You Want It When?

CherriThe culture of busy.

By Cherri Ellis

There are two official definitions of the word deadline. One is the absolute last date or time at which something must be completed, and the other is a historical reference to a line drawn around a prison beyond which prisoners will likely be shot. Those definitions feel about the same to me lately in terms of the attention they require. I stare at my Month at a Glance calendar in Outlook like it is one of those trick paintings in a mall…if I stare at it long enough, some picture will emerge that solves everything.  I maniacally write down everything and if I don’t, it ceases to exist faster than support for the Duggar Family. (Or civility at a political debate. Or fear of dancing after tequila shots.)

Time is a very fluid concept to me. From the moment my daughter was laid in my arms in the delivery room to now, 23 years later, feels, simultaneously, like a million years and the blink of an eye. I evidently believe that every place is 15 minutes away because that’s the amount of time I allow myself to get anywhere. Like people with responsibilities everywhere, my day seems to require every manner of mental disorder. Being an OCD symmetry freak comes in handy at a photo shoot. A little ADHD works well in a brainstorm. The process of writing something inside my head is not unlike hearing voices, and temporarily requires the ability to exist in dual realities. As projects ebb and flow, the office goes from being a bountiful pool of support to the garden maze in The Shining about 20 times a day. Office acronyms were invented as a support language for deadlines, allowing for sentences like, “I know I said EOY but I need it ASAP so how is COB?” I am a lover of words but believe that Satan himself, in retaliation for man’s innate good, created the Excel spreadsheet. I am married to my calendar and having a raging affair with my email.

I am hardly alone—we all live in the culture of busy. Every morning offers a fresh chance to bend the time/space continuum. I am stupid crazy slammed, and I have it easy! My niece, Nicolyn, is a nurse educator in pediatric critical care. She works nights and has four children. Just moments ago I received the following from her in a family group email chain:

“Just so you all can have an accurate picture of our Saturday, deep in the heart of Texas, I had to pick Maddie up from a sleepover this morning. I had worked the night before and haven’t slept yet. They live in a gated community and when I got there, I couldn’t remember the code and my phone was at home. I had to go back home to get the phone to call Maddie to get the code to get into the stupid gated community that Jack built. I walk in and Em is naked in the foyer, eating a Popsicle. ‘I have a vagina,’ she says.  ‘Good for you!’ Moving on…Camden is upstairs playing pretend Call of Duty using dirty laundry as trenches and blockades because—yes—there is that much laundry. A few minutes later I get a phone call from Maddie. I’m so tired I forgot to go back and pick her up. I hear Mother of the Year awards are taking nominations if you want to submit my bio….Anywhoo, Keegan was actually being quiet for once, which hollowed out my soul with fear. I found him writing code on my state-issued work laptop. And if that wasn’t just 10 kinds of awesome…turns out I’m snack mom for both hockey games today, and I am woefully unprepared. I’m pretty sure a trip to Kroger is in my not-so-distant future. Still haven’t slept yet, but I’m setting a soft goal for tonight. Love to y’all.

Even more than her baby girl correctly announcing her anatomical parts, I love Nic’s use of the term “soft goal.” The phrase itself indicates that there is at least a 50 percent chance that whatever is being proposed is not going to happen within the confines of the attached timetable. Projects require inspiration, and nothing provides inspiration like a big fat hairy deadline breathing its fetid air all over your otherwise pleasant day.  When things get busy, we sort our deadlines not by date, but by potential consequences.  The minutes of our days are a currency, and the budget for how we spend them changes constantly. That is what makes life so erratically beautiful.

So remember the historical difference in a deadline and a “drop dead deadline.” One might get you in trouble but one will get you shot.

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