It's ten-thirty on a Sunday night. Usually, at this time, I'd be with my comrades of Sea Tea Improv, sitting around at Vaughan's pub, drinking Ten Penny ales and talking about something funny we'd read or seen or did. But, since our members are busy with so many fabulous things now (teaching our own classes, seeing shows in New York, shooting sketches), we cancelled rehearsal and our subsequent hangout tonight, and I'm left here in my apartment alone, wondering if I made the most of the last fourteen days. I had logged a tremendous amount of comp time at The Mark Twain House and decided to take it all in one fell swoop this winter. For the last two weeks I've been mostly at home, under my own jurisdiction. You may wonder: what did I do?
I finished things. I finished six books I was in the middle of; I finished writing a number of letters. I cleaned out every closet in this apartment; I polished off a lot of Christmas candy. I watched all of Downton Abbey, Portlandia, the current season of the Biggest Loser, and Sherlock.
I discovered that some things are truly neverending: my Netflix queue, literary magazines, dishes, and vacuuming. These particular things make me feel like a hamster in a wheel, although I enjoy working on all of them to a degree I found shocking. Particularly the dishes. I will do dishes any time.
There were a few attempts at self improvement, I'll admit. I recently got a juicer and vigorously juiced carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, kale, fennel, celery, and parsnips on the one hand; grapefruit, pears, blackberries, apples, and bananas on the other. I have a brand-new and passionate relationship with the parsnip now. I also cooked a great deal more than usual. Tofu was fried. Ravioli was boiled. Eggs were doused with both Worcestershire and Sriracha sauces. Pecan chocolate chip banana bread was baked. I made some unbelievable brussels sprouts, roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I ate things out of the refrigerator that usually languish in the back, like applesauce and super-hot pickles. I drank something in the range of 40 cans of seltzer, and I'm drinking one now. Actually, I just finished it, and I'm about to open a new one. Excuse me for a second.
I slept in so late for me-- 8:30-- and went to bed early, say, midnight. Improv knows no vacations, so I also helped launch a new monthly show, taught five seventh-grade Hartford Performs programs, held rehearsal at our place, answered a shitload of emails, and ran our Annual Meeting. Speaking of which, I also went into work at the Twain House one night to represent our book club and attend that annual meeting.
The guest at that meeting was a professor from the Ballard Institute of Puppetry, and it was worth going just to see him. Puppets are coming ever-larger into my slightines these days. The day before I began this vacation, I went into New York to see Avenue Q. Three days ago, I went back into New York to see War Horse. I was seated separately from my friends, and was between a couple watching in silent shock and a woman who cried for the entire two hours. I loved both, but I loved the life-sized horse puppets more.
I tried-- and got shockingly close-- to get my to-do list down to zero items. Normally, I have between a hundred and two hundred items on there. As of this moment, I have only seven. (The failure is so bitter, but there's no way I can finish five books, buy a particular cable, and mail out the last of my Christmas cards tonight. So bitter.) I made eye doctor appointments, printed posters, finagled budgets, ordered a knife sharpener and sharpened my knives myself, returned an ankle brace to its rightful owner, got rid of bad DVDs, put things in the mail, sorted files on my computer. I dragged out the Christmas tree. I tried to be PRODUCTIVE, the great American virtue which, I'll admit, I am perversely obsessed with these days. It all started on a snow day in January 2011 and I've been trying, and failing, to get my to-do list to zero ever since that day. I wish I'd saved the crossed-out list of everything I did, but I deleted it in a moment of glee when it was done.
But all of those things were mere distractions from my two main purposes: be a writer, and be an athlete.
I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote. I'd written six new essays in a week for a reading at Real Art Ways only a few days before my break, and I wrote five more in the two weeks I was here, and many blog posts, too. On Friday night I read one of my new pieces at La Paloma Sabanera in front of a whole new audience, and it was good. I submitted the same piece to a national publication; we'll see how that goes. I wrote a huge number of letters by hand (maybe 80) and about the same amount in journaling. It never feels like enough, never. I wrote about the similarities of running and writing, I wrote about Mark Twain, I wrote about what it feels like to improvise, I wrote about my fictional north stars, I wrote parodies. On this blog I covered jellyfish, heroes, books, dizziness, my reading series, and Christmas cards. None of this feels like enough.
And, to train for the Tough Mudder, I got very serious. I ran a total of eighteen miles and lifted lots of weights. Truth be told, it was the best part of the break. It felt so good to work so blindly hard at something. Working on this race is the hardest thing I've ever done in certain ways. I've been dreaming about doing pullups. Good ones. At this moment I can barely move because my body is trying to heal itself from a sixteen-part circuit I did yesterday.
But nothing, nothing feels like enough. I'm scared to go back to work and say "this is what I did." I know that I'll always feel like I could have done better. My gadgets are charged, my clothes are washed, my bag is even packed: but the to-do list reigns supreme. The goals, the projects, the calendar.
One eight-hour work day isn't going to take everything away-- I'll be the same person, just a little bit more organized. I do feel more peaceful. I love my home more. I'm rested and full of carrot juice. The entire back side of my body (shoulders, back, butt, hamstrings) are sore from my forcible attempts to improve myself. I have many more books to recommend.
Did I learn things? Yes. I learned that it is still absolutely wonderful to get photos developed and pick them up days later, and that you'll still open them on the steps of the camera shop and rifle through them. I learned that Greg owns every season of Robot Chicken. I learned a lot about Steve Jobs. I learned how to edit posters with Photoshop-like applications. I learned that no one can comfort me like Greg. I learned what the cats do all day when we're not here. I learned what I thought about many things I've been writing about.
Two weeks under my jurisdiction, and here is what the jury of one says: I have an excellent life. I live it to the point of gluttony. And I am grateful for it all. Now, to attack my job again. Full force. I'm working late two nights this week, and have whiskey club on Wednesday. I can already tell that things will be the same, and different. Productive and peaceful both.