Life in the Sixties: What’s behind the Do Disease?

The day is short and the work is much…Ethics of the Fathers, chapter 2 verse 15

A few years ago, struck by inspiration — that faithless master — I wrote a song called, “The Do Disease.” Writing the song enabled me to articulate this ever-present stumbling block in my life, to look at it from a distance, to laugh at it even. Just naming the disease made me feel better. Singing the words helped me feel less afflicted.

But it’s six years later, and the disease is back full force. I spend my days going from task to task to task. I am in constant battle to catch up, get on top of everything; to have not one pile, not one messy drawer.

When I get swept up in the Do Disease, I lose control and all sense of perspective. I KNOW what’s really important but I feel helpless to make it a priority. As the song says:

My husband comes to hold me tight

I squeeze and then let go.

No time to look into his eyes,

No time for that, no, no.

Every minute not otherwise accounted for (at work, with friends or family, practicing the recorder, cooking, singing in the choir, folk dancing, going to an event, etc.) is spent on a treadmill that doesn’t stop. It doesn’t seem that things as small as opening the mail, entering receipts in the budget, writing a check, sending a gift, washing the towels,  planting some parsley — could be Sisyphean. But they are.

It’s like I’m surrounded by a swarm of things to do so thick, it doesn’t let in the light.

“You have to give up the fantasy of ever getting it all done,” says my friend Beth.

But something in me won’t let go.

I’m at the mercy of an instinct more powerful than my rational mind. Even though I know it’s hopeless, I’m determined.

I’ve been trying to understand this pull to order, to organize, to conquer. I know there’s something underneath it.

Maybe some unconscious part of me wants to die with every last thing in place, every task taken care of. I’ve come to think of this powerful taskmaster as the get-it-all-done-before-you-die instinct. Like the nesting instinct but not.

Instead of preparing for a new baby, we’re preparing to leave the planet for “the ultimate nest, in my friend Eve’s words.

I’m in my 60s after all. It’s the third — and final — third of life. My sister, 15 years my senior, wants to live to be 100. Which is great because it means I’ll have her around. But I’m more in the Ezekiel Emanuel school. Stop all interventions at 75.

So that gives me, what, nine years to get it all done?

The problem is that the to-do list, the piles, the projects, are not static. They’re constantly growing. It’s like fighting particularly stubborn weeds. You make the time to pull them out and before you know it, they’re back tenfold.

“Fighting against entropy takes a lot of time,” my husband, Bob, says.  He had to define the word for me: Entropy is the tendency of order to become disorder.

“You should do what you enjoy,” my sister says simply, when I complain about my disease.

I’d love to do more of what I enjoy.

But I don’t have time!

I’ve made those ”things I love to do” lists. And I do some of them regularly — sing, dance, play music, read. But what I’m longing for is down time. Time to do nothing. Preferably in nature. Time to let inspiration in, to get good ideas, to spend more time writing from the heart.

My friends say I should just accept the fact that I’m a do-er. That maybe it’s not a disease after all. But I’m not there yet. I’m still in the battle.

I had the idea of taking Rosh Chodesh (the first day of the new Hebrew month) as my monthly day to do nothing. To go with the flow. The women of Israel got Rosh Chodesh as a gift for refusing to contribute their jewels to the making of the golden calf. And I am a woman of Israel.

It won’t cure the disease, but at least it’ll give me a respite. I’ll start with Rosh Chodesh Kislev. I’ll let you know how it goes.

About the Author
Born to Bukharian parents in Los Angeles, Ruth Mason immigrated to Israel with her family in 1993 after a long stint in Manhattan. She is a veteran journalist and columnist who now writes for Shatil, the action arm of the New Israel Fund.
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