I like to feel productive. At the end of the day, I like to feel as if I’ve gotten a lot accomplished, and therefore I deserve to sit on the couch watching Parks and Recreation and eating a chocolate cupcake. Which is why I have been feeling a little cranky lately. Because, although I’ve been eating cupcakes and watching Parks and Rec, I have not been feeling like I deserve it.
Lately, with moving to a new city and starting a new job and planning a wedding and trying to get new health insurance (which, in Minnesota, seems to be IMPOSSIBLE), I have not had as much time as I’d like for writing, and my to-do list of non-writing-related tasks keeps growing exponentially. In short, I feel unproductive when it comes to my chosen career.
On Tuesday, I had my whole day planned out nicely: First, writing in the morning. (Finally! A whole morning uninterrupted!) At 11:30 I’d Skype tutor then head to my job working with college kids. After work, I’d go on a Target run, followed by an actual run along the river if I could squeeze it in before sunset. Then I would make hamburgers for dinner, and after dinner I’d work on the wedding gift registry.
But things did not go as planned. First of all, it had been so long since I’d worked on my novel, I had to spend the whole morning reading what I’d already written just to remember what exactly the story was about. So although I caught a few typos and added a descriptive sentence or two, I didn’t actually make any forward progress.
At work, I thought about my post-work plans while helping a student study for a bio test. “And how do eukaryotic cells differ from procariotic?” I asked him, looking down at the flashcard and trying to remember what I needed to buy at Target.
Then I blinked. Half of the word “eukaryotic” was missing, and, when I looked up, I realized that my student’s face was similarly marred by white blotches. I blinked again and tried to remain calm. My vision had suddenly become a slice of Swiss cheese.
“OK, let’s talk about different types of bonds,” I said. I picked up the white board and started to draw two smiling atoms sharing an electron. I could barely see anything I had just drawn, and when the white spots momentarily subsided, the atoms on the board blurred in and out of focus. Along the edges of my vision were squiggles of pulsating light, and the student’s face looked like it was melting. I knew what was going on, of course. I was having an aura, and I was about to get socked with a major migraine. Either that, or I had accidentally swallowed some acid.
But it was probably a migraine.
By the time work was over, my vision was mostly back to normal, but as soon as I walked out into the parking lot, some of the shimmering squiggles returned to the edges of my vision. I called Paul. “I just want to warn you that I was having an aura earlier, and I’m probably about to get a terrible migraine,” I told him. “My aura was really bad. I could barely see.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t be driving,” Paul suggested.
“No, I can see now,” I said, thinking it best not to mention the pulsating squiggles. It would only worry him. “So I’m just going to go to Target to pick up some stuff we need, and then I’ll be home, probably with a terrible headache.”
“Maybe you should just come straight home,” Paul said.
“No,” I said. “Because my headache is probably going to require me to lie in bed in the dark for the rest of the evening, so I’d like to get something accomplished before that sets in.”
You see, I was still worried about being productive. I knew that my headache was going to render me useless for the rest of the night, and I was afraid of not getting enough stuff done to deserve my cupcake. Already I had made no progress on my novel. Now this migraine was going to mean I would make no progress on the gift registry or the long list of household items we needed to buy for our apartment.
“Do you want me to go to Target for you?” Paul asked.
“No. I’ll do it,” I said.
“Ummm…. OK. But if you can’t see, you should pull the car over.”
I drove out of the parking lot and headed towards the highway. The front of my forehead was starting to throb. I merged into the jumble of five-thirty traffic, and when I looked into the distance, I couldn’t quite get my eyes to focus on the green signs. But still, I was determined to get to Target and cross at least one thing off my list.
I managed to make it to the downtown exit and stopped at a red light. Out of the corners of my eyes, I saw soap-bubble-colored squiggles and the sun was sort of acting like a strobe light. I put on my blinker and tried to change lanes so I could make the turn towards Target. A large crinkle of pulsating light slashed across my vision. And it suddenly occurred to me that I was being insane. I was having trouble seeing. I should not being going to Target, much less driving around downtown Minneapolis. I needed to go home and stop worrying about my productivity.
A few minutes later I was, thankfully, parked in the lot outside our apartment building. I went inside, drew the shades, and laid down o the bed, letting the headache rip its way through my skull.
Surprisingly, my migraine didn’t turn out to be as bad as I expected. It was terrible for an hour, and then mostly manageable for the rest of the night. I was even able to work on the gift registry with relative ease.
Then Paul and I watched two episodes of Parks and Recreation, and I ate a chocolate cupcake. But still, I didn’t feel like I deserved it.
The question is why? Why am I so obsessed with this idea of being productive all the time? Why was I willing to sacrifice my safety (and the safety of other drivers around me), just so that I could cross something off my to-do list? At the end of my life, am I going to be looking back, reminiscing about my own productivity?
Yesterday, I finished reading through the fifty pages I’ve written of my new novel. Then I brainstormed about what’s going to happen next and wrote a few new pages. So it’s not like progress isn’t being made. Things get done in their own time.
I might not make progress in writing every day. And that’s probably OK. Two steps forward and one step back will get me there eventually. And some days I might not take any steps at all. That’s probably OK, too. I’ll take two steps tomorrow. Maybe life isn’t about constantly moving forward and always being productive. Maybe it’s about learning to be content with where I am for now. Even if that place is only on the couch, eating a chocolate cupcake. Actually, when I think about it, that place doesn’t sound too bad…