I have always prided myself in being hyper-organized. I make lists—sometimes of tasks I’ve already completed, just for the joy of crossing them off. But as I’ve been working at home for the last 8 weeks, I’ve found my brain rattled, distracted. A thought will jump into my head and I’ll travel with it down a rabbit hole that has seemingly no end and very little significance. Case in point: I noticed that my calendar is a product of Peter Pauper Press, and my brain would not rest until I found the history behind the name. (It was started by a man named Peter in 1928 and became widely heralded for its “prices that even a pauper could afford.”)
Nothing is as indicative of my state of mind as the ubiquitous post-it note. I wish I had invented this handy little office staple and, of course, one day had to uncover its origins. (In 1977 a scientist, Arthur Fry, was also a vocalist. When rehearsing with his church choir, he noticed the little scraps of papers his choristers used to mark the hymns for the upcoming church service. These scraps were continually falling out; “If only there were small pieces of paper that could stick!” he thought.)
I digress (thus proving my point, I suppose). Although I have long admired the post-it, I have never been one to overdo their use. I have instead kept a composition book in which I list my tasks. During Quarantine, however, I have found that post-its are my new best friends. Anything anyone says, anything I’m asked to do, anything I need to remember: all these thoughts go on post-its. The result is an annoying collage on my desk. Every other day, my OCD forces me to rearrange them, organize them into a geometric pattern. The other day as I was trying to pitch post-its that are “done,” I found the word bananas, written in cursive and then highlighted in varying shades of highlighter, on a lone post-it. I hope its purpose was to remind me that we were out of the fruit, but my darker side wonders if it was a subliminal message to myself that I am losing grasp on reality.
Perhaps you’re like me and find your brains scattered and attention span faltering. I think it’s due to a lack of routine, to a disruption in the daily regimen that grounds us. I believe a large part of my wackiness as of late comes from the isolation. I. Need. People. I don’t think I’m the most extroverted person in the world, and I certainly feel like I am in touch with family and dear friends—either over social media or at a six foot distance. I have taken walks with friends, met up outside. But what about the other people in our lives—people for whom we would typically give not a moment’s notice, until they are no longer there?
I miss the policeman who helps the deluge of workers cross from our employee parking garage to the hospital campus each morning. He would always tell me to have a good day and I’d always reply, “Thanks. You do the same.” I never knew his name and I can’t even completely recall his face. But I remember his voice and his greeting that always started me on my day. I miss seeing the afternoon policeman who would bellow “You’re WELcome!” to my thanks. He has a hearty baritone that tells me he would be a great friend to have. I miss the young woman working the coffee kiosk, whose hair alternated between pink and green, and whose updates on her teething baby made me NOT miss the infant years. I miss seeing the postal worker who, perhaps due to some undefined condition, performs his tasks in exactly the same order every day: Open the door. Park cart exactly two feet inside the door. Turn and check that the door is closed (even though it’s self-closing). Turn and go to our outgoing mail bin. Rifle through it, checking for postage. Place it in his cart. Then, finally, look up and acknowledge us all with an outgoing greeting: “Have a blessed day.”
I miss his blessings and the blessings of all those for whom I have no real connection other than the transitory moments of daily life. I especially miss Dwayne, The Contributor salesman who sits in his soccer chair on the corner by the parking garage. I know little about him except that he lives near the Nashville Fairgrounds, always has his head in a book, and is touchingly appreciative of the little gifts he is brought during the holiday season. I wonder how he’s faring during this pandemic. Are the people who are still going to that parking garage more generous than usual?
The teacher of meditation, Vilayat Inayat Khan, said that “The human spirit lives on creativity and dies in conformity and routine.” I beg to differ. I believe that routines are the incubators for the creativity for which we strive. I agree with John Steinbeck who said, “It’s a hard thing to leave any deeply routine life, even if you hate it.” How many times did I wish not to have to put on makeup, drive to work, park and be inside for eight hours, but now how I long for that day when I can again move through those routines—when normality will return.
On Thursday this week I realized I was on day 2 of a ponytail and I was nearing the end of a post-it pad. The alternative rock musician Jon Barlow said, “Look for magic in the daily routine.” Wise words. I must search for the magic in my new normal. Perhaps something special will come from all this. After all, Peter Pauper Press was started in a basement.