Modern life has been good to us, bounteous even. Simulcast Game of Thrones season six, Segways, upside down hanging plants, CrossFit, smoothies. There is much to be thankful for. But for every blessing there is a curse. And, rather than empowering us, I fear the diversity of choice with which we are faced, the sheer pace at which everything happens, multitudinously swinging from one trend to another, can be paralysing.
I bumped into a friend the other day. "How are you?" I asked. "All right," she said. "You look tired," I said. "I'm exhausted," she said. I happily readied myself for a mutual gripe about late nights and cats fornicating outside your bedroom window. But she surprised me. "I just feel overwhelmed," she continued. "By what," I asked. "By life," she said. And she explained that she'd always been proud of how she juggled the competing demands of children, family, home, work and friends, but lately she'd begun to drop a ball or two, and now feared they might all come crashing down. She told me how squeezing in a trip to The Warehouse to get a birthday present for a party her daughter had received a last-minute invitation to, had almost tipped her over the edge.
That when she heard one of her favourite bands was coming, she'd felt not excitement, but dread, at the effort involved in purchasing the tickets, booking a babysitter, planning an outfit, settling on the best place for a pre-gig bite to eat. She felt, she said, a sense of panic at what she had to do, at what she hadn't done, and possibly never would. I got it. Leafing through the Auckland Writers Festival programme recently, I was overcome with indecision and, in the end, booked nothing. "Read the world" is the festival's tagline. I felt a deep sense of failure. I can barely get through my book club book each month.
It was only after we'd gone our separate ways that I thought of what I could have said to my friend. That she should write two lists. One for the big stuff, the stuff that's been hanging over her for a year, and, in all honesty, might still be there next year. Like clearing out her spare room, or enrolling in Spanish classes; things it would be nice to have happen, but which aren't imperative. That she should stash this list somewhere accessible, and revise it from time to time. And that she should write another list each night before bed, of everything the next day entails: appointments (even standing ones), things to remind the kids, what she's making for dinner, bills to pay, deadlines to meet. And every time she crosses something off, even if it's just walking the dog, she should perform a mental fist-pump.
And then I should have told her to tune out Marie Kondo and her life-changing magic of tidying up and all the other purveyors of peace of mind. To ignore anyone who tells her what she needs to do is make time for herself, get a massage, build meditation into her daily life.
Who doesn't want their de-cluttered drawers folded just so, their fascia worked over? But in the short term, these are just more things to fit in. And what really feels good, feels worthy of reward, is actually getting the job done. No amount of emptying your mind, of asking yourself if that suspender belt/breadmaker/home electrolysis kit sparks joy, will write that report/finish that presentation/make that call for you.
Remember, I should have said, to make time for regular exercise and quality sleep, but the rest, my friend, is extraneous.
And lastly, I should have told her that there is something to be said for being busy; that it signifies a full life. Listening to an easy listening radio station the other day (I know, I know!), I was confounded by the number of people who rang in requesting a song ("Anything by Bob Seger, please"), who, when asked what they were up to replied, "Nothing much." Surely having nothing better to do at 12.33pm on a Wednesday than listen to Bob Seger is not an enviable state of affairs.
Is anything troubling you? I'd love to hear from you.