Janice O’Mahony is a Whidbey Island poet and author. She and I often write together, mostly poetry. We’ve discovered that The Muse shows up more reliably for the two of us than for just one. A few weeks ago we decided to write about our daily to-do lists. The results (below) were so exhaustive/exhausting that they became hilarious; the sheer volume of tasks that are expected of us in a day or a week is ludicrous.
Janice writes much faster than I, and her spot-on humor peeks through the words in every line. So I’ve asked her to fold my “to-do list” into hers and to be the “guest blogger for this post.
Expect to feel frazzled when you’ve finished reading, because Janice puts a certain twist on the list that elicits laughter and tears at the same time.
Brace yourself for this tsunami . . .
Digital communications roll in 24/7, like polluted ocean waves filled with oil slicks, filled with junk like single sneakers, rusty pipe and plastic, fishing lines and pieces of styrofoam ice chests. The digital input never stops.
You answer one email, you get three more. You stick your head up over the electronic barricade and snipers open fire. Last chance. Don’t look away. We need your answer today. Sale ends Friday. Flyers, fundraisers, catalogs, notices, warnings, pleas, and reminders.
If you can get to Costco in the next two days, you can save $5 on the organic olive oil you like. There is a $20 instant rebate on protein powder you know you should use.
We need your support to save the rainforest, help my campaign, support a woman’s right to choose, sign a petition for gun control after the latest school massacre.
You can sign up for our newsletter, see new film releases this week on Netflix, here’s your daily vegan recipe, here’s the enneagram thought for the day. Here’s the New Yorker humor for the day which you never take time to look at.
Waves of detritus spread out across your day: Taxes due, jury service, bills, reminders of bills, your card has expired, your bank needs you to come in to fix something, your book is in at the library and will only be held until tomorrow because the first notice went into your spam folder and you thought you had fixed that. They’ll send it back and you’ll go to the end of the line because you can’t make it tomorrow. But you don’t have time to read it anyway, so no big whoop.
You have upwards of 120 passwords right by your computer on a long, messy list. It’s messy because you have to write new ones in all the time, or amend old ones when you hit the “forgot your password?” button because you forgot to write one down.
You know you shouldn’t have a list, especially right by the computer, but you can’t find time to install one of those password-remembering programs cautious friends keep telling you about. And you don’t know how to install stuff anyway.
So many things, big and small, need your attention. Everything could be neater, cleaner, more organized. Everything could be spruced up. Your house is on a slippery slope, descending into permanent disorder. Sometimes it’s dramatic: pipe leaks, circuit blows, freezer thaws.
Sometimes it’s just whiny stuff: touch-up paint needed, dust silent but sullen, overipe fruit and fruit flies. Where do they come from? You could look it up. You’ve always wondered but probably will never know. Maybe you’ll stumble across an explanatory meme when you’re researching something else entirely.
Should you replace the water heater or wait for it to leak? If you could decide on living room paint, who would help you move the shelves? You don’t have a ladder so that’s another thing. You hate to paint anyway and you know better than to climb a ladder because that’s asking for a broken hip and death in a rehab center.
The toilet groans loudly when flushed. What does that mean? Does it just need a little oil on the handle or is it warning of a spewing eruption in the near future? Who would know?
How bad is all that moss on the roof?
You’ve learned about malware the hard way. You’ve been hacked more than once. Your email has been sold to big corporations. To unsubscribe from their relentless messaging requires going down a rabbit hole, spreading your contact information widely like electronic dandelion floss. Some hacker in Albania is looking at all your data with shark-like intensity right this minute, ready to crush you, take all your money and put you into voice-command-menu hell to try to recover. Para Espanol marque ocho. We are experiencing longer than normal wait times. Please try later. Goodbye.
Dear Lovely Madam, I am a Nigerian prince who needs $500 for legal fees and I will happily share the resulting inheritance with you. Good wishes to you, Madam. Sadly, you stop to think about it. It could be real.
