Remember the days when we would sit around with our friends and utter the magical exchange:
"What do you want to do?"
"I dunno, what do you wanna do?"
"I dunno... What do you wanna do?"
It was practically our mantra, our rosary, our theme song. Time seemed to stretch out before us, empty and slow and and endlessly forgiving. If you're like me, you're probably wondering what the hell happened. Well, I've done a little research into our day-to-day lives to bring to light where all that free time went. Of course, I used myself as the focus group.
Day one: I showed up for the focus group a little late; I'd run into extra traffic because I hadn't gotten on the treadmill on time because there was this news piece on NPR that I had to listen to while I was brewing an extra pot of coffee because I was really tired because I'd been up extra late last night trying to get in some extra reading because I'd worked overtime because I'd taken a late lunch with a friend who might hook me up with some more freelance work. I was disappointed to learn that I will not be offered the groovy snacks and drinks most focus groups can look forward to. What a lame-o production. Asked what I had scheduled for today, I was stumped. I couldn't really think of anything besides work, but I was informed it's never just that cut-and-dried. I was then ordered to pay strict attention to my activities, and to record them. Okay. Here goes:
9:34AM: Log into work email
2 meeting requests for 10AM
2 links to YouTube videos
3 client requests for revisions to copy
Invitation to boss's surprise birthday party in conference room at 2PM
Suggestions from account person for copy direction (deleted)
9:50AM Log into personal email -
Delete 90% of incoming
Read prayer forwarded from my sister with an exhortation to forward it to 10 more people. Ugh.
Get rejection notice from a literary agent. Ugh.
Dash off quick "chin up" note to a friend who is miserable in her job.
Glance at headline news on LATIMES.com
Glance at DailyCandy.com
10AM - Run to meeting #1
10:10AM - Run to meeting #2
10:30AM - Coffee
10:45 AM - Back to desk, work on revisions
10:50 AM - Phone call from Mom. Assure her everything is fine, even though I haven't sold my house because it is right in the path of the coming tsunami, according to the show she saw on Discovery channel.
11:02 AM - Resume work
11:30 AM - Phone call from Cory. She's coming for a visit this weekend and wants a hair appointment.
11:35 AM - Call hair salon; make appointments for both of us; Ernie gets on phone and chides me: it's nearly October and I haven't been there since June, he says. Yes, judging by my roots, he's absolutely right.
11:50 AM - Resume work
12:15 PM - Invited to lunch
12:20 PM - We all decide we're too busy and that we should just pick something up and come back
12:25 PM - Heat up soup
12:30 PM - Return to desk with soup and work on blog entry
1 PM - Resume copy revisions
1:30 PM - Visit TheOnion.com for a few laughs
1:50 PM - Email my peeps a pertinently hilarious article from TheOnion.com
2 PM - Everyone files into the conference room like cattle waiting for the birthday boy
2:05 PM - Sing "Happy Birthday", pass on cake, meaningless chit chat with team
2:10 PM - Return to desk
2:15 PM - Client feedback on copy; he hates it, you can actually hear the flecks of foam forming around his mouth and his eyes rolling back in his head; account woman on verge of panic, promises client the moon with a picket fence around it. By 9AM tomorrow.
3 PM - Return to desk. Begin revisions. This is a tear-down. Must gut and start over. Aha! I catch myself looking out window! Staring at nothing in particular! For a full ten seconds!
3:30 PM - Walk to Starbucks for a latte, paying attention to what I'm paying attention to. There are people in front of me who won't walk faster, but won't allow me to pass, either. They are first-class DAWDLERS. Don't they know what I'm up against? Don't they understand that some people have to actually get somewhere? Don't they KNOW WHO I AM??? I stop for a moment as it hits me. These people probably spend a fair amount of their time staring into space. And for one brief moment, I want to kill them.
4PM - Back to office, work with art director on new concepts for these "revisions". We have a laugh and come up with some good stuff.
6PM - Return to desk, revisions.
7PM - Check out YouTube for a half hour.
7:30 PM - More revisions.
8 PM - Home
8:15 PM - Crack open a Weight Watchers ice cream and watch the tail end of "Designed to Sell" on HGTV.
8:30 PM - Logon to personal email
9 PM - Read the new Vogue cover story on Sandra Bullock
9:30 PM - check personal email (just as pathetically desperate as it sounds)
10 PM - Flip through the new issue of "More" because now I'm OLD
11 PM - Flip through the new issue of "Elle Decor" because I may be old, but my house is smack-o-licious.
11:30 PM - Lights out
Day two: I'm here to tell you, there wasn't a day two, at least not a recorded day two, because I was so exhausted after reading my daily activities that I couldn't bear the thought of rinsing and repeating. I will say, upon close examination, that what this "focus group" suffers from is what I think tons of people in this country have. I call this state, for lack of a better term, the Magazinification of America.
More and more, everything we do is broken down into easily digestible segments - about the length of time it takes to read a short magazine article. And it's not just on the glossy pages of fashion or tabloid rags. Look at the success of E! Entertainment, the Style Network, HGTV and the Travel Channel.
We don't just need our information in little nuggets, we seem to thrive on experiences of life that come in shorter bursts as well. Witness our handy organizers with those dastardly little schedulers - everything is sliced into 15 minute segments. If it's something that requires a lengthier attention span, say, sex, or writing a novel, or hell, even reading a novel, we look askance, we check our Blackberries, we glance around for the exit sign, just in case. Because today, God forbid we might be left with five or ten minutes, never mind a couple of hours, to kill. We might have to actually do nothing, and that is something we simply don't know how to do.
After spending my day as a focus group of one, even without the snacks (although I did take myself out for a Starbucks), I discovered I don't understand the first thing about nothing. I ran from one meaningless round of activities to the next, and if there was a pause it was quickly filled up with a driveby my email or a favorite news site or a magazine or blog or TV show or online shopping trip. If there is silence, my iPod is immediately brought center stage and cranked up to top volume whether I'm at my desk or sitting in traffic. As far as other stimuli, I don't smoke cigarettes anymore, but OH MY GOD do I ever chew gum. To the point that my shopping cart's first stop at the market is to load up on 12 packs of peppermint gum for the week. It seems that every part of me must be fully engaged at every moment of every day. And it's been like this FOR YEARS.
I don't know how to find my way back to nothing, or even if I want to. In my adult life, I've never been bored, and I've always ascribed that to being a single parent with too much to do and too little time to do it. But now, my daughter isn't with me anymore. It's only me. Me and what seems like non-stop stimulation.
At some point, I started answering the question "What do you want to do?" with a qualifier. "Do you mean right now? Or with my life? Or for dinner? Or as a creative person? Or as a mom? Or for the Democratic Party? Or, what?"
Perhaps, next time someone asks me what I want to do, just for shits and giggles, I should say, "I dunno, what do you wanna do?" And maybe we'll just sit there, staring at each other, dull as dishwater, and happy to be, for a change, without a damn thing in the world to do.