A stack of books on an impossibly-wide range of topics reaches chest-high atop my bedside table. They wheeze out to me from behind a thin layer of dust—“READ ME!” “Have patience!” I bargain, “I’ll get to you soon!” even though—both the books and I know—I’d rather lay back and read the ceiling for now. And, well, that’s just what I’m doing. Empty your mind…empty your mind. Pleading with myself to empty my mind...a shockingly ironic oxymoron.
As we have slowly begun to emerge from pandemic chaos and return to some degree of normalcy, I’ve found it difficult to find time to treat myself. With no work during the first part of quarantine, I allowed my uncle to recruit me into a campaign of outdoor tasks at his Long Island home. Suburbanites have a habit of letting tasks pile up over the course of several millennia. Thus began several months of digging up four tree stumps the width of California redwoods, pulling out the adjoining roots, tearing down the old fence and putting up a new one, then another one for a neighbor, and working on his dinosaur of a pickup truck. After all this, my work opened back up and I went right into it.
Many months later, here I am, a slug on a bed. My attention turns to my body. My feet hurt after two straight weeks of consistent running, exercise, and work. My shoulders are sore after another harrowing day spent helping my uncle put up yet another fence (for the other neighbor, of course). I feel a touch dehydrated, but I think I’ll wait on getting that glass of water, the bed is too comfy. For now, I’ll relax, relax, relax. Yet, just as my shoulders have begun to loosen up a bit, I remember I have to watch a classic film for class.
The grind—like the gremlin creatures from the eponymous movie, “Gremlins”—at first innocent, yet eventually growing into a real bitch, multiplying again and again, and showing up at every goddamn corner of my life…bastards. It is a never ending slog, toward what? It would be nice if it were free pizza, or maybe a gold toilet or something. Heck, I’d even take something cheap and disposable, like the plastic sunglasses you used to win with the tickets from Chuck-e-Cheese.
Grinding ever forward, in a few days I’m taking the real estate exam. Despite having wrapped the 75-hour prerequisite course ages ago, I took a long break to begin a 24-week Computer Science course. The course has winded down, and I am more thoroughly confused with the material now than I was before starting. I took my textbook and pitched it out the window. The book was still where it landed when I walked out of my apartment the next day, proving that the people of New York have little patience for the art of C++ coding; I don’t blame them.
My attention goes to my breath…up, down, in, out, like a wave. Slowly, I begin to relax. All is quiet. My head is almost clear. It’s been so many weeks of work, struggle, focus, and learn that I forgot what 15 minutes of meditative quiet time felt like. You know what I could use right now? Ice cream. And so it is that I’m sitting in the parking lot of the ice cream shop near my uncle’s house, holding a large Pistachio—yes, I’m an old man—ice cream cone and staring at planes taking off from Farmingdale airport.
We think of treating ourselves as something that needs to be extravagant, and social media tells us it should be. Relaxed bathing suit-clad bodies stare out from behind sunglassed eyes, wading in the waters of exotic far-off beaches. Sometimes, they sport a monkey on their shoulder with a caption like, “Living my best life! #vacay” or “#sunkissed” or whatever—insert cliché here—they can come up with. I’m not jealous; in fact, I’ll probably do the same thing when my vacation comes around, I love monkeys.
With pandemic chaos, hopefully, in our rear view mirror, let’s not simply throw ourselves back into the ceaseless grind. Let us instead remember that hard work and earnings are nothing without something to spend it on. Treat yourself from time-to-time; it can be as simple as going to the movies with a friend or walking in the park and watching the birds flutter by or, of course, grabbing a bite of ice cream. It can be appreciating the way the sun throws a glint across the Hudson as it sets in the sky. Or it can be noticing how the bee collects pollen from the flowers for its hive, moving from one plant to the next, coming away with more and more of a collection until it flutters off to its home—and you think you’re busy?? It can even be laying on your couch, staring at the ceiling, doing absolutely nothing at all.