By John Kelly
The Washington Post
I'm pretty sure the right to complain about things that are your own darn fault is enshrined somewhere in the Constitution. Let's call it life, liberty and the pursuit of kvetchiness.
My complaint is: I can't get anything done. Oh, I shower regularly, dress and feed myself, do my job, chip away at the five seasons of "Breaking Bad" I need to catch up on, but beyond that I am an utter failure.
And it makes me wonder how anyone gets anything done. Life is a never-ending succession of tasks, some with squishy deadlines, others with rigid ones. Like a zombie horde, they just keep coming. But they are nowhere near as interesting as a zombie horde.
This was driven home to me the other day when I was paying a credit card bill. Because dealing with grown-up things like credit card bills is one of those "anythings" I'm unable to get done, I was pleased that I was paying this particular bill on time early, even. Then, as I was skimming the list of charges, I saw one for $25. It was a late fee from the previous month.
I had a sick feeling I was sort of late but I didn't know I was read-the-fine-print-we're-dunning-you-$25 late. Apparently, American Express doesn't look at your payment and say: "You know what? He was pretty close. Let's let it slide."
I don't have that many credit cards, just three, only two of which I use regularly, plus my debit card. But they all are on different timetables, rolling around like comets that approach Earth on schedules that astronomers can pinpoint to the second but that I find inscrutable. I am flummoxed by the planetary mechanics of adult life.
It isn't just things like bills. It's also other little chores that pile up. Two weeks ago, I pulled a wool suit from my closet and said to myself, "Winter is coming. I should take this immediately to be dry-cleaned."
So why haven't I? How hard is it for an adult male with a car and car insurance (I'm pretty sure I paid it) to get to the dry cleaners?
Very hard, it turns out, just as it's extremely difficult to replace a broken drawer pull, apply touch-up paint to the scratched fender of a car, clean inside a dog's ears, digitize old Kodachrome slides using a newly purchased scanner bought in secret so as not to alarm your wife, hang a painting that has been leaning against a baseboard for at least a year, buy your mother a birthday present, learn how to use eBay to sell countless unneeded gimcracks, calculate how much money to put in a health-care spending account, write a critically acclaimed, best-selling novel. . . .
I am just too busy to accomplish any of these tasks and I wonder how anyone gets anything done. I mean, my job is demanding, but it's fairly flexible. I don't punch a clock. I'm a white-collar worker experiencing what might be called first-world problems: Oh blast, my Hickey Freeman suit is wrinkled. Whenever shall I have it pressed?
But I am troubled by something: I'm beginning to wonder if there is a thin line between busy and lazy.
I certainly think I waste too much time staring at a computer or ogling a smartphone screen for the latest stupid updates on the lives of my friends. But the nitty-gritty of real life is rarely as enticing as the lures of the virtual world. Doing things requires action, whereas not doing them, well. . . .
Anytime I'm sitting in front of a computer, I can tell myself I'm working. After all, isn't that how I do a lot of my job, by tickling a keyboard? Never mind that searching YouTube for 1970s Count Chocula commercials doesn't exactly qualify as work.
Maybe what I need is an app that turns boring stuff into a game. You can buy your kid a musical toothbrush as a way of encouraging him to brush his teeth. Could someone invent a filing cabinet that plays music as you fill manila folders with tax receipts and canceled checks?
Or maybe when you pay your AmEx bill on time you unlock a bonus level in some immersive video game.
Or maybe you just don't get charged $25.