Like many Americans, I find that I now have much more time on my hands than I did before COVID-19 came along. This extra time has enabled me to avoid things on my to-do list with a creativity that I did not know I had. It’s kind of inspiring to realize that even at an advanced age — 69, in my case — if you dig deep enough, you can find even less productivity than you ever imagined. Here are some examples.
That container in the back of the refrigerator.
It has been there since long before COVID-19, slowly turning an alarming color. Before COVID, I was just too busy to get to it. Now I see that just, say, grabbing it with a pliers and directing it into the trash would be a hasty and partial solution, and not at all get at the underlying causes — surely personal issues of my own — for why the refrigerator is always a mess. So on my to-do list I have crossed off, “clean fridge” and replaced it with “rethink refrigeration from a personal and global perspective.” This will take some time.
“Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”
In college I studied mostly Western European history, and for, oh, maybe 40 years I’ve been meaning to get around to Edward Gibbon’s classic. An abridged copy of this three-volume all-star has been on my bookshelf and must-read list for all that time. And now that I have the time to really get at it, I see that the abridgment itself is the heart of the problem. To read a single volume that I have right at hand, when the full three-volume set is conveniently unavailable — with the libraries closed and all — is, if I am to be truly, uncompromisingly honest with myself, an evasion of intellectual responsibility. And I will have no part of that. Life is too short.
As a homeowner I have a responsibility to my neighbors and passersby to keep my lawn presentable. Creeping charlie, that weed that spreads through deceptive tendrils until it takes over and turns the entire lawn into a hideous mat, is my sworn enemy. (By the way, I blame my next-door neighbor Jimmy for my creeping charlie, but that’s a whole different topic.) My way to fight Charlie is to sit on the lawn in the cool of the evening, dig my hands into the turf and pull it out in long strings, while my thoughts wander. But where my thoughts have wandered since COVID-19 is to a paralyzing uncertainty about why I should maintain a lawn at all, and what, if anything, makes homo sapiens superior as a species to glechoma hederacea. My life coach has advised me not to go there anymore. And so I don’t.
The photo drawer.
The children are grown and off on their own. We have two big wooden drawers in the buffet so full of snapshots, mostly of them when they were little, that they’re nearly impossible to open or close. This is the perfect time to dig into them, label them, date them and put them in order, for posterity. But as I approach the drawers I begin to see more clearly. Only someone too distracted to think straight would imagine that going through thousands of bad snapshots, seeing himself younger and better-looking than he can ever be again, and being reminded that he has no memory of the 1980s (though there is photographic evidence that he lived through them), is a healthful thing to do.
Now that I have the time to apply mature intelligence to the question, the wisdom of age shows me that procrastination has always been the prudent thing to do. And now that COVID-19 has given me the leisure, I resolve to put off procrastination no longer. Life is too short.
Paul Nelson lives in St. Paul. He’s at email@example.com.