I’ve got a new work schedule, and it involves getting the mail as often as possible. Yesterday, I went out to retrieve it twice, even though it was there the first time. That’s how antsy the new arrangement makes me. Also, I am uncharacteristically on top of vet appointments, permission slips and putting away the pots and spatulas in the dish drainer. Why? After years–decades, really–of working as a journalist on a tight weekly deadline (write Friday, publish Saturday, see your byline Monday), I am now working with someone on a book whose deadline stretches to what feels like the next millenium: Christmas.
As an independent freelancer, I am accustomed to juggling many projects at once–writing, editing, teaching, researching, blogging–but now all my time and attention are focused more or less on just one. For a deadline-driven, lifelong master procrastinator, that’s like a license to embrace distraction. It means suddenly I’ve got plenty of time for the things I’ve put off for years, like riding my bike and napping. Now, instead of conscientiously restricting my Scrabble and Words with Friends play, I am actively looking for new games. Anyone? And when I run out of fun distractions, I’m perfectly happy to tackle the mundane ones; the other day I was so desperate for procrastination that I actually washed all the towels and sheets, possibly for the first time this year.
My family, in fact, may be the biggest beneficiaries of my new schedule. As it turns out, I even prefer folding laundry and wiping down counters to writing a book. Running errands is like a dream come true: post office? My pleasure. Library books due? No problem! The dogs are enjoying their new walk routine. Even making dinner now shines like a bright reward at the end of the day, instead of the deadly chore it used to be. I mean, I have to feed my family, right? I can’t help it if the meal requires a trip to the fish market as well as the specialty food store, or a complicated preparation involving thrice-rinsed quinoa and pureed lemongrass! The pizza delivery guy must be wondering what happened to us.
On the other hand, my children may soon tire of all my “free time.” In a grotesque role reversal, I have interrupted more than one child engrossed in homework by whining, “I’m bored. What can we do?” And they are already annoyed by my latest alternative to working: uncovering new signs of aging in the mirror! Alarmed by a previously undetected patch of gray hair the other morning, I handed my 9-year-old a pair of tweezers and instructed her to get plucking. She dismissed me with, “I don’t see any gray hairs,” and feigned concern that she might be late for school. When I carefully lifted one to show her, she said, “Oh! You mean the white ones. Yeah, I see those.” For that, I made her inspect my entire head with a flashlight and yank them all out.
Don’t get me wrong: I am actually working, at least much of the day. I spend a lot of time reading and taking notes, and find the material quite engaging and challenging. In the back of my mind, I hear the voices of everyone I know who has ever worked on a book: Pace yourself; it takes longer than you think. So I make deals with myself: read five more pages and I can have a Hershey kiss! Send three emails and I get to go to the gym! And when things turn really desperate, I resort to: make two more phone calls and I can switch the clothes from the washer to the dryer! When I finish annotating this article, I’ll get the mail [again]! So if anyone needs dry-cleaning picked up, I can do it as soon as I finish writing this paragraph.