My brother, Joe, reminded me of an exchange around the breakfast table during our childhood. Dad had just made a plan for his entire busy week, had written it down, and was sharing it with us out loud to make it official.
He said, “On Monday, I’ll do this and this. On Tuesday, I’ll be able to go here and finish that. Then Wednesday, assuming all goes well on Monday and Tuesday, we’ll be ready to begin such-and-such. On Thursday, we’ll wrap those up. Friday should just fall into place, once I make it out and get back in time. And that will leave Saturday for any loose ends!” He was clearly proud of how tidily he’d fit his myriad responsibilities into the week’s schedule. Dad tended to over-promise AND over-deliver, so it was always a feat to handle the many balls he perpetually juggled.
Mom, an even more dedicated list-maker (my entire family demonstrated an almost cultish devotion to to-do lists, and Mother was our Queen), told Dad, “That sounds wonderful, Bobby. But I think you’ve forgotten that today is already Tuesday.”
Dad looked down at his plans for a moment. Then up at us with wild-eyed panic, all color draining from his face. He wailed, “Oh God!,” snatched the pile of papers in front of him from the table, grabbed his car keys, and bolted out the back door. It is very possible, as my brother remembers, that we didn’t see him for two days.
I’ve always tended to relate to my life like a race against the clock. It’s not surprising. Whether it’s hereditary or environmental (likely, both), I am quite sure that I come by it naturally. At its best this has shown up as efficiency, organization, drive, productivity, and excellence. My favorite things! Sometimes, though, it’s clear that I’m also constantly trying to prove myself, earn my very right to exist, and stay one step ahead of inevitable decline and mortality. Ugh.
It’s especially hard to beat the clock nowadays because time is being so darned slippery.
Some people are working extra hard in weird circumstances. Others have so much free time they don’t know what to do. For some of us it’s unbearably tedious, for others it’s frantic. Some have more flexibility, others are pinned in tightening deadlines. And any and all of these conditions can be helpful or hindering, provide welcome structure or feel like a suffocating mire. I’ve been in so many conversations lately about how difficult it is to keep track of time. We used to mark the calendar, “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. Now it’s just Day, Day, Day, Day, Day.”
I read a Washington Post article about how screwy time is this year (“It’s Been Six Months. Our Sense of Time is Still Broken,” by Maura Judkis, 9/11/20). Judkis writes about personal time management during the pandemic, the real and heartbreaking struggles that so many have faced and are facing, as well as some extraordinary examples: a couple stuck on a cruise ship unable to dock who kept going back and forth over the international dateline; a woman who had been ventilated and awoke from a mentally-induced coma to discover that the world was completely changed…
My point is — this is a real thing: the bendiness of time.
It’s always had a lot of relativity built in, but I think we’re experiencing Time’s fluidity and unreliability more acutely. And though we’re feeling it more or less at the same time, the very idea of “the same time” is kinda upside-down and backwards, so it’s hitting us in utterly different ways. This is messing with our heads. Many of us are off-balance. Most of us in one way or another feel out-of-whack with ourselves and each other and with Life Itself. Add to this the facts that the world is literally on fire, and we’ve got Orwellian “doubleplus ungood” propaganda blaring at us from the White House briefing room, while we’re trying to untangle and dismantle systemic social injustices… OF COURSE WE’RE OUT OF SORTS.
Now, more than ever, we need to give ourselves a freakin’ break and be as patient and forgiving as we can possibly be.
All of us are dealing with it however we’re dealing with it. I’m trying to schedule the hell out of things — that works, sometimes, until I go temporarily insane and have to scream into my pillow for two hours. Others seem to be floating in a blissful “infinite now,” which sounds totally amazing — I mean, if ever there was a time to practice being present and meditative and still, this is surely it — but I wonder how those groovy folks are getting a damned thing done.
In the end, I suspect that all of our attempts to control the uncontrollable and make sense of the nonsensical and be sure amidst boggling uncertainty are destined to fail. And as soon as we think we’ve achieved an evolved consciousness of perfect harmonious flow, we’re likely to get knocked right off that sanctimonious mountaintop.
I think that the only way to experience anything like peace of mind — now or ever — is to make room within ourselves for our contradictions and complexity. Peace of mind isn’t the opposite of a conflicted mind, but rather a mind that has made room for its own discord and confusion.
Allow me to offer a tip, a life-hack: I learned years ago that when I am overwhelmed or anxious or depressed, I can usually find some peace, make peace with myself, by baking. I make a pie, in Mom’s favorite pie plate. I follow a recipe, using all the proper measurements, doing every step in order as written, and I almost always end up exactly with what I set out to create. I find it deeply, deeply satisfying. For Travis, working in the garden seems to serve him similarly. My dental hygienist told me yesterday that she’s taken up macrame this year; I quote, “to keep myself from going crazy.” It can be anything, really. But for me, an essential part of it — for it to be truly peace-making — is that it must be something that involves a straightforward plan with clear instructions. This is different from exercising my imagination, creating something from nothing. Of course, that’s wonderful, too, but this is something else. It’s the PEACE OF PIE.
I don’t know if I really managed to work my way around to my title, but I’m going to leave it right here.
Give yourself a break, do whatever is next on your list but try not to let it feel earth-shatteringly important, have some pie, and let that be sufficient unto the day. Let yourself be enough, however you are right now, whatever “right now” might mean…
Be well, loved ones. XO, Drew
©2020 Drew Groves