March 29, 2001
The Physics of Hiatus
You're standing in line for the ATM. Your car's illegally parked down the street. It starts to drizzle. You're convinced the man in front of you is taking out a home loan. He seems to move in slow motion, pulling scraps of paper out of his pocket, pausing to look up and momentarily ponder the meaning of life. He tries one PIN, then another.
A loud sigh comes out of your mouth like the death rattle of a tubercular pug. Will this man's transaction never end?
You look at your watch, convinced half an hour has passed. It's only been four minutes. You're a little embarrassed about that angry sigh but convinced it's not your fault. Surely, you've stretched the space-time continuum.
On the other hand, dig into an engrossing task and the next thing you know, the workday is over. Chat with your best friend over bad coffee in a diner booth and four hours will fly by.
Here's a definition of relativity: "Time stretches and contracts based on the point of view of the observer."
Ain't that the truth.
All of this is a fancy way of saying I don't have a thing to do and I can't get anything done. There's nothing to do but blame science.
Remember in physics class, when the teacher explained that if one twin stayed on earth and the other twin rode a beam of light, the fast-moving twin wouldn't age while the other would? Pardon my stretching a remedial knowledge of physics into a grandiose metaphor, but it seems that when I'm moving fast, working several jobs, juggling social engagements, I can do everything I need to do. It's amazing how many errands I can cram into a lunch hour.
Put me on hiatus, nothing to do for several weeks, and it's an all-day project to get to Kinko's. I move like ATM Man, frustratingly slow, without intention. I forget to put coins in parking meters. I have nothing to do all day and I can't return two phone calls. I get out of bed like a fly stuck in hardening amber. Time contracts. Or does it expand? That Einstein must have had a headache.
I swear I've been writing this column for 17 years.
Yesterday, I rushed home from doing nothing, parking ticket in hand, so as not to miss Oprah, which has become an important part of my daily routine. Oprah is the only structure I have. She appeals to the housewife I've temporarily become -- well, minus the husband and house. Hiatus me needs Oprah.
She asked me to write down 25 things I love. Grateful for a guided task, I was relieved to find out most of the things I love are somehow part of my life. Then, buried somewhere in the middle of the list, I saw "being busy."
Those of us in the entertainment industry work in bursts. We go on hiatus. We work, a job ends, we spend months looking for another job. With a couple strikes in the works, a lot of us are likely to experience months of joblessness, days that stretch before us like blank pages.
It's not that I have nothing to do. I just can't accomplish much without a gun to my head. I'm not a real self-starter. In the past, I've tried to jump-start my productivity by diving into home improvement and craft projects. But now, a wooden crate of decoupage and mosaic tools sits collecting dust under a table.
Someone gave me a photocopied chapter of book titled, "Why People Procrastinate." Like a bad sitcom joke, I haven't quite found the time to read it.
People who freelance for a living tell me to get up early everyday, get dressed, go to a coffee shop, make plans, invent projects. Others tell me, when you work, you work hard, so when you have time off, just enjoy it.
It's hard to enjoy time when it's standing still. Stopping to smell the roses feels like stopping to watch paint dry.
All I know is that I'll be busy soon. I'll wish I had time to watch Oprah. I'll be so occupied, I'll barely have time to Dirt Devil the floor mats in my car, repaint my bedroom and pay bills online, but I'll manage to do all those things and more. I'll complain about the long hours I work and never appreciate how much more time I have when I have none.