I had yesterday off of work.
I should have gotten much more done than I actually did.
How on earth do people decide what needs to be done? How does one decide what enough looks like? What is an appropriate response to failing to do enough?
These are actually very practical questions. In this regard, I find that fiction — my go-to guide for so many things — is a bit of a failure. In fiction, there is no end. There’s never enough. In fiction you give everything you have until you die, succeed, or shatter.
Which, you, know, is an approach with merit if one is fighting wraiths, leap-frogging a volcano, or stalling the Nazi interrogation team. It’s less worthy when one is doing the dishes or answering email. Pressing onward until one collapses, physically or emotionally, is not a Life-Skills-Plan-A.
So, presuming the emails must be answered, and presuming that they can wait some amount of time equal to X, what is X? How many naps are acceptable in a week? How many hours of television? How much school must be taught, how many errands run?
Is there, in fact, a calculus to balance work done against recreation taken? Is there an equation whose answer is “you have done well; take your earned rest”?
I am a reformed slacker and procrastinator. I spent until about age 30 avoiding decisions, responsibility, authority, and work of any conceivably avoidable sort. I volunteered for no projects. I headed no teams. I answered no email, I made no plans. It was “see you around” and “we’ll catch up sometime,” it was “sure, maybe, if it works out.”
Something happened, the which precisely I cannot define or locate. Something to do with my kids, I expect. I am now a person who gets things done. I have a convert’s zeal, I know. I try to keep the hot light of fervor out of my eyes when I talk about projects I’m working on or things I hope to do.
If I don’t meet your eyes when I’m talking about scheduling, this is why. My laid-back, casual tone belies the utterly crucial centrality of a schedule in my life.
Yet, as a recovering slacker, I don’t have any kind of sense of an appropriate amount of accomplishment. On a day like yesterday I measure things I did:
three loads of dishes
showered (which is an accomplishment this week due to the stitches in my finger)
supervised the kids
Against the things I did not do:
answer all project emails
clean the dining room table
deal better (more generously, more thoroughly, more intelligently) with the kids
walk the dog
clean the shelves in my room
clean the kitchen counter
clean the living room
Against the mitigating factors:
twelve stitches in my left index finger
lingering head cold
fairly difficult parenting weekend
There’s a bit in Lois Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, in which Ekaterin is talking to Kareen about adulthood. To paraphrase, Ekaterin tells the younger woman that adulthood is not a prize awarded for being a good child. Adulthood is a thing you just … take. It’s a state you grant to yourself.
“Should’ve” is one side of that grant. “Well enough” is another. There’s no-one to make you do what needs doing. And there’s no-one to tell you when to stop. All there is, is muddle. A jerking stop-start-stop of working, and resting, and getting more done, and falling down the YouTube rabbithole for two hours, and replying to your publisher, and looking up the poem that’s stuck in your head no wait that’s the wrong one after all, and cleaning the gutters and cleaning the garage, and watching all of the Anna-and-Bates scenes from Downton Abbey again, and getting the oil changed in the car and picking up the birthday cupcakes, and staying up until one a.m. finishing the book, and …
Sometimes there’s should’ve.
Sometimes there’s enough.
No-one will ever tell you which is which.
Filed under: Autobiography