Notes from Provincetown: The Joy of Doing Nothing.


It has been a good couple of days.

I haven’t done squat.

That’s unusual for me. Oh, I take time in each day to slow myself down, to get regrounded, but most of the day I am off and running. Things to do. People to see. Calls to make. You know the drill because you probably live it. It’s the way life works for most of us. And it’s not a bad gig.

But when I leave civilization as we know it, I do my best to leave behind that “what’s next?” attitude (You have no idea how many times my kids have heard me say “Next!” out of the blue when I finish a project.).

I did have a few things, writing and art things, that I thought I might do, but I accidentally left behind my paints and the writing? Well, I just didn’t. I walked a lot and thought a lot. I took a few pictures.

Actually, I didn’t think a lot. I just let everything go and felt. I let the emotion of the elections, and emotion over personal things and emotions over past things and things to come roll over me. I gave name to them all. I let them wash over me in waves, leaving at times some flotsam and jetsam of emotion.

I didn’t judge. I didn’t try to control them, curb them or use them in any way. I let myself be a mess.

There is safety and danger in being in a lonesome place for long periods of time. Safety in that no one things you are crazy, overreacting or under reacting. The seagulls could care less.

Danger in that sometimes, being alone for a long period of time can take you to dark places, sad places, painful places.

But that was not the case these past few days. I felt mostly….. peace. And it’s been a long time coming. I was able to look at the places I have failed myself and others and take responsibility, and comfort in knowing I mostly did the best I could. I was able to take failures that were not mine and release the pain of them.

I hadn’t realized I was there yet. I knew I was moving there. I thought I was mostly there. But I had no idea I was indeed there. And being there frees you. Or at least it has freed me.

I am free to enjoy the good things in my life, and there are many, more completely. I am free to simply be without the dead weight of regrets. I am free to make choices based less on the past and more in the now. Even the everyday things, like a good cup of coffee, holding the hand of the woman who loves me, petting the cat, or walking along the beach, becomes lighter, freer, even MORE wonderful.

This trip to Provincetown, I wandered the streets of the town itself more. They are, I realized, very European in nature. Narrow and winding, with a mish-mash of old style buildings. There is very little that looks new here. Very little modernity.

I don’t know why I feel so at home in that kind of setting, but I noticed it when I first went to Europe, to villages in England, to towns in Bavaria, wandering the canal streets in Amsterdam, or the walkways of Rome or my beloved Venice.

The narrow winding city streets means there is always a surprise ahead. A new vista. There are no vast parking lots. There are tiny stores, each with its own special flavor and atmosphere. Eateries with character. It’s all so….. individual.

And I like that.

Sometimes I think in our metric-driven, bigger at all costs, mass market world, we forget individuals. We’re all a demographic. We want safety and convenience and a regulated experience in all we do.

But I wonder sometimes, do we really?

Over my career, I have gone from having hundreds of customers to dozens of clients to even less clients on my docket at any time. Today, I typically have a couple of good-sized projects, a small number of coaching clients, and my parishioners at church.

I am told that is part of my appeal. That my clients know they are individuals, that they won’t get lost in the mash of too much going on. And I like getting to know them, as people with all their glories and quirks that are individually them.

Maybe most people do like the mass market way of living. I mean, it seems to work. I’m just not one of them. Give me a small diner where they know my name and know how I like my coffee over McDonald’s. Give me a little store where I talk about the product with someone who has a passion for it over Walmart.

Yesterday as I wandered up and down Commerce Street in Provincetown, most of the stores were closed. One, a little shop that sells oriental items was open. I had been there last March and stopped in again.

“Welcome back.” the lady in the shop said.

I laughed. “With all the people who come through your store, I am sure you cannot remember them all.” I said.

“In the summer, no. There are too many and they are all a blur. In the offseason I get to talk to people and know them. You bought a singing bowl last spring. You listened to many bowls and picked the one with a raspy voice. You had a kind face. Kind faces are rare.”

She was right. The bowl I picked had a flaw and when you ring it too loudly, it is raspy in it’s sound. Otherwise, the tone is perfect.

I felt at home. Here in this place I have only been twice. Not part of the rat race. Not a number or account. Just someone remembered for preferring the imperfect bowl and a kind face.

Last night I ate at a little place called The Lobster Pot. Good food, but that is not why I went there. It was one of two places on the main drag that was open. The other one was a sandwich shop.

I had a big bowl of rich clam chowder. I got sucked into a conversation with the table of seven next to me. A few gay couples. A right-wing former soldier type. A retired professor and his wife. I don’t think any of them agreed on anything, but it was a lively, lovely conversation between friends who knew how to stay friends despite the differences. I felt honored to be invited in as we talked about food, politics, religion (As a Christian, I was a serious minority in that group, I can tell you.), art, music, and what is and is not a good reliable news source.

It was delightful. I have no doubt that was I to stay longer, they would have become friends. That rarely happens today, that bringing strangers into the conversation. But I like it. It felt… right.

I loved my career in TV technology. I still love the occasional project I get to do. In that time I did some big stuff with some of the biggest names and networks in television, but I was always a cog in the machine. Even when I was a big cog, I was just a cog.

Is the way I live better? For me it is. Places like Provincetown in winter would not have been high on my list 20 years ago. I would have been frustrated that most of the restaurants were closed and the shops were shut down for the season. I would have hated the narrow roads and the slow pace.

But for now, in this time and place of life, it feels like home. A quirky, tiny, place where people get along. A place where I could lose myself for hours walking the beach, and then wrap myself in people.

“People choose to live here.” one of the people at the dinner table said. Yes, I thought, and that makes all the difference. When we choose our place and our fate, we work harder to make it a good place, a healthy place.

I head back shortly. No real breakthroughs. No mind shifts or lessons. Just a good trip and a clear head.

Life is good.


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