Then there’s the car. Tires need to be rotated or maybe replaced, filters changed, oil refreshed, and you only have a quarter tank of gas left. Again. The car is filthy. Your shoes rasp on gravel and mud on the rubber mat under your feet and seagulls have pooped repeatedly all over your car and it’s dry as concrete now. There must be a way to get that shit off but you will just wait for a hard rain and hope for the best. But the best turns out to be white streaks. When was the last time you replaced the wiper blades?
The laundry basket is full, your winter coats need dry cleaning, your kitchen floor is sticky. Sometimes the stove’s front burner will ignite nicely, sometimes not. You should change the brush on your electric toothbrush but that would mean figuring out what model yours is and that’s surprisingly confusing. You’re not even sure of the brand.
You should haul your recycling but the center is never open when you think of it, or it’s raining. Does the recycled plastic really go to Third-World countries where it is towed out into the ocean and dumped? How could you find out? Who would tell the truth about that?
Leaves from last year still litter your “garden.” People tell you to find somebody to help you but can’t really recommend anyone and no garden service companies return your calls so you might as well do it yourself but you don’t do it yourself because you don’t have energy or time.
The dust gets thicker.
You need groceries.
You get yet another warning about the pretty-soon-any-day-now big earthquake expected. They love to say intone the cliche, “It’s not if, but when.” This leads you down another rabbit hole. They tell you sternly you should have three weeks of water and food, an axe under your bed, shoes by the door, gloves to lift trees off the road as you flee for safety, cash and sleeping bag in your always-fully-gassed car, extra glasses and medication. Oh, and by the way, you have to rotate the food and water so it’s fresh. Be prepared! Would Amazon deliver an axe? Don’t forget batteries and flashlight. You spend some time hoping you will die quickly in the rubble so you don’t have to rebuild post-Apocalyse.
Certain things haunt you: the overstuffed boxes and folders of family photos and letters. Your own memorabilia. What the hell do you do with that? You risk taking a peek inside a box and grind to a halt with the first letter, or the old baby book, or the blurry polaroid. You must get these things sorted and discarded, but the homemade cards are Kryptonite that saps your willpower.
You should go to the office supply store for Post-its in bulk. Maybe that would help. Maybe if you buy accordion files or color-coded Pendaflex files you could get organized.
Have you done all your end-of-life paperwork? Have you clearly stated you want the window open when you are dying? What else have you forgotten? Think! Jot some notes! Maybe there is a template online but your printer needs ink.
You could use a full day to make appointments: teeth cleaning, hair cutting, toenail trimming. But you know your dental hygienist always lectures you about better flossing on that back molar; your hair cutter doesn’t seem to try any more; you are embarrassed by your feet.
The only food you want is not good for you, so you indulge yourself (guilt) or deny yourself (killjoy). It takes hours to think about food, plan it, buy it, put it away, cook it and clean it all up. Egg McMuffins look so good on the billboards. And easy too. You could use some self-care, but massage is a distant luxury, too complicated to make happen, so your personal self-care consists of not putting yourself through that.
You could use some new jeans but the idea of seeing yourself in 3-way mirror – in which store, and when, and how are you getting there? – these things stop you in your tracks. You should have your full-body scan by your melanoma-seeking dermatologist.
You should re-order prescriptions.
You could maybe do some sit-ups but there is nothing you can do about soft saggy skin, though a pop-up ad tells you there is. When you buy this product you will find it was a scam but it cost too much to just throw away so you have to find a place for it out of the public eye because the label says in very large print “Reverse the ugliness of aging skin.” You’re vain enough not to want to people to see that. Maybe add a discussion of vanity to the list of things to discuss with a therapist if you ever take the time to find one, make an appointment, and show up. By the way, it’s not a bad idea to have a list titled “Items to Discuss With Therapist.” Put that on your to-do list.
