Sunday, January 16, 2011

It's Always Easier Not To: An Essay On Doing Nothing

Last Saturday shopping for groceries in Canadian Safeway, Mallory, a biker girl I know, approached me.

What do you do in the winter? Aren't you getting antsy? She asked.

She acknowledged that she was getting antsy and was planning some motorcycle trips come the first thaw. During the cold climes Mallory is a substitute teacher; during the warm climes she's a biker. On her last trip just before this winter, she rode her Hog through the Canadian Maritimes then down along the Eastern American Seaboard. And she looks the part. Her hair is spiked, her clothes are tight, and she definitely has that devil-may-care attitude. I like Mallory and I could listen to her zillion travel tales forever.

In a late response to her question: Yes, I am getting antsy. These Canadian winters stop my busking cold. They are like an ambuscade! From November through till March I abjure soliciting from the downtown pedestrian parades in Western Canada. I could whine on and on in my writing about this stoppage in transitu, but some necessary introspection forces me to seek the positive effects of this abstinence.

First off, doing nothing in Winter is hardly an artifice. Doing nothing is neither clever nor skillful. Doing nothing is being slothful. (Sloth was recognized as one of the seven deadly sins in the Middle Ages). Doing nothing is but a bivouac for temporary and imagined peace of mind. Come Springtime, a doing nothing Winter will lead to an eventual head storm of regret.

Doing nothing is a dalliance with lethargy, which is a synonym of sloth.

Doing nothing tends to obfuscate the romance of busking experienced in the warmer seasons. It tends to darken the erstwhile street memories of joy and excitement in those busking musical moments.

Doing nothing is akin to laziness, in the sense that laziness is the opposite of impulsiveness, a trait not uncommon to street buskers. Doing nothing in the non-busking seasons is not going to make you a better busker. Doing nothing cannot be likened to a well-deserved regenerative vacation typical to your middle class customers who toss to you their coins. Busking is not a middle class adventure; in fact, most middle class adventures could be cataloged as middle class misadventures by the any or all members of the free spirited busker community.

Doing anything is better than doing nothing; even simple jawboning is doing something. Talk may be cheap, but the rewards could prove be very valuable.

Doing nothing is passe. A busker needs to get his shtick together. A busker needs to learn new songs, learn new licks, and perhaps even, new instruments!

I am looking at my Winter calendar. I see that for several Tuesday evenings I have booked Friday Harbor, our small band, for some coffee house gigs. For entertaining at coffee houses we have some set ideas. Anything bigger than a trio is clunky. Ideally, we like a twelve string, a fiddle, and some auxiliary percussion, or pots and pans as we call it. When performing in Winter, Friday Harbor provides mostly instrumentals, which we've found very practical for indoor coffee house performances. One appreciated perk playing in coffee houses is the never ending java supply. As far as cash in kind is concerned, Friday Harbor plays only for tips, which we keep in a jar by the door.

Every Thursday evening our seven member band, The Grand Trunk Troubadours, is booked either for retirement homes, or hospitals. All band members have agreed that our band was created for community service and therefore, our fee, is for free. After each of these performances we are always offered an abundance of conversation and cakes and other sweets. (I just received a phone call this morning asking if we'd consider playing for a March Mardi Gras at a seniors shut-in facility, and course the answer was yes.)

Doing nothing is easy. It's always easier not to (just fill in the blank). Just keep in mind that …

Doing nothing never works!


  1. Hey Neil, maybe my son would like to come busking with you sometime. Here he is playing with his new loop pedal:
    e-mail me at

  2. Great post Neil!!!