve been wired to think, “What’s next?” and “What more can I be doing?” and the correct answer is never “Nothing.” In fact, my whole world is obsessed with doing, doing, doing, but doing nothing was a daunting territory I’d seldom explored.
It took me several wipeouts on my crutches to realize slow is fast during this pause in my life. There are few more obvious signs to SLOW. DOWN. than lying on your bathroom tile, flat on your back, in starfish pose, crying, your crutches halfway out the door, wondering how you went from brainstorming breakfast to an “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” infomercial.
Slowly, I got better at doing nothing. Nothingness began to take shape each day, starting with sharing a cup of coffee with Jerry Seinfeld in his prime, at whatever time my pain pills let me sleep until that day, strapped into one of my five recovery machines.
I was the most incapable bionic woman you’d ever seen.
Around lunchtime I would journal, often celebrating being able to bend my knee 5° more—little victories are key, I’ve learned. On Day 2, I wrote a poem about my stuffed llama, sensing my readers could use a new blog post:
I like that you’re blue
in a kind way
was one of the stanzas—a deeply affectionate verse pumping straight from my Tramadol-infused heart.
I was graced by my parent’s company at night, during which we would watch another episode of Lincoln Lawyer, or another Matthew McConaughey flick, or another one of Quentin Tarantino’s masterpieces, until my eyes tapped out on the television staring contest. I would fall asleep dreaming of my Nespresso with Mr. Seinfeld in about 6-12 hours.
I started going to physical therapy on Day 4, which gave me some sort of structure in my day. Thankfully I blew out my left knee (so I could drive the day after surgery), or I’d likely be writing a very different blog post today. Day 6 was pretty epic when I did a leg lift on my own for the first time. Day 7 I graduated to one crutch, Day 14 I threw out the crutches altogether, Day 28 I took off my brace and finally wore my new white jeans, and somewhere along the way, I began speaking with pride when someone at PT would ask me, “What are you doing the rest of the day?” and I would reply: “Nothing.”
However, nothing is ever truly nothing but indeed something, just nothing worthy of slapping on your résumé or announcing to the world on Instagram. My nothing has turned into a job, a job in which I’ve excelled yet challenges me each day. A job which requires, daily: 7-9 hours of sleep, 90oz water, 2 hours of icing and elevation, limited alcohol consumption, protein protein protein, and more time spent horizontally than vertically. Perhaps the most challenging expectation is listening to my body 24/7—the thought! Meaning, even though I have a trip to Nashville planned this weekend, my knee swelling up tells me to postpone the trip until August. And if I’m yawning to the point of tears at 1 PM, I need to nap instead of chugging coffee and ignorantly proceeding with my plans for the day.
What a concept—listening to one’s bodily cues—because since when do we live in a world of nothingness and intuition?
The intuition born from doing nothing, I’ve learned, is quite honorable. I encourage us all to make time for more nothing in our days, whether that’s watching Seinfeld—a show about nothing, or gazing out the window at nothing, or shutting your eyes, simply existing, thinking about… nothing. Because something good will come out of this nothingness, and not the good that qualifies as a talking point in a job interview, but the kind of good that makes you feel empowered to choose between a PB&J or a salad without remorse; the good that makes the hydrangeas appear a little more purple in the setting sunlight; the good that prefers more “want to’s” than “should do’s.” In this world of go, go, go and do, do, do, let us say no, no, no, from time to time and take pride in doing… Nothing. Nothing at all.
Here is how I’d like to answer to your question:
“This summer, I’m cooking more meals than I buy, enjoying a good book, eating strawberry ice cream with chocolate sprinkles, working on being more punctual, catching up on classic movies, writing when I feel like it, listening to incredible music, binging a 90’s sitcom, making friendship bracelets, letting myself feel inspired, making game-time decisions, resting when my knee says so, trying to pack lighter for weekend trips, painting my nails orange, and saying ‘I love you’ to the people I care about. Does that answer your question?”