Raise your hands if you are just trying to find the balance between living your life to the fullest and actually crossing things off of your to-do list, UGH.
I say that as someone who in pursuit of eating, drinking, and merriment recently cycled a round trip of 26 miles, all the way from our temporary suburban dwelling to downtown Denver and back, only to walk back in my house with aching legs and a shit-eating grin and immediately hear my to-do list mocking me.
“Hey, dickface,” my list says, because it is nothing if not abusive, “When are you actually going to do something qualitatively productive with your life?”
“I don’t know, list,” I say, and then I slink away with a darkened brow and feel guilty for the rest of the evening.
Well, a thousand inspirational Pinterest posters would gladly remind me there’s no guilt to be had in a life well-lived, and I would agree. But even the most footloose and fancy-free among us have to do all those things we least want to do.
Assiduousness has always been my thing. I was that fourth-grader dutifully sharpening her pencil and sitting down to do homework directly after school. Work now so you can play later guilt-free, that was always my mentality. Well, except for that one time I lied and told my parents I had finished my homework so that I could go see Home Alone for the third time with my best friend Tabitha. She was two grades behind me, lived two apartment buildings down the street, and couldn’t pronounce the “th” sound in words, including her own name. In my mind’s eye I can still see her: a crown of dark glossy bangs over a pale face, one arm tucked around an open bag of Cheetos, the other hand grasping a grey Nintendo controller, and neon orange dusting the front of her pink puffy-paint shirt.
Almost every day Tabitha would phone to see if I could play and if we weren’t home the answering machine would click on, the kind with a cassette tape you had to rewind. A robotic man would instruct her to say her name and phone number after the tone, and she’d leave the same message every time: “This is Tabita. [crunch crunch crunch] You know my name, you know my number. [crunch crunch crunch] Call me back, okay! [bag rustling, muffled clatter of receiver]” To this day, my parents ecstatically recite “you know my name, you know my number” as a kind of shorthand spiritual mantra.
Topic! I had one! Yes. Right.
What I was trying to explain was that I blew off my work once before, and caught nothing but hell for it afterward. For one, I could barely enjoy my third screening of Home Alone, so wrought up was I that I had left things unfinished. For two, once my parents caught me surreptitiously trying to do my homework in bed later that night, I was pretty much in trouble for the rest of forever. My takeaway from this experience was that shirking your responsibilities is never worth it. It’s better to just get your work over with first.
Except when you become an adult, the work part never ends.
I haven’t learned to cope with this cruel fact. There will always be things on my list to do, and as a consequence I can never relax. But then I don’t want to work all the time, because that’s no kind of life to live. So I just straddle a fencepost in the middle somewhere. Too lazy to be productive, and too guilty to have any fun.
I try to cope by breaking my days up into distinct chunks of “Fun” and “Not Fun.” The idea is that if I schedule time for each, neither will feel neglected. Dual hemispheres satisfied at last, I can finally be a happy well-balanced self-actualized person, bounding in slow motion through a sun-drowned field of clover as the light glints off my milk-white teeth. Or something. I don’t know. I saw it on an inspirational poster somewhere.
But lately it feels as if these polarities have leaked out of their respective, uh, poles, and bled together into one big puddle of blah. I struggle through each Not-Fun task halfheartedly, and at the zenith of the day — when I can finally celebrate my triumphs with a little Fun — I am instead slouchingly dissatisfied; dogged by the incessant mental thrum of should-haves and should-have-nots.
Should have gotten up earlier, shouldn’t have spent so much time on the Internet, should have finished x, y, and z, should have figured out how to obtain milk-white teeth, is that even a thing, maybe you get it by soaking your teeth in milk, that sounds pretty gross.
So that’s helpful of my brain to do that, then.
But that’s life. We are all just folks trying to get by the best we know how. And the best I know how, so far anyway, is this (waves arms at self and surroundings).
How do you stack up your want-tos against your have-tos?