Thirty essays in thirty days, number six
It’s 11:03 PM here in Richmond. According to the letter of the self-imposed law, I’ve got 57 minutes to produce an essay—to keep a commitment that I made to you, and to myself.
I had planned to write today about a topic dear to me, aiming to do it justice. This meant I needed to carve out a solid chunk of time during a day with little of it to spare. The University of Richmond lacrosse team had their season opener, which I wasn’t going to miss, and my girlfriend’s dad was getting in town right when the game ended and staying with us for the night. We planned on cooking a feast. This meant that my best bet was to try to steal away for a bit mid-afternoon or late evening, before or after dinner.
The day had other plans for me. After spending the morning running errands and the afternoon at the game, I arrived home to learn that one of our dogs had taken a brief detour during his walk to thoroughly coat himself in a pile of shit. It was apparent that bath time needed to be added to the agenda. This had a material impact on the day’s schedule; bathing Reggie is like trying to nail jelly to a tree, and about twice as difficult. It would be more than a five-minute diversion.
We changed and got down to it. Jenna took a wide stance and bear-hugged him while he did his best fish-out-of-water impression as I tried to hose him down. Of the water that left the hose, about 70% landed on grass, 20% landed on girlfriend, and 10% landed on dog. After some twenty minutes of this he was moisturized enough to move on. I rubbed in layers upon layers of shampoo, about half a bottle’s worth, before going back to target practice with the hose to try to rinse him off.
Finally—after a monumental struggle by all parties involved—the deed was done. Reggie thanked us by shaking water all over us and sprinting off into the yard.
By this point we had half an hour or so before we needed to start dinner. That wasn’t enough time to get into much of a writing groove, and in any case I like Jenna’s dad and wanted to hang out with him for a bit before we started cooking. We sat on the couch and turned on the Syracuse lacrosse game. I glanced at the window. The sun was starting to set, and I hadn’t written a word.
A few hours later, after a lovely meal—grilled flank steak, pasta from scratch, a fruit-endowed salad—I started doing the math on how much time I had to write. I had been mentally drafting the essay in my head throughout the day, and the scope kept growing. It was going to be tight. As I finished up the dishes and was about to retire to my office, we got into a conversation about the movie Groundhog Day. I told them I hadn’t seen it. Everyone gasped—even the dogs. Let’s watch it tonight! they said.
Well, shit. That sounded delightful. Who was I to say no?
And now, a great movie and some hours later, here we are. It’s 12:56 AM—not quite within the 57 minute window that was discussed. But I haven’t gone to sleep yet, so as the self-appointed legislative and judiciary dictator of this whole daily essay bonanza, I declare that it still counts.
I used to say that I was going to do a lot of things. That I was going to write a children’s book, start an alumni group, learn a language. It felt good to talk about my grand plans. And at the beginning, I earnestly believed that I would follow through with them. But when a perfectly reasonable excuse presented itself—inconvenience, difficulty, and so on—I didn’t put up much of a fight.
Eventually, I learned that it’s much nicer to look at yourself in the mirror when you know you’re looking at someone who keeps their word. I started to be more careful with what I said I was going to do—to others and to myself—and doing my best to follow through with what I did commit to. Once, in the midst of a six-month running program, I had a two hour run scheduled one Saturday during a vacation. We had a full day of activities planned. By the time we got back to our little camper in the woods, it was pitch black outside and 21 degrees, with a steady freezing rain coming down sideways. I didn’t want to run. Nor did it make sense to; in addition to the ridiculous weather, I would have no idea where I was going in the dark forest surrounding our rental.
I started getting ready for bed, but it kept eating at me. I knew how I’d feel the next day if I didn’t run. Finally, after the angel and devil duked it out for a while, my better judgment prevailed. I put on every layer I had packed, laced up my running shoes, and stepped outside. For the next two hours I used my phone’s flashlight to see a few steps in front of me as I looped the same half-mile path over and over in the freezing rain.
The next morning, sore and tired, I looked in the mirror and smiled.
A little while ago, when Groundhog Day finished and the credits rolled, it felt like that night in the woods. I didn’t want to write, nor did it make sense to. It was late and I was tired. I knew I wasn’t going to write the essay I had planned to write. I didn’t have the time nor the brainpower to do that topic justice.
But then the angel spoke up. I could write something. I had to. I said I was going to write an essay every day for thirty days, regardless of how many lacrosse games I watch or dogs I clean shit off of. And that’s a promise I intend to keep.