I have a new pair of jeans that need to be hemmed. I actually bought the jeans a few months ago, and marked where they needed to be hemmed. I put them in the dry-cleaning pile, which my husband takes on weekends to the dry cleaner we’ve used for years, the business that also does our alterations. Alas, the dry cleaner is under new ownership, and the new people (quite reasonably) didn’t understand the old system we had for marking clothes that needed alterations. So my jeans returned at the same length, but dry cleaned.
However — you might be happy to note — this boomeranged errand has not resulted in my needing to write an angst-ridden essay about how difficult it is to accomplish errands in this difficult world, or even an essay on patriarchal assumptions of mental load (did my husband not have a conversation with the dry cleaners about what I wished done with my pants because he’s trying to make a point that cleaning and altering our clothes should be my job?? Given that he’s been bringing our stuff to the dry cleaners for the 15 years I have lived with him, this would be a rather delayed move in this battle.)
Instead, I put it back on my list. I figured out a spot of time I might deal with the problem. I devised a new method of indicating I needed my pants hemmed (clearly marking the hems with multiple pins and then safety-pinning a note describing the alterations to the pants). I put the jeans in the pile on a week in which my husband is also getting a pair of pants hemmed, with him also adopting my pin-and-note system, thus increasing the likelihood that the dry cleaners will notice and that my husband will mention it when he goes in. It would have been nice if it happened the first time, but life seldom goes perfectly. When it goes wrong, you figure out what happened, and you try again. In the grand scheme of things, this is not exactly a big deal.
People who read a lot of online essays might have already guessed that I just made it through the “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation” essay BuzzFeed published about two weeks ago. Author Anne Helen Petersen, who seems to be in her late 30s, writes that Millennials are gripped in the throes of “errand paralysis.” But it’s not because people are lazy. It’s because life is overwhelming. “‘To adult’ is to complete your to-do list — but everything goes on the list, and the list never ends,” she notes. She writes that young people have spent their lives being told if they just worked harder and made the right decisions, life would go swimmingly. But in an uncertain economy where jobs-for-life are rare, it turns out there are no certain decisions. You have to keep figuring things out, trying things that sometimes don’t work. Which, apparently, is a really hard thing to get your head around. “The end result is that everything, from wedding celebrations to registering to vote, becomes tinged with resentment and anxiety and avoidance.” Her conclusion is that “Maybe my inability to get the knives sharpened is less about being lazy and more about being too good, for too long, at being a Millennial.”
It was a long essay. It roped in everything from Marie Kondo to being worried about war with North Korea. It was also perfectly designed to be shared, with people who felt it described them wanting to share it to say “hey, I’m not lazy! Larger forces are keeping me down!” and other people sharing it with the sentiment “you have got to be kidding.” There’s a lot to pull out of here if your sentiments tend toward the latter. Petersen wants us to know that “While writing this piece, I was orchestrating a move, planning travel, picking up prescriptions, walking my dog, trying to exercise, making dinner, attempting to participate in work conversations on Slack, posting photos to social media, and reading the news. I was waking up at 6 a.m. to write, packing boxes over lunch, moving piles of wood at dinner, falling into bed at 9. I was on the treadmill of the to-do list: one damn thing after another.” Many readers of this blog might note the absence of caregiving responsibilities on this list. Waking up at 6 a.m. to write sounds like a day at the spa when you’re in a world where your baby wakes you up at 5 a.m. to eat, after having fought sleep the night before. Falling into bed at 9 and staying there? Wow!
But I don’t think it’s tremendously helpful to get into a game of whose life is harder. The life of anyone with the ability to read this essay and the internet connection to find it is a walk in the park compared with a lot of the world, so parsing gradations of victimhood is not the best use of anyone’s time.
Instead, I think there’s a certain helpful mindset for getting through life. I feel that being “productive” means spending time on things that are meaningful or enjoyable to ourselves or the people we care about. Of course, there are also plenty of things in life that don’t fit in any of these categories. They also still need to get done. Does this mean that not all time is spent productively? Yes! We can try to minimize these things, or do them efficiently, or outsource them if possible, and all of these are great ideas, but the idea that all of life will be perfectly optimized is just ridiculous. We acknowledge this tacitly by spending, say, 45 pointless minutes on Twitter. But the idea that one might need to go to the post office and wait in line? Cue the angst.
But this angst is a choice. You can also decide that there are some good moments in life and some not-so-fun moments. Such is the human condition. Oh well. My approach to errands is just to put those I can’t delegate on the list, choose a time to do them, and do them. While it would be nice to get a trophy for these errands, sadly, the trophy is not forthcoming. Instead, we can give ourselves a little internal pat on the back and move on.
While writing this essay, I took a break to go put gas in my car, since there wasn’t going to be a great time to do this later. This was fairly thankless and not fun, as I had to scrape the snow off my car and maneuver around the trash cans at the end of my driveway (as the snow is delaying pick-up — which is actually a tough job on a day like today, as opposed to waking up at 6 a.m. to write, but I digress). Then, when I showed up at the gas station, the pumps that I can easily access that match the side my gas tank is on were all in use. I had to turn around and enter the gas station from a different side!
So I did. Perhaps there is a metaphor for life in this. Or maybe it just is life sometimes. I’ll probably go with the latter.
In other news: Last week I posted an essay warning people to be careful with the word “crazy.” I mentioned the anecdote from The Ambition Decisions where a woman’s Rethinking of Everything was sparked by being in 3 countries in 24 hours. In a conversation with my husband yesterday, I realized that he had pulled that hat trick again this week. He flew Sunday night from PHL to London. He had meetings in London on Monday. Early Tuesday, he flew to Geneva (Switzerland) for meetings. Geneva apparently had a lot going on, because he couldn’t get a hotel room and wound up staying over the border in France, which sounds exotic, but is actually only a few miles away. So not only was he in the UK, Switzerland, and France in the course of 16 hours, he had hit 4 countries in less than 48 hours. All this while I spent much of the first half of the week in Texas! Yet as far as I can tell, this has not inspired a Rethinking of Anything, let alone of everything. I’m now home and he’s now home and going to the dry cleaner in his usual fashion. We can choose how to tell our stories.