According to my wife, I am a creature of habit. This is by necessity, as I learned several years ago that my mind, while capable of great feats of long-term memory, handles short-term items the way Pirates first baseman Dick "Dr. Strangeglove" Stuart once handled ground balls: with great clumsiness and a lack of style. These repetitive actions are the only way I'll get things done.
So most days -- especially ones during which I work out of our house, rather than downtown -- I make a list or major items to be tackled by day's end. If something is not on that list, it doesn't exist. I am constantly flummoxed by certain very organized people's inability to grasp that concept, especially when it is applied to grocery shopping.
To wit: "You didn't get tomatoes."
"They weren't on the list." Therefore, tomatoes, at least in that context, did not exist.
Today while I was riding BART, something I do twice on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I started thinking about all the things we do over and over without thinking. How many times do I change from my glasses to my perscription sunglasses during a single calendar year? You'd think I'd have kept track, seeing as how annoying it is to take off and put on glasses, shove them into a little pouch for safekeeping and then drop them into your jacket pocket (unless you are not wearing a jacket, in which case you then put them into your messenger bag or, God forbid, the front pocket of your pants, where the possibility that they might break increases as quickly as Serbian inflation).
I'll bet I switched glasses at least a half-dozen times today, maybe more. Sometimes I wear contact lenses which, while no longer providing the giddyup necessary to read menus in darkened restaurants, eliminate one annoying element of everyday living. How great to simply throw on a pair of sunglasses, then cavalierly remove them when entering a building!
Conservatively, I'd say I put on and take off glasses at least 1,000 times over the course of one year.
Recently, we bought a stationary bike. I try to log at half-hour on the thing at least four times a week, my increasingly futile attempt, along with two weekly trips to 24-Hour Fitness, at staving off physical mortality. My mind boggles at the number of revolutions I'll turn on that thing in the next year. It works out to something gargantuan: 102 hours peddling. That's 6,120 minutes, 367,000 seconds, four days and six hours.
And we wonder where the time goes.
This year I will take more than 300 showers, even factoring in random Sundays that are too lazy to commit to hygiene. I will climb our front stairs at least 700 times, for a grand total of 22,400 steps. During football season, I'll probably watch at least a full day's worth -- 24 hours -- of professional football. Sandra Bullock cuts my hair once a week. That's 50-plus razor cuts per year.
Even though we live in a city, if past performance is any indicator, our Volvo will rack up more than 15,000 miles this year. And I'll bet I'll behind the wheel for at least 12,000 or them.
The sheer volume of these stats suggests a largeness in even the most ordinary of lives.
On the other hand, the mundane weight of these figures -- a measuring stick that announces loudly how you are spending your life -- can be crushing. Who wants to put in the time necessary to accumulate metaphoric container ships full of everyday activity? Does anyone really want to know that they've brushed their teeth more than 700 times in the past 12 months? Will you life be richer for knowing that you did 250 loads of laundry in 2009?
Rather than dwell on large, cold numbers, we prefer to record our lives in a series of snapshots -- Kodak moments, for those of you over 40. We assemble them into a slideshow, magically transforming our lives into something far more romantic and event-worthy than we could ever have imagined it would be when we posed for that family photo in front of the Palace of Fine Arts.
Recently, we started to feature more family photos in our home. In our dining room, we've hung wedding photos -- ours, our parents', my grandparents', plus a five-image montage of the toddler-aged Jawa. And it's great. In our dining room, at least, it is always September 20, 1992, and we are always 27 years old, sitting on Scott Morell's 1966 Triumph Bonneville in front of a white, colonial mansion.
Our parents look down at us in black-and-white. Mine -- elders of the group at ages 22 and 20, are posed stiffly, my father in a black top hat. Sandra Bullock's parents, all of 19 years old, are dodging rice as they walk back down the aisle. My grandparents, also in their teens, stand proudly at attention. They didn't have photos at their wedding. This one was taken at someone else's wedding the same year. 74 years ago.
So maybe it's the peak moments captured by photos that keep us from dwelling on things like the amount of money we've spent on gas over the past 12 months. Or maybe it's something along the lines of still pictures telling truths we're too busy or too distracted or too confused to overlook, so bogged down are we in counting the number of grapes eaten during the course of a year.
As for me, I've got another number. One big reason I've chosen to count down the days to the Jawa's Bar Mitzvah is to shame myself into writing every day. It's not on any physical list, but it's become enough of a habit that I was stressing out earlier tonight, wondering if I'd get time to write in here.
Tonight, I spent the walk up the hill from BART (ridden six times a week for an approximate yearly total of 300), calculating. By the time I reached home, I realized that I will write somewhere in the neighborhood of 500,000 words this year. That's a whole lot of words for someone who's not writing a novel.