“Tell Me, What Is It You Plan to Do with Your One Wild and Precious Life?” ` M. Oliver


This epidemic doesn’t change the fact that you only get, at least this time around, one wild and precious life.  How are you going to live it here, in the midst of sickness and death?

Son, a long-distance runner (sometime, ask me the story about the weekend morning he called me from a payphone about 20 miles from home), has a saying.  “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”  For many of us, this “sheltering in place” thing is novel and one of the things that is novel is that it is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

In our work-a-day world,* we sometimes get a snow day, a holiday, a three-day weekend, even a week or two of vacation.  You know — sprints.  And what often makes sense is for us to use those short breaks to completely relax.  When I was teaching and Son was in school, a snow day meant turning back over and going back to sleep, making a pot of chili or soup, playing Scrabble, and maybe doing a load or two of laundry.  Three-day weekend?  Sleep in.  Live in a t-shirt and shorts, eat whatever, lounge in front of the tv and binge something entertaining.  Vacation?  Get on an airplane.  Go someplace with lots of other people.  Eat out at restaurants.  Throw your normal schedule out the window and go for broke.

But what we’re in for now is likely to be different.  Many of us don’t have a lot of practice managing our time when we’re stuck at home for a significant stretch.  And, it’s going to be different for all of us.  You have to manage kids doing on-line lessons while you take conference calls from the basement.  He has to work mostly from home, but must head into the office for irregular emergencies.  I’m having to figure out how to use an awful lot of time all on my own.  Your kids wonder why they can’t play video games all day — every day.

What I’m going to propose may or may not work for you. Take what you can use and leave the rest.

My master’s degree in education is based on the teachings of Alfred Adler  and I do believe that children (and most of us) do better with a schedule.  The schedules may vary  — my kid may want to sleep until noon while yours may be up with the dawn —  but having a schedule helps children because it provide stability, security, an infrastructure for their lives.  And, to be honest, it helps most of us adults to have a schedule, as well.  Sure, if your normal circadian rhythm means you wake up at 11:00 am and go to bed at 2:00 am, go for it.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some structure to your day.  Just shift things to meet your needs.  There’s a reason that the monastic branches of almost every religion have a schedule.

Here are some basics now that we’re in the marathon, not the sprint.  Use them if they work for you.

When you do get up, have a shower, brush your teeth, put on some clothes.  As my friend, Mrs. Whatsit, says, the clothes can be yoga pants and a clean t-shirt, but put on some clothes.  It’s a signal to your Younger Self that the day has started and it’s time to accomplish something.

When you’re dressed, make your bed.  This is maybe the one, best thing that you can do or teach your kids to do.  With today’s beds, this is usually very easy.  Pull up a sheet, smooth the coverlet or quilt, and straighten the pillows.  Just do it.  It takes 3 minutes and it starts your day off with an accomplishment.  And it will feel much nicer when you go to bed.  If you can follow up with an evening 5-minute “pick up the toys and put them away” or “clean the kitchen and prep the coffee pot” routine, so much the better.


Have a general plan for the day.  Two or three “goal posts” can make a big difference.

For example, sleep in if you like, but beds are made and dirty clothes are in the laundry basket by noon.  Lunch is at 1:00 and everyone sits at the table and makes their sandwich from bread, peanut putter, jelly, pickles, diced celery, raisins, and/or chutney.  Then, there’s “outdoor play” for an hour.  This can be a walk, soccer game, shooting baskets, hike to the local park, splashing in the rain, or some yoga from your cell phone.  Then, everyone plops in the living room or on the deck for story time.  Remember when your second grade teacher used to read to you for half an hour — or one chapter — after recess?  There was a reason for that.  Dad can read, or kids can take turns reading, or you can listen to some British author reading on line.  But outdoor time is followed by reading time.  From 4:00 until 4:30 is chores.  Peel some carrots for dinner.  Take the trash to the curb and water the spring onions.  Fold laundry and do some homework.

Finally, given that this mess may go on for some time, everyone in the family should pick a “short-term” goal.  Learn to knit.  Finish reading a big book.  Organize all the family photos.  White 100 postcards to voters to be mailed this Fall.  Pull everything out of the garage and either throw it away, recycle it, or donate it.  So much of what’s happening is out of our control.  Being in control of something — organizing all the lego pieces, emptying the ironing basket, planting a row of spring radishes — can be incrediby helpful.

The universe, in Her infinite wisdom, has given you this gift of time.  How will you use it???

* See Dancing in the Streets  for a discussion of how much time our ancestors used to get “off” before Christianity and the Industrial Revolution screwed us.

Picture found here.

7 responses to ““Tell Me, What Is It You Plan to Do with Your One Wild and Precious Life?” ` M. Oliver

  1. kathleenacurran

    thank you for sharing..

  2. I agree absolutely with what you’ve written. I’ve found that having a routine and some goals based around things that I enjoy doing are very beneficial to my mental health. At first it can be hard to stick to a new routine but it gets easier, almost automatic, after a short while.

  3. I agree. I knew full well that not having a plan would affect me. A plan provides a structure, goals, and intentions, and helps me manage time and energy. So, yep, sleep in, make beds. Clean up like I’m going out – shower, shave (sorry, no coronavirus beard for me), and just generally practice good hygiene. Eat brekkie, then write, then clean house (my wife suggested we do a drawer or closet a day, cleaning and organizing). Then exercise, reach out to friends and family, and surf the net, digesting the updates.

    Be safe. Cheers

  4. When I get an unexpected day off, I work harder than ever. Gardening, cleaning, sewing, hiking, moving and rearranging, painting. I
    It has been strange being home and only working at my makeshift desk (a plank across two stacks of plastic totes.)

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