Ever have one of those days when nothing seems worth the bother?
Ever wake up late, look at the clock and decide to stay at home in your bathrobe because the sun’s only going to be up for another few hours anyhow? Ever look a pet in the eyes and say, “Make your own dinner”? Ever look at a sink full of dishes and think, “Why don’t I just bury these in the backyard?”
Ever have a day when you wonder what, if anything, is worth doing? Forget about doing anything well: I’m talking about simply meeting basic standards.
This morning, for example, I thought a long time about whether I needed to do laundry.
At one point in my life, laundry was a production because I lived in a low-rent apartment on the lower east side of Manhattan. This meant I spent days dragging canvas bags of dirty clothes to the local laundromat, which was blocks from my place but felt as if it were in another borough, and then babysitting my garments for hours. If you were foolish (or trusting, which was the same thing in those days) enough to take your eyes off the spin cycle for three seconds and it ended, your wash ended up either on the floor or on the back of a new owner. You focused on your laundry the way new parents focus on their infants, alert and prepared to jump in at any moment.
It took stamina as well as courage, patience and many rolls of quarters to get my clothes clean in 1985.
Yet this morning, with my own washer and dryer right here on the first floor, I had to talk myself into throwing a bunch of bath towels into the machine. It didn’t seem worth it. Did I really need to shower? Didn’t I still have some old Wash-N-Dri Towelettes? Couldn’t we just blot ourselves or simply spot-clean until I found more energy?
Of course, motivating yourself has little to do with energy — and everything to do with decisions.
Choosing to do something, especially if it seems difficult, might be hard. You need to decide whether the task is worth the effort.
I’ve written that, “Love is trouble, but it’s worth it.” When I went to post that phrase on my public Facebook page as my New Year’s message, the first word was lopped off. I thought about taking it as a bad omen but decided instead to use it as a quiz.
I asked my friends to fill in the blank: What’s difficult, tricky, scary or exhausting — and yet worth it?
The answers most often provided were the following: children, homemade cookies (or lasagna or quiches or bread), sex (also, in most cases, homemade), exercise and pets.
“Travel” was a big category, with a number of friends breaking it down into “flying” — which, as a fearful flyer who nevertheless steps aboard, I understand entirely — and “bringing only what you can carry on,” which sounds like good advice about life generally.
Speaking of life generally, dozens of friends cited “Life” as the very thing that’s a lot of trouble but still worth it, right along with “marriage.” A few who suggested those two also later added “alcohol.”
As always, however, the most instructive perspective is hidden in the details.
Caitlin O. reminds me that therapy is trouble but worth it, and that much I know for a fact. I also know for a fact that Ebony Murphy-Root is correct when she says that student loan debts are worth it, but I still wish they were not a burden.
Unlike student debt, some burdens are entirely of our own making, because we frame them as trials when they’re merely tasks.
When it’s time to throw in the towel, it’s best to get going and get it done. Your later self will be grateful and will know it was worth it.
(Gina Barreca is a board of trustees distinguished professor of English literature at the University of Connecticut. She can be reached at www.ginabarreca.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.)