Letting Things Slide

There are things that you know you shouldn’t do, that you pretend to resist doing, but that you know you’re going to do anyway. Like opening a bag of chocolate chips with no intention of baking. On a day when you’ve already eaten frozen yogurt and an almond croissant.

Or sliding oh so casually from semi-upright to horizontal on the couch instead of going upstairs and brushing your teeth when it’s very near bedtime. Or clicking on Facebook in the middle of writing a blog post. Not this blog post, no, surely not.

Our resistance, though futile, is well-intentioned. We might not enjoy the results of these things. Our pants might be a little tighter or our work a little sloppier for lack of sleep, but sometimes, I think, it’s OK. In fact, a little celebration may be in order.

We have an unending litany of things to get right in this culture—health, career, appearance, family, house, garden, etc.—and we need to take it easy on ourselves once in a while. Letting something mostly harmless shift from not OK to OK now and then could help us realize that life might actually be OK much more of the time than we think.

I don’t mean eat the entire bag of chocolate chips—unless it’s the day you really need to—or give up on flossing all together. I think this is another area where David Roche’s Church of 80% Sincerity has the right idea. Being human, we can only strive for self improvement about eighty percent of the time. For the other twenty, pass the chocolate chips.

You Cannot Improve It

I experienced a moment of not worrying about anything last night. My sister and I had just finished video chatting about our backpacking trip. I was reading a friend’s post on Facebook and listening to my sister and my dad, who is visiting, catch up.

Nothing was more in order than it usually is. It was after 9:00; I hadn’t begun this blog post; the dinner plates were still on the table. But for unknown reasons, none of this particularly concerned me

Maybe because it is summer, and in summer, unless you are a farmer, it is a little easier to let things slide, to revel in the earth’s bounty, to believe that everything is going to work out. Or maybe we simply don’t care so much if it doesn’t because after all it is warm and sunny outside and the jacaranda trees are blooming.

Or maybe the Facebook post  gave me piece of mind. It showed a post in the xkcd forums that consisted of an entertaining series of historical quotes, beginning in 1871, about how we’ve always thought that life is speeding up, that people are too distracted to think deeply, that the new form of communication is ruining our use of language.

I wonder if this larger tendency of the human race is reflected inside my head, if the endless hamster wheel of how I and the world could be better “if only” is really no more worrisome than the fear that reading newspapers in the train car kills the art of conversation and makes people antisocial.

Chapter 29 of the Tao Te Ching says, “Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it? I do not believe it can be done. The universe is sacred. You cannot improve it.”

Bird song is floating in through my window. Just for today, I might try believing Lao Tzu.

Note: The blog and I will be on vacation in the high Sierras next week. Here’s wishing you all a few breaths of alpine air.

Escaping Achievement

Saturday was a Day of Planned Non-Productivity. Translation: I stayed in my pajamas until an hour that cannot be mentioned publicly and proceeded to do nothing at all. On purpose. It was fantastic.

box of popcorn and film with movie framesPlease do try this at home. Instructions: Rent as many movies as you can comfortably watch in a day. Comfortably is important. This is a day for floating not for becoming an expert on the history of film. Documentaries or dramas about the world’s problems are not allowed. This is not denial—it’s a break. I highly recommend renting the night before so you don’t have to leave the house if you don’t want to.

I chose a cartoon, a romantic comedy, and a supposedly heartwarming slice of life. Warning, save Mike Leigh films for productive days: they will likely teach you something about somebody’s problems.

Suspend all obligations and attempts at self-improvement, including those eternal ones such as, “It’s a nice day. I should go outside and enjoy the sunshine.” Remain vigilant: obligation creep is insidious and can disguise itself in cunning forms, such as the door knob you’ve been meaning to fix for months or Great Aunt Mildred who is 92 and recently bought an iPad and has sent you a week’s worth of emails you have not yet answered.

Lie on the couch in your pajamas and watch the movies. Eat cereal for three meals, or frozen pizza, or popcorn and hot chocolate. Only eat vegetables if you enjoy them as much as you enjoy ice cream; do nothing for the sole purpose of being healthy—“being healthy” is code for obligation and self-improvement all rolled up in one. Scary, I know.

Guilt may tempt you. We Americans have a productivity addiction problem. We measure our days by how much we accomplish rather than whether we enjoyed what we did or were kind to the people we met. We don’t consider it odd to answer the question, “How was your day?” with “I got this and that done.” We are accustomed to confusing doing and being.

Planned non-productivity takes this mentality into account and transforms doing nothing into an accomplishment. You don’t have to change all your unhealthy cultural norms to take a day off; you simply make relaxing a goal and voilà! an answer to that voice in your head telling you you should be doing something.

I confess that Sunday Night Guilt, second cousin of the gunk monster, caught up to me when looking at the piles of unwashed clothes and the pot rack still covered in paper two weeks after painting. (Yes, seriously.) But Saturday itself was a rare event for me, a day during which existence sufficed without any attempts to mold it. Let’s hear it for cartoons and popcorn.