Updated: May 4, 2020
My to-do list (Photo by Tracy Grathwohl)
I know a little something about self-isolating. I work from home and, in order to do my job, I’m supposed to stay in my house and create. I’ve been self-isolating for years. I never called it that. I called it “writing.”
I’m sure you now are picturing me in a garret, slowly penning my 900-word opuses, stopping only for some meager sustenance, sleep, or to refill my inkwell.
That isn’t exactly how I do it. Writing is unpleasant, painful and boring. It consists of taking a cold, hard look at your inner truths and then spewing those truths onto the page. Those truths are often unpleasant, painful and boring. The first draft always stinks, so the writer has to make it better, which is also unpleasant, painful and boring.
No wonder I procrastinate as long as I can before banging out “my truths” about fixing my plumbing, floating or making a left turn on Montauk Highway.
Most of this procrastination happens inside my house, so I am well positioned to give you tips on how to lazily spend your self-isolation.
As a professional procrastinator, I make excellent to-do lists. Writing a to-do list gives me the sensation of doing something, while actually doing nothing. When I feel things are out of control – like this covidian moment – I add as many items as I can to the list, including things like “watch a soothing Jane Austin movie” or “empty dishwasher.”
Of course, I’m going to empty the dishwasher every day anyway. But the real satisfaction of a to-do list comes from crossing things off of it. Sometimes it feels good to pad it.
I should fully disclose here that I don’t empty the dishwasher. That job is done by my father, who lives with us, and who I’ve previously referred to as Grandpa Jimmy or GJ. I can’t take the credit for emptying the dishwasher because GJ diligently reads my column and he’ll be miffed. I don’t want him to stop emptying it in protest. Because then I’ll have to.
I keep my to-do list in a small spiral notebook. When I complete everything on a page, I make a big black “X” on it, another satisfying experience. When I start a new book, I add everything I haven’t finished to the first page. I like to make my entries in different colors, because I’m whimsical. The first page looks like a rainbow. A rainbow of things I never get around to doing, like “organize photos,” “lose ten pounds,” or “take over the world.”
My to-do-list-of-many-colors is a personal preference. If you really want to kill time, have a look at the internet’s suggestions on how to make your own. There are bullet journals, to-do list apps, and advice columns on the best kind of to-do list. You could spend hours learning about them. Hell, I spent a solid twenty minutes researching the best way to write “to-do list.” I could have used “To Do List,” or “to do list,” but I settled on “to-do list.” I told you, I’m a professional procrastinator.
People have suggested that we shouldn’t waste our newly found time. This covidian moment is not completely unprecedented. There have been quarantines in the past, and people have been made idle before. That’s why you keep seeing memes about Shakespeare writing King Lear during the plague. To be clear, there will be no 900-word King Lears coming out of my garret. The best I can do is a reorganized junk drawer.
Just like Shakespeare though, I’m trying to coin a new word: “covidian.” Fingers crossed it goes viral (pun intended).
Another way to pass the time is to do the items on your to-do list. Actual doing is frowned upon by true procrastinators, so instead, I watched the film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. It was while procrastinating watching, that I realized that before modern times, one group of people who were idle during their days were upper class women. They couldn’t work and had servants to do their household chores. All of sudden, viewing this movie became “research” of ways to kill time and now I can deduct the rental fee as a business expense.
As you may recall, Sense and Sensibility is the story of the Dashwood sisters who need to find husbands…. Never mind, you can look up the plot, you’ve got all day.
Aside from husband hunting, the Dashwoods spent their days sitting or taking long walks in the rain, which made the jilted Marianne sick, yikes! During the sitting bits, the Dashwoods read to each other, played piano, and Elinor longingly gazed at Edward’s handkerchief. The ladies also accessorized their hats with new feathers, practiced French and strolled around the room, a far safer activity for our dear Marianne.
After you’ve finished your to-do list and watching everything on Netflix, these are all worthy potential pass-times!
You can take long, sunny-day walks (please walk on the correct side of the street – facing oncoming traffic – that’s a pet peeve of mine).
You can put a feather in your baseball cap. It’ll be a long time before you can wear it to a game, but it will have that je ne sais quoi. Mon Francais, c’est bon, non?
Or you can make Edward’s handkerchief into a face mask.
Whatever you choose, please stay home and stay safe.
I’ll do the same in my garret.
Published in The East Hampton Press, April 2, 2020