By John Kelly
The Washington Post
For the past three months, I have been carrying around in my briefcase a prescription for new eyeglasses. Do I HAVE new glasses? No.
Why? Because I’m too busy to get them.
Because I haven’t gotten new glasses, and thus see the world as if looking through a scratched and dirty aquarium, I have trouble telling which is the right earbud and which is the left earbud on my iPod, the tiny gray “R” or “L” on a white background not being very legible. I’ve been meaning to mark the right one with a red dot so it would be easier to insert into the proper ear before jogging on the treadmill in the morning.
But I’ve been too busy to find a red marker, which hasn’t been a hardship because I’m too busy to jog on the treadmill.
I’m too busy to do ANYTHING.
I’m too busy to replace the stained and tattered ironing board cover over which I drape a dress shirt every morning. There’s a nice new cover sitting on top of the dryer, and every time I iron a shirt I think, “I really should change this, but I’m much too busy right now.”
Sitting on my desk at home is a letter that suggests I owe money for long-term disability coverage, money that I thought was being automatically deducted from my paycheck. I have been too busy to check whether this is the case.
I have been too busy to respond to a few dozen pieces of reader mail, which teeter in menacing, accusatory mounds in my office.
I have been too busy to return assorted Washington Post photo files to the photo library and which molder under the piles of reader mail. I have been too busy to clean my office.
I also have been too busy to make, one, a dentist’s appointment and, two, a doctor’s appointment.
I WAS too busy to make an ophthalmologist’s appointment, but I made it, saw the eye doctor and got a prescription. Which I have been too busy to get filled.
Is there a fine line between being too busy and being, oh, I don’t know, LAZY?
This thought worries me. Sometimes I will sit for hours in front of the television pondering it. Am I, I wonder, procrastinating? Am I not doing these things not because I’m too busy, but because I don’t WANT to do them?
But then I catch myself. Who wouldn’t want to go to the dentist? Who wouldn’t want to call an insurance company and dicker over a vague and annoying charge? Who wouldn’t want to put a red dot on an iPod earbud?
No, these are all mission-critical things that I am just too busy to do.
Or perhaps I am just good at ignoring things. It’s amazing the irritating things you can live with. When we moved into our house five years ago, we vowed that the first thing we were going to do was remove the ridiculous plantings in the back yard. The previous owner had stuck flower bushes and hostas in the middle of the lawn and surrounded them with little scalloped concrete borders.
I mowed around those things for five years, until My Lovely Wife took it upon herself to yank them out. She apparently is less busy than I am, since she somehow finds the time to do all sorts of household tasks.
Part of the reason I am reluctant to leap into ambitious projects, I think, is that I was severely affected by reading Madame Bovary in college. You will recall that Madame Bovary’s husband, Charles, is a timid doctor in a provincial French town. There is a crippled stable boy in town upon whom she urges him to operate. Despite his clubfoot, the boy, Hippolyte, is quite agile. But Charles agrees to perform the procedure. The leg gets infected and has to be amputated.
I think of that every time My Lovely Wife asks me to do a chore.
I recently asked her to help me remember things I’ve been meaning to do that I’ve been too busy to get to.
She said: “Is that because you actually want to do them or because you’re writing a column on how you’ve been too busy do them?”
Kelly is a columnist for The Washington Post.