The Salt Compass Madeleine Hagan Nothing That Matters

Nothing That Matters

It took me five hours to wake up today. One more time for the people in the back: Five hours. I woke up at 8:15 without an alarm and wandered downstairs for breakfast. Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered the fact that I had used the last of my coffee creamer (French vanilla because yummy) the previous morning, and I was really not interested in using the half and half my mom uses.

So I skipped the coffee. (Red flag number one.)

I sat down at the kitchen table and managed to eat a croissant while attempting to blink my sleepy eyes more awake by perusing Facebook updates. (Talk about something that makes me want to just go back to sleep.) I’m pretty sure I sat at the table for the better portion of an hour and a half before moving into the living room where a cozy rocking chair waited. The thought that perhaps that wasn’t the best plan of action if I wanted to stay awake kinda registered in the back of my mind, but I very studiously ignored it and curled up in the chair anyway.

This chair has been one of my many workspaces for the past few weeks now. I’ve been reading and writing and analyzing and reading some more for what has felt like nonstop for several weeks, and it’s gotten to the point where I feel strange just sitting there and doing nothing.

So as I sat in this chair I glanced over at the side table, looking for my notebook where I keep all my notes on each book and article I’ve read this summer related to my chosen dissertation topic. There’s idea maps and doodles and some pages with the same sentence written over and over to spark even more ideas. There’s paper-clipped bibliography pages that some of the quotes reference, and there’s possibly color-coded sticky notes that say things like “LOOK UP TOLKIEN’S ON FAIRY STORIES ESSAY” in all capitals just like that with a smiley face at the end.

My family is convinced that this notebook has become a permanent addition to my hand, as I am always carrying it around or scribbling in it, but I’m telling you if it doesn’t end up written down in the notebook it goes in one ear and out the other.

My point is, the notebook wasn’t there. I remembered I had taken it upstairs with me last night, probably under the impression I was going to do more research before I slept (so didn’t happen).

I debated going upstairs to get it, wondering if there was anything else I should do this morning.

You could go color that giant poster J asked you about the other day. The thought came unbidden into my head, but I brushed it aside. She was probably already playing with Melanie and didn’t need a suggestion from me. Besides, I should be working right?

As I went upstairs to retrieve the notebook though, I found that I was sort of in the middle of a pause with the whole research thing, having just run out of material on my reading list.

I wasn’t really interested in figuring out which essay to read next, and I knew that in my still very sleepy state, reading long essays that require analysis was probably not the greatest idea.

The solution? Exercise of course. That should wake me up. (Red flag number two with warning bells to accompany it.)

My driveway is rather long, and in case I haven’t mentioned it lately, I live in the mountains. Despite the fact that my house is technically in a valley, the road to get to it slowly climbs uphill. This makes biking down the driveway to the mailbox (almost a mile) pretty fun. No pedaling at all is required the entire way down the curving road along the river, and some of it is completely shaded.

The way back however, is the exercise I was referring to. Starting out almost flat at the mailbox, the road gets gradually steeper the closer you get to my house, so by the time I get back my legs no longer want to be legs, and I can’t get enough air.

Whenever this comes to mind as a solution for something, rather than a begrudging fine I’ll do this because I know it’s good for my couch potato self the warning bells go off in my head.

And when I came back, it didn’t even work. I wasn’t anymore awake. If anything, I was even sleepier. I collapsed into the rocking chair again, resolved to catch up on some of my favorite blogs and fell asleep before I finished the second post…at 10:30 in the morning. (Red flag number three.)

All hail twenty minute naps. They are fantastic.

Anyway, I woke up to the sound of my sister returning home and the printer making strange little beeping sounds. I finished the blog post I fell asleep reading (the post itself was not boring in the slightest by the way it was awesome) and attempted to write some more of my project but that ended in a “Time to browse Instagram again” session.

My mom found me in the same spot in the chair that I had been in an hour before and asked for the fourth time if I was alright and for the fourth time I answered that I was just tired.

