I love vacation.
I think Hawaii was fabulous. I think we had four straight days of perfectly unrelenting sunshine, punctuated by cool nights and lots of fresh fruit. I think I slept more than 9 hours on four consecutive nights, and followed each night with an hour-long coffee mainlining session that rocked me gently awake. I think we caught up with friends in that way achieved only by long drives down a sparkling coastline. I’m pretty sure I was the one who broke my own TV-watching record, my ass moored on the couch for three straight hours of Grammy Awards. But I’m not totally sure any of this is true, because I burned up upon reentry.
But I did have a revelation (rather, my friends gave me one) that’s still with me. It’s called The Worry Board.
You probably have places associated with the Worry Board noise. I remember being in Berlin with my friend Beth in April (I think) of 1999, before they redesigned the main train station, and we stood on the platform for our train, watching a German newscaster deliver the news of a school shooting in America. We stood transfixed, believing for a few moments that Columbine High School in Colorado was actually Centennial High School in our hometown. Their tasteless, humorless facades looked so similar in our first quick glance, and we frantically searched the screens for faces we’d recognize. But then the departure board above our head started clickityclacking, pushing our train to the top of the departures list, so we left. Only now do I remember thinking how the sound of the board in that station in Berlin was like a machine gun, insisting its harshest consonants into my brain.
If you’ve been to a train station with any history, you know the noise of a departure board. You’ve watched at the Gare du Nord as your train to London clickiticlatted its way to the top as each preceeding train departed. Now put this noise in your brain. This is your Worry Board. Everyone’s board lists different trains. My Hawaii friend’s board is really for worries. Hers reads:
Where are my sunglasses?
Did I turn the coffee pot off?
Will my sister’s plane arrive?
What will we do if the weather is bad?
As soon as they described The Worry Board, I knew I had one. I was shocked and almost a little embarrassed that I’d been riding around my entire life with this thing in my head, unnamed and unrecognized, when it so clearly runs my life. But mine isn’t necessarily a Worry Board. I don’t think about what might happen if something goes wrong, if the oven is left on, if I fail to turn in a project on time. My Board is a stress management system; it’s a combination of a massive to-do list and an anxiety schedule, so I know exactly what I should be stressing out about at any given moment. In fact, I have different boards.
Here’s the top of the one for the local trains, which clickity ickity clats a little more quietly:
Clean cat box
Walk the dog
You get the idea. These are pedestrian, household anxieties. Failure to comply with the lighted signs will not result in punishment of any sort. There’s a good number of them, but they rotate with such predictable frequency that none are cause for alarm.
Then there’s the bigger Board, which makes louder, more head-pounding sounds when the letters and numbers turn. Unfortunately, it’s not organized by time, which means I’m constantly scanning it to figure out what comes first:
Pitch Scary Editor
Brainstorm Recipe Ideas
Edit Restaurant Review
Read 122 New Emails
Try New Chocolate-Flavored Bread in Ballard
Clickity clat. And it changes, all the time, even if I haven’t added anything new to it (as if I had control of the Board). So whatever I’ve decided is the second most important thing to do is never actually in the second spot; it’s jumping all over the board, and sometimes, like when I’m on the toilet (I can never pee in peace), I have to do a complete Board scan to figure out what that second thing was, where it went, and when I should do it. And all the big, long-term projects are right there mixed in with the ones that need immediate attention. Clickity ickity ickity clat. The Board is constantly changing.
My brain’s also wired for the Friend Board (people I’ve been meaning to call or write), the Visitors Board, the Wedding Board, the Hopeless Yard Projects Board, etc. The problem is that my Boards aren’t well-coordinated; there is no Board of Boards. Maybe my husband can write me a Board amalgamation program in Linux. Would having one insanely big Board be better than many smaller Boards?
Now that I’ve thought about this a little, I’m sure everyone’s board(s) is/are a little different. Some are analog and noisy, like mine, but some are clean and digital, and color-coded for ease of reading. My friend Abby’s got the new digital board, designed in chic cool tones. It’s a mile long but each time she finishes something, hers makes a clean Microsoft sound announcing its completion. My mother’s board is made of hand-written Post-It notes, some of them fluttering down as they lose their stickiness, landing on the tracks of the trains pulling in, never to be seen again.
My husband only has one board. The board only has five spaces (mine has about 35). Each item on the board is hand-chiseled into a long piece of sustainable mahogany, which means that by the time each item is put up, he’s gained enough momentum to work on that item alone, which gives the chiselers time to work on the next thing. He either doesn’t hear the chiseling or can’t see it; I don’t know which. But his Board doesn’t flip incessantly like mine does. Click. One old thing going doesn’t necessarily mean one new thing coming, and the boards don’t change by themselves. Clat. I think my board went to Hogwart’s. I stand under my Board watching the tiles fly, mentally clutching my heart as if I were tied to the tracks of an actual oncoming train. Clickity clat, clickity clat, clickity ickity ickity clat. It’s not that I have so much to do, I’m just programmed to stress about something until I’m incapacitated, that’s all. Healthy, right?
I love vacation because my Worry Boards stop. Not always, mind you, but this time, they did. They don’t get erased, just smothered. Our friend John made us E-muffs (which is how I will henceforth refer to English muffins) every morning with butter and guava jelly, and I caught him one morning, standing in front of the toaster in his pajamas with a (generous) one-muffin butter quota balanced patiently on the end of his knife, waiting for the E-muff to pop up. I stood behind him and admired how he could stand there with the knife in his hand, butter ready – just stand there for what must have been at least 30 seconds, waiting for the toaster to finish its business, without moving, talking, fidgeting, listing, reminding, worrying, or doing anything. He just stood there. I was awestruck. I am incapable of that sort of patience. I bet he doesn’t plan the upcoming hour while he’s peeing.
I did work on it, just so I had one thing on my Hawaii Board. I was eating two, three mangoes a day, not because mangoes are in season in Hawaii (they’re not – these were from Peru, purchased at Kauai Costco), but becuase eating them seems more normal there. I practiced standing at the counter and eating the whole thing in one shot, without darting out to the living room to finish the New Yorker article I’d been reading, putting my hair up, gathering a bag from a shopping trip, etc. I just stood there, cutting and slurping that silky mango texture down. I got pretty good at it.
But now I’m back. Must go see what I can rustle up for lunch from the pantry. But I’m going to work on it, this Worry Board thing. Baby steps. I’ll start by making it a habit NOT to review the Board when I sit down to pee. I’ll pretend I’m emptying my brain.
Clickity ickity ickity clat.