The Unplanned Day: When the Infinite Meets Its Ugly Brother

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.

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About David

Prone to musing and to being prone. Father to two, writer, engineer.
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6 Responses to The Unplanned Day: When the Infinite Meets Its Ugly Brother

  1. gammaword says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed the post — and happy floating to you (sounds like a perfect way to spend this hot afternoon). And now I have this wonderful image of finding a salamander under a rock.

  2. alphabetfiend says:

    I hope you SMOKED & SHIRKED!!!

    Yet somehow I doubt it. What did you do?

    Oh, absolutely beautifully written BTW.

    SMOKE!!! SHIRK!!!

    • gammaword says:

      Smoked and shirked, in fact. Sat in the yard and just noticed everything, but watched nothing in particular. I had lots of great ideas that I wanted to write down, except each time I’d get up and go inside to start typing, by the time I got there I generally had forgotten why I had come into the house — or I would find something equally fascinating along the way. But I kept going back to the chair in the middle of the yard. A few days afterwards, I found a cryptic note to myself about bees, and trust, and boundaries, and territory. All in all it was a very productive day.

  3. alphabetfiend says:

    Oh I love those smoky coded notes-to-self that you run across like crumpled receipts or wadded gum wrappers.

    Sounds like the bee thing might be a short story….???

    So, tell me, if you wrote a book –any kind of book, genre, lit-fiction, short-fiction, self-help, memoir, non-fiction — what would it be?

    Cause I been sensing a book….

    • gammaword says:

      If I wrote a book, it would have to become the text for the next great world religion. Anything short of that, I’m just a failure.

      Ah, but seriously…you are the one with the book(s) in you.

      • alphabetfiend says:

        You say that and yet couldn’t you see how all these essays and articles you’ve done here could come together as a whole? Or how a single one could form a fine foundation? Doesn’t hafta be fiction!

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