(picture courtesy: The New York Times)
I always imagined that one day I would eventually (read: by the age of 40) retreat from the world (read: run away from people after renouncing the practice of law) to some faraway mountain for eternal ‘quality me-time’ (read: stare into an abyss from a house on the edge of a cliff). Live by Franz Kafka’s advice:
“Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
Because Kafka said it, my imagination took flights of the most naturesque (if that’s a word), poetic, sort. I pictured waking up to the chirrups of birds in the morning, watching my dog laze belly-up in the sun all day, fussing about the dark colouration over my elbows at night, then fixing it with an exotic oil from a wild plant outside my window.
Two months into the lately self-imposed (some tired administrator somewhere is having the last laugh) house-arrest courtesy COVID-19, I have retreated from the world alright. Only to make the scintillating discovery that ‘quality me-time’ is a myth.
In fact, there is no time at all! It is as if all the clocks have conspired to cut short the entirety of summer. An hour is no longer taking an hour.
As a prelude to this grand conspiracy, the clocks move faster by half an hour every time I resolve late-night to wake up early the next morning. Then, without explanation, the morning ritual of bed-tea, newspaper, shower and breakfast, which took 90 minutes in the reign of ‘Your Lordships’ and office timings, lingers until noon. By the time I get to my inbox and scan through the list of ‘to dos’ I am already tired, partly by the exertion of the morning ritual, partly at the sight of the ever-expanding list of ‘to dos’.
At this point, my phone begins to buzz incessantly. A painful reminder of the chicken-soup-for-the-corona-soul revolution underway on social media.
According to Instagram, my sister is growing yellow daffodils on the terrace of her London apartment. My best friend can do fifty push-ups in uncomfortable but camera-worthy gym outfits. And this girl from god-knows-where can knead her own pizza bread with one hand while cradling her angelic toddler in the other. My sense of wonder oscillates between their ‘survivor’ spirit and my complete lack of inclination to do anything. I fidget through my box of excuses and invariably settle on the only one: I have no time. Just then, so as not to go unnoticed for their pivotal performance in this scheme of things, the clocks do their trick once again! Apparently, hours have passed in my self-deprecating insta-stalking, although it felt like a few minutes.
The compulsive doer is probably rolling his eyes by now. One never ‘has’ the time, one has to ‘make’ the time. I couldn’t agree more. As a matter of fact, I regularly make time to add to cart some physical manifestation of my intended hobbies. I am the professor of a very precise science: product description, online reviews, size and colour and shipment period and payment options. It is not for everyone. If I spend too much time buying things on Amazon and waiting for them to deliver, it is because one can never start anything without the right paraphernalia. There will be time enough to use it later. It can sit beside the door until then, like the rest of the dumbbells and yoga mats and dry yeast for pizza bread.
Ok, alright, maybe I am the sedentary sort. Let me just say that it comes from being a real professional. I have one sentence for Mr. Compulsive Doer: the practice of law is a real job. Subtext: since my career is not a title I gave to my only hobby and actually requires me to do things within deadlines given by other people, excuse me for having no stamina left to discover my inner goddess.
That’s a really good point, Mr Doer would say, except that it doesn’t explain the ‘to dos’ bursting out of your inbox or your inactivity on Linkedin.
He would be right. Linkedin is experiencing its own version of the Instagram revolution. The explosion of webinars, papers, and drastic career decisions overtaking my home page is no laughing matter. These are lawyers finding things to do when there is, quite frankly, nothing to do. They are the true professionals. The ones with the real real jobs. The ones who are sure to make something of their lives while I sit around moping about silly things like the clocks.
Ah, the clocks! I lost track of them. They seem to have pirouetted petulantly on by several hours, as if upset at not being taken for serious conspirators. It is dinner time already.
It is unbelievable that I should have spent the entirety of my day figuring out how to use my day. Between tea cups and posted stories and proceed-to-pays and who-has-viewed-my-profile and right swipes and blue ticks. That would be an absurd waste of time. Like mindlessly turning radio stations in a car for just one feel-good song, except to proportions gone horribly wrong. It can’t be. I am now convinced that this is all a sinister plot to beguile me to my wit’s end.
That, or Kafka had no imagination. He was talking about the unmasking of a virtual world, in all its rolling ecstasy, to an insecure, distracted, status-hungry, 21st century consumer. That dull slob.