Too Much to Nothing to Do

Perpetual Motion Machine

I grew up in one of those families where the not-so-subtle message was: “what have you accomplished today?” ¬†(One of the not-so-subtle tensions between my parents was that my father embraced this question as it regarded himself, and my mother did not–she did a lot of stuff, but the minute it was expected of her she shut right down.) I learned from this to feel guilty if I’m not accomplishing all the time, at the same time that what I really want to be doing is reading or doing a crossword puzzle or playing endless games of solitaire while I listen to TV re-runs in the background.

I know. I’ve lost the respect of all right-thinking people. As I should. But these times have not made it any easier to Do Things or Do Nothing, have they?

Time has both expanded and contracted. The days blur together (for me this is complicated by the fact that my day-job week is Tuesday through Saturday, with the cheery result that I’m always a day out of sync anyway). The old rituals–get up, go to work, go home, feed the dog, etc., have mutated for many of us. At my house it’s been turned slightly sideways: get up, make coffee, go to work, maybe put on pants later in the day. And when the office is the couch, it’s really easy to get distracted from doing the things I ought to be doing (right now I should be photoshopping a map to use for the online exhibit we’re putting together for the museum where I work, but I’m calling this lunch, and who’s going to tell me otherwise?)

So there’s the day job. As many people are learning (and most of my writing colleagues already know), working from home can make extended periods of concentrated work harder. There are distractions. There are habits that were never a problem when you worked somewhere else, but suddenly loom larger when your office is ten feet from the kitchen. And there’s the illusion that somehow, because you’re working from home, there is all this extra time. And yet, among the various things that have changed in the last four months, the number of hours in a day has not. The net effect, for me, anyway, is to get to the end of the day feeling like I haven’t gotten nearly as much done as I ought. Surely, while doing the day job and taking my turn to walk the dog, I should have written a thousand words of fiction and started a new batch of bread and turned out a couple of dozen cloth masks for donation. Oh, and written my representatives and done political ¬†support work and donated money and…

All this and catch up with the second season of The Umbrella Academy, and read the new books that are out this year, and make dinner and occasionally hang out with my husband.

There’s also the toll that Current Life is taking on all of us. Sickness of body and–look around you–sickness of the soul seems to have taken over my country. And that’s exhausting: despair is always exhausting. Helplessness is exhausting–to the point where setting my nose to the grindstone and not looking up sounds like a really fine idea.

What do I do? What do you do? A week or two ago, Deborah Ross wrote very usefully about self-care in these days of anger and grief and helplessness. As a matter of fact, all of us in the Treehouse have written about what we’re doing to cope. Cooking features, as does reading, and activism, and remembering all the people and places we love. And one of the take-aways I’ve found, looking over this summer’s crop of writings, is people being kind to each other. And sometimes even to themselves.

If ever there were a time strategically engineered to make it hard to accomplish anything, this is it. So along with all the other imperatives and expectations I put on myself every day, I’m adding one, and moving it to the head of the queue. To be gentle to myself, to get as much done in a day as I can, and let what I can’t get done in one day roll over to the next. As a life-long strategy, maybe it means I won’t accomplish as much as I want. But I suspect I’ll accomplish more than I expect.


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