J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life in coffee spoons, I document mine in checkmarks. These marks live in my day timer, which I buy each year at Office Depot. In early January, I write down everyone’s birthdays for the year, highlighting them in yellow so I don’t miss them by mistake. Then I write down my tasks for the first of each month: load online coupons, invoice for columns, clean washer, check bank accounts. Then the checkmarks begin, which each day’s tasks written down with my No. 2 BIC pencil.
It’s almost embarrassing to admit how much satisfaction I get out of checkmarking off a task. Sometimes, if one checkmark is taking too long to accomplish, I’ll do a quick one, like watering the plants, so I get a quick mark and feel like I’m reaching my goals. The hardest checkmarks to obtain are of course the ones for writing. I get one checkmark for each hour I write and I try to get four of them each day. The working out checkmark is another one that’s hard won, but more often than not these days I get to tick that one off too.
If you look closely, the marks themselves are suggestive of how pleased I am to have completed the task. Taking out the garbage, while, yes, important, only gets a piddly little mark since it only takes 5 minutes. But getting that fourth hour done? Especially on a Friday afternoon? Hello, soaring mark, a quick but satisfying angle down, then up, up and away.
While a good day is one in which all my tasks and jobs get marks, I sometimes get pleasure out of not completing everything. Cleaning the toilets, that’s one that gets missed most often. Every Tuesday, I dutifully write that task down and at least every second week, I don’t accomplish it. While I know in my head this job only takes 15 minutes, and so could result in a relatively quick checkmark, I so hate to clean toilets that I’m far happier to have an incomplete checkmark day than bend over the bowl and scrub.
My friends, especially my younger ones, marvel at the fact that I still keep a traditional day timer. To them it’s akin to staying true to a typewriter or a Betamax.
“It all syncs up together,” they say, showing me their glowing phones and promising seamless day planning.
So I tried one week to get into the digital way of doing things. It was, I can unequivocally report, a disaster. First, it takes forever to text in the day’s duties — I haven’t mastered the two-thumb technique so my index finger looks like I’m trying to harpoon a fish with every letter — and half the time it autocorrects what I put in so that “meet B. Sizer” turned into “Vic Size eg.” Second, I had alarm bells going off every few hours for events I had inputted so I was in a constant state of panic.
“Quack, quack!” my phone would scream and I’d levitate off my chair in fear.
I’d look down and realize I was supposed to get my hair cut in 10 minutes and so bolt out of the house and forget my phone on the dining room table, resulting in, hello, me being without my phone and my day timer.
Of course, this all stems from the fact that I am badly in need of a better memory. Many people, I’ve noticed, are able to mentally keep track of their day’s responsibilities without any outside help. One of my friends, Sarah, even knows what day of the week a date falls on a month out. The other day, actually on Feb. 4, we were walking in the subdivision and I asked her about the possibility of a birthday dinner for our friend Candice.
“What about the 27th? I know it’s a long way out, but keep it in mind.”
“The 27th. That’s a Thursday. Owen has swim until 7, Evan has baseball sign up. I should be able to squeeze that in at 8 if Avah’s 7:30 feeding goes well.”
This fascinates me and I wonder how all that can be organized in her head. Does she see little file folders set up in a row, one for each child? Is there is a big yearly calendar scanned in there? Should I test her next time we meet and ask her what day of the week April 27, 2015 is? Will she already have plans for it?
Half the time, even with all my documenting, I don’t cross reference different compartments in my life — work, friends, house, vacation, birthdays, cars, what have you —so I’ll make plans with a friend for a walk thinking my day is completely free until I realize, whoops, I’ll be in Lexington getting my car serviced at that exact time.
But I try. God knows I try. And as I get ready to check mark the note in my day timer that says “write column,” I’ll look at it a little differently this time, perhaps even more fondly than I normally do. Because, like the coffee spoons, what that mark really represents is a little piece of life passing and that, small though it may be, deserves a moment of recognition.