And then there are
Your primary care doc says you’re late for your mammogram. She wants you to have a bone density test to compare with the last one and you have to talk about osteopenia rapidly becoming osteoporosis (she tells you about this every f*cking time) and what medication might be useful. A friend’s teeth are crumbling from this medication but the doctor downplays that. Why is she so eager to give you this crap? She won’t say and you can’t pin her down. She’s standing with her hand on the door knob.
You have to talk a lot to doctors, although most have their eyes on a laptop. You have to be reasonable, demonstrate you are compliant and not a hypochondriac, be nice, tell them again the same things already in your file. If they chance on anything that needs further attention it will take over what little life you have left. You can reach out to some doctors online through Patient Portals which are complicated and finicky. You click on “make appointment” and the message back tells you there are no appointments in that time frame so please call the office. What you really want is a Patient Portal which teleports you to a doctor who has time for you, has a sense of humor, and never condescends or patronizes. Yes, and people want ice water in Hell. Put that teleportation Patient Portal on your Daydream Wishlist. You should have that wishlist somewhere. If you don’t, jot a note on one of your other lists to start a wishlist and keep it current so you won’t lose track of your dreams.
People want just a little bit of your time. Do you have a minute? Just one more thing…When you get a sec….When you have time…Can you zoom at 2? Can we meet next week? Could you have coffee on Monday or Thursday next week? Could you wave a sign for peace at the Main Street corner? Could you give a senior citizen a ride to the grocery store? If you can’t come to dinner on the 20th, could you suggest a few days that would work for you? What would you like to bring? What time? Put it on the calendar. You look ahead and you are scheduling for the month after next which will roll around faster than you think. Your calendar is a box canyon you’ve galloped into just before arrows start to rain down. Plan food for the dinner party you don’t want to have but you owe so many people and you really should. It’s daunting with all the dietary restrictions people have, but you really should.
A friend’s birthday is coming up. Gift? Card? Long or short message? When? What? She got you something really nice so you better get busy. Make a note to google “best gifts for an older woman.”
What should you do about Ukraine, Roe v. Wade, the midterm elections, the Nazis congregating at the community center? Oh yes, and Global Warming or Climate Change or whatever that particular doom is called now. You should look that up.
One big reason why death isn’t so bad: when you die this all goes away. Kids will just toss stuff because none of them want anything and they’ve told you that many times. They would make a killing on the house as is, and donate the car to NPR. Family archives in the dumpster. Easy-peasy.
They should find your funeral instructions in your paperwork so make time to be sure you have written those instructions. Tell them where the paperwork is and watch their eyes glaze over.
Death is the re-set you crave, a little bit of time floating in golden light before you take the plunge for a new life. That next one will be simpler, with somebody to cook for you, where you live in a loving community, where the earth is healthy, where your writing is crystalline and publishers prize your work. Maybe put that on your wish list. Oh, you haven’t started that yet? Time’s awastin’!
And as for those tsunami warning signs we have on Whidbey Island – take a closer look: there is no way that poor sucker running up the hill is ever going to outrun those waves. The tsunami – whether earthquake waves or daily digital deluge – the tsunami will win. But keep trying. Don’t be a quitter.
My gratitude to Janice for this exposé of our contemporary life!
FYI – There is a wonderful monthly literary/art magazine with the very unlikely title of Moss Piglet. The theme of the upcoming July issue is “Food, Glorious Food,” and we’ve been delighted to learn that BOTH Janice and I have had poems accepted for publication in that edition. I encourage you to take a moment to peruse some back issues, https://www.krazines.com/archives.html and maybe even subscribe. Each issue is a joyful explosion of color and creativity that will nourish your day.
(And if you have a few minutes more, you might want to google what a “moss piglet” is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IH3ABle9k7A . I can’t help but smile now, every time I think of this homely microscopic eight-legged critter, and how it will be the only one left to turn out the lights when every other thing on earth is gone.)