Two couples were going to a movie together. Woman One narrowed the movie choices to eight. A documentary about a comedian was agreeable to three people but not to Man Two who preferred German war movies. A scifi movie was agreeable to three people but not to Woman One who didn’t like scifi. Man One told his partner that the other couple wanted to see the sexy woman hero thriller movie but his partner didn’t want to see it. Three people liked the Israel/Arab conflict movie but Man Two didn’t want to see war trauma movies with no political commentary. Woman Two suggested a romantic movie about searching for food, religion and love but Woman One was interested in food but not religion or love. Because of good reviews, a brutal English kidnap movie and an Australian mafia movie were mentioned but the German War movie man didn’t want violence. Eventually a movie about Armenians in the French Resistance was agreed on. But when they reached the theater, there were no adjacent seats at that movie and they had to make a second choice quickly because people in line behind them were impatient as the two men and two women tried to make up their minds. Woman One, who hadn’t liked the sexy woman hero thriller said she would see it and they bought four tickets.
Settled in the theater, Woman Two said to Woman One, “I didn’t want to see this.”
“I thought you did,” said Woman One.
“No, my partner did, not me,” she said. “Let’s all go to different movies.”
She went to the romantic movie. Woman One went to the brutal kidnapping movie, which was too brutal so she switched to the Armenian French Resistance movie. The men didn’t want to move and stayed at the sexy woman hero thriller movie. Woman Two, who chose the romantic movie, was happy. She saw the three countries she had wanted to see and avoided violence. In the Armenian French WWII movie, the characters were tortured and killed just before liberation so that Woman One saw a good movie but was left troubled and sad. The sexy woman hero thriller was mediocre and contained torture and violence. Man Two, who didn’t want violence, wasn’t pleased nor was Man One who remembered too late he had read a bad review.
Her brother asked what she was doing that day and she read him her list:
- Talk on the phone to him and a friend
- Practice the Schubert sonata
- Go to an Early Music concert
- Have dinner with a friend before the concert
What was wrong, her brother said, was that everything on the list stressed productivity. "What you need are more columns," he said. "Vacuuming and doing laundry are on the same list as the early music concert and having dinner with a friend."
Her brother's suggestion was good but it supposed more mental attitudes than she had and more emotional states than one, which was dissatisfaction with her lack of achievement. Putting things she would do on a list helped her feel she was making good use of her time. In the past, she and a friend told each other what they had done with their Saturdays and counted everything, laundry, dishes, washing hair, so they could account for large blocks of time when it seemed that nothing had been done.
Her instructor said yoga was about transitions from one pose to another, just like life, the instructor added. If she could remember that everything didn’t have to be a task, that she didn’t have to prove she was productive, then she could move from a state of productivity to a state of pleasure and maybe other states as well. She could remove pleasurable items from the productivity column to another column as yet unnamed.
|Vacuum||Talk on phone|
|Laundry||Go to Early Music concert|
|File||Have dinner with friend before concert|
|Practice Schubert||Practice Schubert|
Yoga and practicing were tasks but they gave pleasure so she put them on both lists. This meant that when she accomplished yoga, she could cross off two items, which was a bonus. As she thought about it, she realized that, although vacuuming didn’t give pleasure, being finished did. Maybe it should go on both lists. Filing was like vacuuming in that way. Laundry was the only one that didn’t give pleasure, although sometimes she felt pleasure as she folded clothes.
When she worked, she needed candy. She couldn’t buy a package and keep it in her office because she’d immediately eat the whole package. In places where she had previously worked, she had known where chocolate was kept on the floor where she worked, also on the floor below and the floor above. The woman’s preference was M&Ms, at first the plain kind, later, as staff switched to peanut M&Ms, she came to like them, too. She tried not to take so much that the owners of the chocolate would notice it was gone.
When she worked now, the woman hesitated to take chocolate from staff because she wasn’t an employee but an adviser who came once a month, though the hesitation didn’t last long. If someone were at their desk, she asked permission. At one office, the director gave everyone permission to take candy from a box under his desk. If people weren’t hovering, she took as much as she wanted. Even if the director, a man, was there, she scooped up a handful. With women, she felt awkward because they paid attention to how much she took. For this reason she preferred that women weren’t in their offices when she took candy and also because she didn’t have to get into a conversation on her way out, something that never happened with men.
Recently, because she took so many Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups from a colleague’s office, she bought a package and gave it to her. The colleague seemed pleased. Later, the woman noticed the colleague was out and entered the office to take only a few peanut butter cups without being seen but the candy wasn’t there. She glanced at the desk and bookshelves. Was her colleague filling the dish this very moment with the peanut butter cups the woman had given her. Had she hidden the candy because she knew the woman took it when she wasn’t there? If so, that was smart. The woman bought the peanut butter cups to appear generous so she could keep taking the peanut butter cups.
Mardith Louisell’s fiction, essays and memoir can be found most recently in Solstice Literary Magazine, Best Travel Writing 2012 (Travelers’ Tales), Huffington Post (“Peeling Potatoes”) and at http://ipinionsyndicate.com/author/mardilouisell/. She grew up on Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota, and takes photos of people’s ears, which can be seen at www.mardithlouisell.com. She lives in San Francisco and works part-time in child welfare. Beside Myself, a book of flash fiction, is her current project.