It was lunchtime by now and I dragged myself back to the table again feeling even worse than before.

The whole morning was gone and I had done nothing. I could’ve edited more of my project, written more, found another book to study on my dissertation subject, sorted through my notes on the most recent essay I read, or finish the library book waiting on my nightstand, but what did I do? I struggled to stay awake for the past four hours. Nothing. And I felt awful because of it.

I wanted to be doing something productive. Particularly, something listed above because those were what I considered the most important. Why had I wasted four hours doing nothing that actually mattered?

My brain was just not having it. I wanted yet another nap, didn’t want to research a single thing, and my legs still felt like jelly from the bike ride.

Scowling at the yogurt in front of me, I worried that the entire day would go by like this if I couldn’t wake myself up, and I decided that despite the absence of the creamer I wanted, a coffee would have to do.

The coffee was warm and strong and my one-track-mind that had been focused on another nap woke up finally (by now five hours after I should have had it originally).

Lunch finished and I forced myself back in the rocking chair, but this time consciously battling the nagging feeling that insisted I do something productive.

Whatever happened to relaxing Tuesday mornings without the words essay and study and research lurking in the back of my mind? It’s summer after all.

And I guess as I sat there I just realized that I consistently forget to add a very important thing to my to-do list almost every time one of those lists is made.


I have to add “Do Nothing” to my to-do list, or I forget that it’s an entirely necessary part of the work process.

The reason I think this is simple: Rest, in and of itself, is incredibly important. If God himself rested on the seventh day, I’m pretty sure I can’t just assume that’s a habit I can overlook myself.

Also, there are tons of other things that “matter” that aren’t included on my list of important things to do that 100% qualify as rest from the work I’ve been doing. In other words, just because they could be considered “nothing that contributes to Maddie’s world of studying” doesn’t make it automatically unimportant.

Yes, studying and preparation and research are all important things, and I’m happy to do them. But when it comes to the point where I can’t enjoy anything that isn’t included on my list of what “matters” today, it’s time to take a break and have a reality check.

I suppose it’s a habit that I get a little too wrapped up in sometimes. All of my spare time rotates between all the things I want to accomplish, and this can go on for days and weeks until it takes its toll and I’m suddenly falling asleep at lunchtime or before.

Filling out coloring pages with J might seem like not all that important when compared to school prep or looking for an additional job, but to her? What am I actually saying when I say no without even looking up from my computer?

No I can’t color with you I have “more important” things to do.

I can hear J scolding me in Ron’s voice, “She needs to sort out her priorities.” And she’d be right.

If I took the time to come out of study world, I’d remember that spending time with her while doing something we both absolutely love is something that matters to me just as much (if not more) than having a head start on next year’s projects.

It could be seen as a little nothing in the grand scheme of things perhaps, but it matters a lot.

If someone then asked me what I had done after a morning of coloring pages and chapter books and listening to music with her, I would answer “nothing much,” but that’s an altogether different kind of nothing from being half asleep on the rocking chair for the majority of the morning.

The latter is truly nothing, and an inevitable result of misplaced priorities and exhaustion, while the former is the “this and that” that makes up the wonderful break that is summer.

I am a firm believer that naps are amazing lifesavers, and sometimes life just calls for the guilt-free power nap that possibly lasts for 3 hours (shhhhh).

However, falling asleep after only being awake for two hours with plenty of sleep the night before? That’s a little red flag in my world. Something’s not quite right.

I have the entire school year to be wrapped up in deadlines and pulled a million different directions with – yes, important – stuff that needs to be done.

In summer? I want my priorities to look a little bit different.

Sometimes, the little stuff that makes up “doing nothing” is stuff that really matters. And I’d rather do “the nothings that actually matter” instead of “nothing that matters at all.” Nothings like rest, and coloring, and time spent with my littlest sister who can’t keep crayons inside the lines yet.

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