I love the morning of a day with nothing planned. But it also fills me with dread. I am America, and this is my story on this Fourth of July.
It is rare to have nothing planned. It is a luxury, in fact, that many people covet. During the week, there’s work. On the weekend, there are usually plans that I may or may not have been a part of creating. This past Friday, I unexpectedly had the day to myself — the kids in camp, my manager happy with my week’s work and willing to indulge a little pre-Fourth loafing — and my wife banging away on a deadline.
Each morning, I’m certain of one thing — I’m going to have coffee. A really strong cup of coffee, the milk heated 44 seconds in the microwave. A really perfect cup of coffee. Beyond that, though, on a day with no plans, it gets a little fuzzy.
On a day with no plans — especially on a beautiful, perfect day with no plans — my heart races, and it’s not just that coffee. It’s the possibilities, stupid — the seemingly endless possibilities for the day. In my mind, I’m doing everything, all in one day. The little nagging chores — the dust bunnies on the basement stairs, the weeds poking out between the driveway and the stone wall — I’m doing those in a flash. Devising a way to send my lover a gift, and deciding what it will be — all laid out in front of me, ready for me to do in an instant. Writing a blog entry about the kids, so long overdue, so much more about the future than about the now. Exercising — finally using those running shoes that are built for cross-country running, going over to that woodsy park. Smoking a little bit of pot — hmm, now we’re drifting into lullaby, no-productivity-land, but so be it — it’s my day, right? Isn’t it? Oh — and I’ll go run those errands that I never get to. Home Depot. Oh, and maybe I’ll dig up those borders in the front where the shrubs used to be, then I’ll design an entire garden and plant it — yeah, and I’ll do that today. With time left for lazing in the back yard, or for throwing the ball around with my son when he gets home. And of course I’ll finally acknowledge my nephew’s birth — send a card, or a gift.
I am so excited on such a morning! I’m going to do it all, because I’m infinite. I am all possibilities — I am America, and this is my story.
And then — the day starts. The coffee cup is empty. It’s time to decide what to do, really. And that’s when the dread starts. Because time begins to slip away — even lingering over the coffee takes time. The number of hours left for myself dwindles, and every little thing takes time. What I do seems paltry compared with what I hoped to do. Every action, every decision eats into the rest of the day, and costs ten alternatives. The dread comes from wanting everything but not feeling driven in any one direction, of not having a Must-Do thing on my mind, not having one thing that makes me tick, that goes to the top of the list, a thing that is my “ultimate concern” and my center, my purpose — I don’t have that one thing I can’t wait to do, or that I Must Do.
I can’t do it all, I realize. I must decide, I realize. Do I squander that time on myself? Do I fulfill an obligation? Do I make art? Do I do something that’s only a beginning, that may never be completed? And the clock keeps ticking.
I am America, and this is my story. I am infinite possibility meeting its ugly brother, the finite. And I must decide what to do – which responsibilities to shoulder, which to shirk. Whether to sink into consumerist oblivion or wake up and — do what? Is it all about me? Or is it all about us? A little bit of both with a pinch of nothingness?
Happy Birthday, America. May you act based on your center or, lacking a center, may you take a day off, stop being so damned productive and try to find it.