Pandemic Diary: On living life, versus “filling up time”

A text from a friend:

So what are you filling your time with before you start work? Want to go for a walk?

Oh yeah—I’m starting a new gig on April 5th, more on that in another post. This one is about “filling up time.” And, walks.

Let’s tackle walks first. I used to love walks. Walking the dogs, walking the kids, myself, you—I could spend hours being a flanneur, rambling city streets, alone or with a companion, perfectly happy.

One year into the pandemic (unhappy anniversary to us all, again), I am so thoroughly sick of walks as a social activity, I can’t even. If I’ve gone for a walk with you in the last few weeks, it means I really, really love you. And I probably won’t do it again, I just can’t, OMG, no, no more walks, let’s just sit somewhere and talk, please, my neck is already getting a crick in it from its two-hour tilt sideways in your direction, also, I’m getting anticipatory shin splints.

One of my loves wants to go hiking, again, and I’m pretty sure this falls in the category of walks and, honestly, we never went hiking together before the pandemic—actually, it’s quite lovely, fine, let’s do it, just don’t call it a walk through the woods. It’s a hike. Let’s not talk and march really fast, up hills and through the snow. Hike. Not walk. What you call things is important.

Him: You’re insane.

Jane: Pretty sure that, after a year of walks being the one legally sanctioned social activity, none of us are sane.

Enough about walks. Time, “filling up time.” I’ve written before about what the pandemic has done to our sense of time. Today, I want to focus on that terrible phrase—“filling up time.”

I have nothing much on my plate for this Friday. No deadlines, no dreaded Zoom meetings. Some chapters to revise on the memoir I’m ghostwriting, but my plan is to get to them on the weekend—Friday is kind of my unscheduled day off. I’ve got an in-person lunch—the first since, god, I can’t remember when—with a treasured colleague at noon. A “share a bar of chocolate” and “pick up some plant babies” drive-by outdoor visit at a friend’s house. In-between those two events, I’ve got to drive Cinder to work, and in the  morning, before the lunch—well, the usual: morning walk with Bumblebee as soon as I wake up, then morning pages, a writing sprint, some chores, meal prep, then, to the kids’ house to drop off Bumblebee, see Ender, walk the dogs again. I don’t have anything planned for the evening, not until it’s time to pick up Cinder from work. It’s not my night with the kids, and Ender’s going for a sleep-over with his (vaccinated!) grandma anyway, taking Bumblebee with him. I’m feeling kinda low energy and I think I might spend the night on the couch with Netflix and a book… if I feel a burst of energy, I’ll go grocery shopping, maybe go buy some pots for my new plant babies. The Sean texts—he’s working an evening event out of the house, and Flora’s feeling off, home alone. I text her, and we go to Value Village together, then out for Peruvian food. After supper, on my couch with the fireplace blazing, and Maggie the elderly Boston Terrier who didn’t get to go along for the sleepover at Grandma’s, I let Flora convince me to watch the first episode of Hannibal with her.

Flora: Am I still the child most likely to befriend a serial killer?

Jane: Or, be one.

Flora: You’re a terrible mother.

Jane: Or a very honest, insightful one?

I’m sorta kidding—and getting off topic—but also, I’m pretty sure that if Flora decided her grand master plan required the removal or you—or me for that matter—from the Earthly plane, she’d do it without hesitation. She’d feel mildly bad about it, maybe… but she’d do it.

Flora: And they wonder why I need therapy.

Jane: It’s ok. I’d probably help you hide the bodies. Well, unless it was one of your brothers. Please don’t kill them. Also, if you kill me, I can’t help you hide the bodies, so you’d better keep me around.

Mid-Hannibal, I get a panicked text from a client. You wouldn’t think there’d be such a thing as a Friday night writing emergency, but they happen more frequently than, say, Monday night writing emergencies. We pause Hannibal and Flora reads fan fiction while I deal with the emergency—then, yelp!, I’m late to get Cinder from work. Car. Drive. Son. He’s happy—he got another bonus at work. Schoolwork? Ugh, yes, he’ll get to it on the weekend.

We swing by my place to pick up Flora and the farting Boston Terrier (how can something that small and cute be that gassy—note to self, do more research on dog breeds next time you get a dog). I take the teenagers home, leave the family car in their driveway.

Walk to my home briskly, to finish dealing with my client’s emergency.

A friend texts as I’m finishing. He’s driving by on his way to work, night shift. Time for a quick hi? I just want to crawl into bed, to be honest, but pandemic, I haven’t seen him in forever—the last time he planned to drop by, I had to cancel because COVID scare at Flora’s school again, isolation, precautions. I say yes, and we have a brief but delightful visit. When he leaves, I check in with the client—is she going to be able to sleep tonight? Are we good? Have I pulled the chestnuts out of the fire? (She likes old British metaphors; I like thinking about chestnut trees.)

Yes.

I crawl into bed, with Death in Paradise on BritBox for company. I’m wiped, but happy. It was a very good day.

I realize that I didn’t respond to my friend’s text, you know, the one about how I’m filling up my time.

The answer, I suppose, is “with life.”

I’ll try to remember to text him tomorrow. And to convince him to do something other than a walk. Art galleries are open, outdoor social gatherings permitted. Takeout on the riverbank, coffee on my patio on a sunny afternoon? If you still don’t feel comfortable socializing inside, there are alternatives to the walk now that Spring is arriving, even in this corner of Viking Hell. Let’s do one of those. And let’s… live life, not “fill up time.”

Of course, if you do need to fill up time—by all means, go for a long walk.

Just, like… without me.

xoxo

“Jane”

4 thoughts on “Pandemic Diary: On living life, versus “filling up time”

  1. timely piece Jane, thank you.

    I catch myself all too often saying, “what should I put on the list to carry my time into the night”… I woke up this morning and for the first time in ages, started putting some uninterruptible summer plans together…and it felt amazing.

    you’ve been a delight to read for the past year. rare human thoughts

  2. Pingback: Pandemic Diary, the Collection from Nothing By the Book | Nothing By The Book

  3. Pingback: Work, kids, sleep, repeat—but also, revel: Stripping life to essentials, again | Nothing By The Book

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