Life as a freelancer means that work often comes in waves and, when the going is good, I better surf each and every single wave, because the tide might turn quickly. After two months of spotty commissions, I am now swimming in work. If I had the luxury of falling into the internet rabbit hole in April now I need to streamline everything peripheral to work: house chores, web viewing, paperwork that is not deemed urgent, social calls.
Last week I had exactly one day off, Tuesday, which I used to write the frame of three blog posts, reschedule a bunch of appointments it was clear I wasn’t going to keep and tackle a mountain of paperwork and bills that was looming large on my desk. A lot of it was mail that, at first glance, seemed to merit my attention. So, after lunch, I moved the pile from my desk to the kitchen table, you know, for variety of location, and I dug in.
What transpired was a mixed bag of life trappings, in Los Angeles circa 2015.
- A parking ticket I got because my doctor was horrifically late, and which I was sure I had paid, was, on closer inspection, a collection notice, not for the parking ticket, but for the fee attached to said ticket that I paid four days late. To recap: the original ticket was $53 but my late fees were $82. I got on the phone with Daniel, who holds the unfortunate job of working at the Citation Department of the city of Santa Monica and who offered me no viable options other than paying, inure to my protestations that the fees were ridiculous, the ticket had been paid, this was a money grabbing scheme yada yada yada. Daniel wouldn’t budge and the conversation ended with my proclamation that I was going to ignore the whole thing. “That is your choice” Daniel replied.
- The Democratic Party, unbeknownst to me, inducted me into a “selected group of party leaders” and was asking my opinion on a lengthy survey that, looking at the fine print, had to be mailed back with a contribution. Another money grabbing scheme that ended straight in the recycling.
- My former medical insurance, Anthem Blue Cross, which I ditched years ago when they raised the premium to an unsustainable level, was letting me know their system was hacked and all my data, along with millions of others’, had been stolen. I had kept the notice because I was under the impression I needed to enroll in some protection plan they were offering but no, the three pages were only to alert me to the theft, which I had already learnt from the news, followed by a bunch of inane suggestions such as “do not reply to phishing emails and do not give out your passwords.” These are the same people who would call me to remind me I was due for a mammogram right after denying my claim for the mammogram I already had. Recycling.
Our electrical company, Southern California Edison, sent me a thick booklet/survey that had something to do with water – in these times of extreme drought, good citizen that I am, I am willing to do all it takes to conserve (even though, let’s face it, my showers and my laundry are less than a drop in the bucket of the problem). The 20 page survey wanted to know so many personal details about my household that I decided to skip it and forgo the Energy Saving (bullshit) kit I would have received in the mail in exchange for completing the survey.
I picked up the rest of the pile, fished out the legitimate bills, and threw everything else in the shredder. No wonder the US Postal Service is in trouble – mot of what they deliver is of no use or consequence whatsoever and it’s clear I can just transfer 90% of it directly from the mail box to the recycling. Nothing like being legitimately busy to make me reassess what actually needs to be done.
With my three email accounts, I learnt to be brutal a long time ago. Most don’t get opened and end up in the delete folder at an alarmingly fast rate. Clearly, I am not the only one possessed with delete happy fingers – the latest version of iOS that was pushed to my phone included a handy-dandy feature: are you familiar with that sinking feeling of having deleted something you actually needed, right when you see it disappear? No need to fish it out of the delete folder anymore, I can just shake my phone a couple of times and it magically reappears in the inbox. I love that feature so much sometimes I delete stuff on purpose. Yes, on those months when I have time on my hands.
If I needed a reminder that most of the things I do every day are far from essential, that pile of paper was it. By ignoring the “mail noise”, I freed up valuable time to devote to more meaningful pursuits, such as playing on the floor with the dogs or sit with the New Yorker for 20 minutes. Long ago sofa girl decided to disconnect one day a week from email and social media. It was my turn to give it a go. On Sunday, I switched my entire Apple family off and, as hard as it was to resist the calling, I hid everything in my office and forced myself to keep away. A whole day, inside my house, without text messages or emails was weird. What if someone was trying to get hold of me? What if I was missing on something important? I wasn’t – as it turned out on Monday morning, although switching the phone off completely might have been a bit extreme. And yet, as I wrote this last sentence, I felt the weight of my ridiculousness. I have lived long enough to remember the advent of the telex machine and now I can’t be parted from my electronics. I even considered buying a Fitbit. Until I remembered that pile of useless mail. Do I really need to know how many steps a day I take? How many hours I sleep? How many calories I burn? No. I don’t. A run up the hill with the dogs will take care of all of the above.