There are all kinds of reasons people do the things they do: obligation, fear of consequences, because said things are “good for us,” boredom. It strikes me that the things I’m doing, much more frequently than not, are things I’d rather not be doing. I work because I have children to support, and because my liver could never survive full days without the necessity of thinking to distract me from the wine rack. I run (when I run) because I don’t want to resume smoking cigarettes (and frustratingly, smoking cigarettes is still something I frequently *do* want to do, despite myself).
My girlfriend has an expression for the things that you do just because they were on the schedule: “checking the box.” She lets the phrase drop laconically, sounds almost disappointed with herself – “Nah, I only swam half a mile, I was just checking the box” or “I hit a quick yoga session, just checking the box.” With her typical humility, Alison makes it sound like doing something just because it’s on her list is a disadvantage or not to be praised. The net effect of her observance of the habits she wants to have, though, is that she’s one of the most accomplished and efficient people I know. For someone who describes herself as inherently lazy, she’s pretty inspiring when she puts her mind to getting things done.
So this week, we decided to get some things done. Our first day on North Captiva, we were determined to accomplish a bottle of sparkling white and orange juice before noon. By Jove, we did it, and fortified thusly with mimosas, we were resolved to check out the resort pool. We’ve been back to that pool every day this week. We’ve walked on the beach and collected shells (I jumped into the water, which really was just checking the box, because the Gulf is still ridiculously cold); we’ve taken the golf carts around and explored; I went for a three-mile run yesterday morning while Alison got some writing done; Alison’s blogged and I’ve actually made progress on my novel, plus sketched out some details for a short story I’d like to write and sell sometime soon. In fact, I worked for a couple hours yesterday and it felt magnanimous. The mental exercise was probably good for burning off some of the ethyl haze from the week to that point.
This week I’m breaking with measuring the passage of my life in six- and fifteen-minute intervals. We’re choosing activities that sound good to us to do, and ignoring the things that don’t. If we want to go walk on the beach, we will. Go back to bed? Don’t mind if I do. Having the world at the other end of phones and email accounts we aren’t obligated to answer, we’re not just checking boxes — we’re drawing them and thinking outside them and escaping them. Next week, I’ll be re-tethered to my job with clients baying about productions and data processing and billable hours, but I’ll have places inside my head that have been soaked in sunlight and shown a different way to think about the things that really matter to me. That last bit is a box that’s needed checking for a while.