This is from an email I wrote to some friends almost two years ago in which I simply started jotting down the things standing between me and productivity. I was on leave at the time.
1. Spent hours fretting about how to replace two babysitters, who are going on spring break next week (which I forgot about because I’m not teaching) while my husband is out of town. Note: we love these sitters, but no one shared their upcoming travel plans until now.
2. Tried to figure out where, on one week’s notice to have a birthday party for our five- year-old twins and their preschool class of fifteen. The only requirement is that it must involve minimal effort from me and satisfy their passion for weapons, yoga, princesses, knights and Pharaoh. Preferably, this should not involve small choking hazards, like Batman’s head, which my 18-month-old ingested this morning. I emailed all possible sources about this crucial matter hoping to gain at least bibliographic control.
3. Spent 40 minutes offering advice on sleep training a baby to the wife of a colleague from another department who had an unfortunate encounter with another wife is now desperate enough that even when I said I was really trying to work while my sleep trained baby was napping she begged me to chat.
4. Explained to at least four bewildered first-year students that I have no idea of the whereabouts of the political science colleague whose office is next to mine, and that I would not know how to find him even in the event of a natural disaster.
5. Tried to figure out how not to spend the kids’ college savings on dried mangoes without any sugar added to them. Couldn’t the feeding therapist have introduced dried apricots or raisins?
6. Became obsessed with trying to remember the source in which Bertolt
Brecht claimed that he and Gallileo were spiritually connected. I found a nice quotation in a German book, and after fighting with the translation for a while decided I didn’t like either guy very much.
7. At husband’s request, wrote an email to the pediatrician asking if we have to worry about the aforementioned Batman’s-head-ingesting incident. I explained that the head has not emerged, as best I can tell, but I’m pretty sure he chewed it up since I saw little pieces emerging from the sides of his mouth. The Doctor has not yet replied. I also spent some time trying to replace batman so that the older son will not figure out that younger son ate the prized possession.
8. Read and wrote over ten short emails about job candidates in Persian and women’s studies. I write on the Italian Renaissance and the unfinished book is on castrati so neither search helped my general productivity. Luckily a nice colleague took care of most thinking about the latter so I had only to read. Leave is apparently a flexible concept on a campus without enough female faculty.
9. For an article tried to figure out what music Marlene Dietrich played on the piano in the movie where she encoded messages from Russian enemies in a score. First I had to remember the movie’s name—this involved too much time with Google; my new favorite research tool.
12. Debated the worth of sneaking into the grad student office to heat my soup up in the microwave against the risk of encountering the lurking grad student whose email I was pretending I hadn’t gotten. I ate the soup cold.
13. Put off writing three letters of recommendation for students from my old job but did waste some time looking for old letters, most of which seem to have gotten lost in the move. One is for a fellowship in media literacy, which I think means listening to NPR.
14. Unpacked one of the ten boxes of files in my office, which I moved into eight months ago. I was hoping to find folders from my last research trip to Rome, since the Pope has now closed his holy library and I need to revamp my entire research agenda—no luck on the folder. I did find one fabulous picture of a castration from a 16th-century medical book. I also found some cute postcards with which to decorate my office walls. My office is in a trailer in my husband’s parking lot--embodying my status as spousal hire, and the walls are great for hanging since they take pushpins so well. I resisted looking on ebay for Elvis posters.
14. Spent way too much time on Craig’s List Rome attempting to find an apartment for less than my annual salary that can accommodate, me, three kids, my husband, and my mother who will be my co-parent when my husband goes back to work. No luck.
15. Despite serious feminist theory chops including, an apparently useless graduate certificate in women’s studies, I failed to explain to my daughter why the Barbie her father bought her at Goodwill will lead to her ultimate demise. Luckily my son explained that Barbie is “sexist” and really “not good for women”
16. Attempted, twice, to gain cosmic points for calling my grandparents on the phone. I failed twice: first because they didn’t want their dinner to get cold, and the second time because they were watching the presidential debate and told me I should be watching it too.
17. Tried to back up documents, since good friend lost all of hers. I realized that, in fact, the days when you accomplish nothing are the hardest to replace should my ancient sputtering lap tap with keyboard that can not type w’s or s’s chose to die—I failed after 20 minutes of fighting with mean computer and at a low point called it a tootie butt.
19. Laughed, when my husband responded to my conclusion (after countless phone calls to venues and emails to noted experts) that the only solution to above mentioned birthday-party conundrum was to have it at our house with a rousing “Let’s do it.”
20. Allowed husband to redeem himself by successfully backing up precious documents for me while I watched TV. He has also started plans for buying me a new computer which will allow me to email and back up at the same time.
21. Spent five minutes writing the first eight items on this list and a few seconds every time something else ridiculous came up. This, I believe, means two fewer pages in my book for the year.