It’s nearly Valentine’s Day and I still have my Christmas Tree up.
We left the tree up a little long because we wanted to get my wife’s grandmother over to see it, but delays caused that not to happen until February. Now it’s just a matter of bringing up the bins in which we keep the decorations, sorting it all out and stowing it away for another 9 months. I’m sure that will happen this week.
There’s a lot on the “to do” list around the house. I haven’t vacuumed the stairs in forever, despite noting the accumulated schmutz on them two, three or four times a day. There’s always a pile of laundry and more than a few items coagulating with grime in the sink. The house is never truly clean unless we’re just about to have visitors. On a bigger scale, we’ve got our eye on re-doing the kitchen, or maybe the upstairs bathroom, or the backyard this year, and when that’s all done, perhaps we’ll take a crack at the basement.
There are any number of reasons for putting these tasks off. We’re not ready to be in “reno mode” and lose access to our shower or kitchen. The dirt on the stairs isn’t hurting anyone. The laundry we can pick away at — and it’s so hard to remember to do it during off-peak hours. There’s always a reason.
What are we doing when we aren’t doing these things? I like to think we’re living our lives. Working from home, and then relaxing on the couch and going to bed. There are things that urgently need to get done — shoveling the driveway, making meals and shopping for groceries — and there are those that just fall through the cracks because they are not essential to living my life. Of course that doesn’t mean they’re not essential to somebody’s life — I can’t remember the last time I watered my plants, I should get around to that.
As far as I can tell, I’ve always been like this. In school, all the way up through my University years, I was known to write 8, 10, 12-page essays the night before they were due, usually settling for a B and congratulating myself on the effort-and-procrastination-to-output ratio. My greatest achievement was knocking out one of these essays in the three hour break prior to class without having even read the book I was writing about. I’m probably more proud of that than I should be. Just last month I was given a stretch assignment at work to do alongside my regular work but I couldn’t get myself to wedge it in between my regular tasks until a few days before someone was going to want to see it, at which point it became the only thing I was doing for days. I have tons of ideas for posts on this very blog, and for other projects, but there is no burning need in me to accomplish.
I’m not a goal-oriented guy. I floated along for years without much ambition in life before I met my wife and — after a while — decided to kick things into gear by trying to get an office job, then an apartment and finally an engagement ring. Even today there are things I would like to be doing with my life that somehow still live in the “someday” bucket, despite the fact that my store of “somedays” shrinks every day.
I try not to get too down about this because I’m a happy-in-the-moment guy. Our society prizes drive and ambition and accomplishment but is strangely indifferent towards current satisfaction. Years and years ago when I was still Retail Scotto, working the cash register at your friendly neighborhood CD store, I lamented to a friend how I was feeling bad about my work — at that point in my life, it felt like something to be embarrassed about and like I was going nowhere.
This friend, who had earned a Law degree and was the very type of person I was worriedly comparing myself to, asked me a few simple questions — did I like doing my job? Did the money suit my needs? (Answers: Mostly, and at the time yes.) So why stress?
The new things came to me in time because while I never tore my hair out in pursuit of them, I never let them fall off my agenda. I think life is about finding that balance between frantically getting everything done to survive, and enjoying the moments in between. One day soon, I will no longer be able to tolerate the dirty stairs. Sometime after that we will know we have to fix up our aged-looking (and somewhat leaky) bathroom. Deadlines come for us all eventually.
I’m not saying I have that balance figured out. There’s an email I received over a year ago that I really wish I had responded to but haven’t managed to. Every year I’m still Christmas shopping on the 23rd and most likely wrapping gifts after Midnight on the 25th. We want to pre-order our Valentine’s Take out Dinner so that we don’t get caught in the rush but the clock is ticking on that. All through my life, things do fall through the cracks that ought not to, and there’s something to be said for getting things done before they become red-alert.
But if you can accomplish everything in good time and not spend your life stressing about what you’re doing and what’s next, I think you’ve got it right, and I admire you.
(Looks at Christmas Tree)
Yeah, I should probably take care of that.