On Anticipation

My mom said I was an easygoing kid but I never saw it that way.

My body language is like the surface of a lake on a windless day, placid and still.  All of the action is happening underneath.

I look at other people and they seem to have an easier time moving from activity to activity.  I think of this state of being as doing the things.  Morning routines, work routines, exercise and picking up after oneself and making sure to re-fill the Brita filter pitcher when you’re done with it, putting the butter back, calling your doctor to reschedule an appointment, reading a news article then wordle then texting a friend, and so on all the way through the bedtime routine.  Some people seem to live life on more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants instinct than I do.  This seems to be a better way to live than the way I do it.

I don’t just do things.  I do things while worrying about the next thing to be done, reshuffling, prioritizing, and always dreading dreading dreading.  When the thing actually comes that I have to do, I find that it usually isn’t as bad as I thought it would be to do it.  Dishes, laundry, listening to my manager drone on in some meeting with a vendor — none of it is really that bad — all of these things are merely part of the varying tapestry of life — but when I anticipate them, they seem bad, the weight of the individual items adds up until, together, they feel crushing, and I cannot seem to help listing and re-listing the things to do in my head, as if I am going to miss something, and if I miss it, something catastrophic will happen — the world will collapse inward on itself, all life destroyed.

This doesn’t just apply to the day-to-day.  I anticipate the downward decline of my mother and having to care for her even though she is currently self-sufficient.  I anticipate the continued degeneration of my right knee, I feel my body is in a state of continual decay now that I’m past 40 and dread what is to come, I feel a horrible unease about climate change, warmer temperatures, the extinction of everything — I wonder what kind of future we have in store, Jennie and I, and if we manage to have a kid, what life will be like for them in, say, 2070, when they are my age.  Science says:  Not good.  At work I worry about getting called over the weekend, about a problem I didn’t resolve that might result in a service crash and business impact and paperwork to be filed.

And in my mid-20s, after working for a few years, I thought about doing what it is that I do for the rest of my life — software / Information Technology / Programming stuff — and I hated the idea so much that I considered radical career and lifestyle changes in an attempt to escape what I now think of as The Dread of Doing It Forever.  (And I did make some changes actually — I wound up learning how to save and invest in such a way as to become financially independent — I became frugal, I cut back on my standard of living, put money into mutual funds, found ways to make income passively — but that’s not the point of this diary entry.)

Part of me wants to do all the things just to get them over with.  Do ALL the laundry, finish ALL the dishes, save ALL the money for the future.

As best I can tell, these desires come from

a) An internal need for control and stability.  (This probably stems from my unstable childhood where I rarely felt any sense of control)

b) Some sense that bad things will happen if I don’t do all the things.  (This “sense” is frequently if not always wrong, of course — there are only a few things that will result in catastrophe if I neglect to do them and my rational brain knows this very well. Probably comes from growing up poor and insecure and feeling like I have to be “perfect” in order to overcome my crappy background and low socioeconomic status.)

c) A sense that once I’m done doing the shit that needs to be done, I can do the shit I actually want to do.  A sense that Doing All The Things will give me freedom of sorts.  (It doesn’t.  When I am done with things, my brain creates more things — I’ll suddenly decide I have to fix the shed door that doesn’t close right.  Or life creates more things — my mother in law ends up in the hospital and I have to go and visit for a couple of hours.)

The problem is that life doesn’t work that way.  You can’t front-load all of life’s unpleasantness into a few weeks and then coast the rest of the way.

Life requires, daily, a certain number of things to be done.  You can’t do all the exercise your body needs for the next year in a few days — you have to space it out because that’s the way bodies work — exercise, rest, recover, do it again, in spurts.  The same goes for relationships — you can’t give your partner all the love and attention they need all at once and then expect to never have to dote on them again.  Activities, entertainment, work — these things need to be rotated in and out of your days, sometimes in a scheduled fashion but also sometimes dynamically as the demands of the day require.

I don’t know that I can ever fix the anticipation — it’s such an integrated part of my personality and way of living to want to be productive and responsible — to be someone that can be relied upon, a competent and good person.  I know that this sense of anticipation helps me to be that person that I want to be.

If the anticipation — the feeling of having to do all the things every day — is getting in the way of doing things I want to do — things I want to do but won’t let myself do because of the higher priority things that I feel must be done — maybe the solution is to change the way I categorize things.

Part of the solution may be to try to think about things that I want to do (like writing a blog entry or finally cracking open my art supplies again and working on a painting) as something that must be done.

And the other part of the solution is probably to try to enjoy things more as I’m doing them.  To try to make them more fun.  Maybe I can get an audible membership, for example, and listen to a book on tape while I’m doing insulation in the basement or whatever it is that is currently on the list.

It’s something to think about.


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January 18, 2023

I share these thoughts. I really like the idea of thinking of the things we want to do as things that must be done. Perhaps we’d be a lot easier on ourselves if we could manage that. Also, I love your phrase “the varying tapestry of life.”