When in the Doldrums, Make Lists

I have Norton Juster to thank for a smidgeon of inspiration for today’s post because it’s in his landmark book, The Phantom Tollbooth, where our hero Miles encounters The Doldrums.

Miles encounters The Doldrums in The Phantom Tollbooth, illustration by Jules Feiffer.

Beware the Terrible Trivium

If you haven’t read this masterpiece (or recently re-read your dog-eared copy), I highly recommend it. It’s a kid’s book–or YA as it might be categorized today–but really it’s full of metaphors, so think of it like a more approachable Pilgrim’s Progress. Miles takes a series of journeys through an odd country, encountering strange allegorical creatures like the Spelling Bee and the Humbug. He becomes embroiled in a war between letters and numbers, King Azaz and the Mathemagician, and must battle monsters to rescue the princesses, Rhyme and Reason. I found the Terrible Trivium demon, the dapper man with no face, who sets Miles to tasks like draining a lake with an eye-dropper, to be particularly disturbing.

The Terrible Trivium, drawn by Jules Feiffer. *shudder*

Shortly after Miles sets out, he’s not paying attention to the road and ends up driving through the Doldrums, a colorless landscape of nothingness. It doesn’t take long before the car slows to a halt, and he’s tempted to join the Lethargians doing nothing.

This week I have felt those Lethargians whispering in my ear more than at any time since the shelter-in-place started mid-March. It’s ironic because places are starting to “open up,” although that process will be slow and confusing, so it hasn’t brought the excitement that I expected it would. I’ve noted several other people seem to also feel like The Doldrums are spreading this week more than before, so I don’t think it’s just me. I was never more tempted to sit around, skip the blog, and not even go outside. Horrors!

I haven’t even wanted to make lists, which is how I know something is really wrong. I’m normally a pretty good list maker. I don’t always do the things on the lists, but just getting a few things on paper is enough to compel activity. Sometimes I plunge headlong into doing something just so I can avoid doing the things on the list. Aha! But here is how we can dig our way out, people! Let’s make some lists.

What Do You Miss Most?

Concurrent with entering the Doldrums, I’ve been especially grumpy about things I can’t have and things I can’t do. Since our country is being run by a toddler …oh, I’m sorry, did I get political? I promised I wouldn’t… enough of that… anyway, feeling like a toddler is contagious. Maybe if I make a list, I can stop obsessing about what I can’t do.

These are the three things I miss the most…

  • Swimming
  • Seeing my friends in person
  • Libraries

Zoom has been great, and one of my friend groups established a regularly weekly chat session in lieu of playing pickleball together. Actually, thank goodness for it because it’s the only way I can tell that it’s Thursday. But seeing them in person would be better. I also used to poke my nose into the library at least once or twice a week, just to see what was there. I keep passing this huge stack of books and DVDs to return and pouting. Probably I should put that stack somewhere else.

Most of all, I miss the pool. I started swimming every day in the summer when I was eight. One summer I even swam 50 miles, and I still have the badge to prove it!

From 1974, 1750 laps between the docks. Photo from kajmeister.

I went to the pool regularly in college–including graduate school in Chicago in the wintertime!–and would take an early lunch twice a week from work to traipse down to the Y. I was never on a swim team and wouldn’t really be able to compete with the speedsters. But as a physical activity, it was the only one I could ever hold my own at with kids my age.

Even as they’re talking about bringing the gyms back, the pools may be last. Nobody seems to be spending a lot of time analyzing how safe it might be. Can someone get on that please? I have no doubt that chlorine keeps swimmers from transmitting to each other, but there’s the air you all share. Can’t wear a mask while you’re swimming. I will be staying carefully tuned to updates on that score.

Enough wallowing! I’ll see my peeps soon. Also, as much as I enjoy wandering around the library–being the kid in the candy store–I do have books at home. Let’s make a more uplifting list!

What Are Three Good Things to Come out the Stay-at-home?

  • Descending fully into Jigsaw Puzzle Nerddom
  • Cooking new recipes
  • Interacting more with family

I neglected to mention my J.P.D. in my bio. I do have an advanced degree in jigsaw puzzles, the Doctor of Jigsaw Puzzlery. I even shared some handy hints on approaches to the big ones in a previous popular post. Everyone else jumping on the puzzle wagon has been handy for me.

First, I can now spend a lot of time at them without feeling guilty. Secondly, my spouse has been more engaged in helping, and we’ve set some speed records on the 2000+ that have surprised me. Lastly, I’ve been able to sell several of the unopened ones in my large stash for good prices on eBay, which has allowed me to buy better ones! In fact, two more large ones are supposed to arrive today–oh goody! I have 102; I counted. That doesn’t include the 3-D ones downstairs in a closet somewhere.

Yes, I know Heinz has an all-red puzzle. I have an all-white one and all-gray one, along with this beast, so get in line, Heinz.

These Escher lizards could suck up that Heinz ketchup in five minutes. Hardest puzzle–ha! Photo by kajmeister.

Meanwhile, since fancy cuisine has gone off the menu, as most of the take-out places have offered sandwiches and fast foods, we’ve had to make our own. Despite trying not to panic buy in March, we ended up with quite a bit in the freezer, so we’ve slowly been making our way through pasta and frozen meatballs. I did learned how to whip up a really good lemon cream sauce with spinach and mushrooms for the pasta. Plus, it was a pleasant discovery to see how well bok choy goes with sweet and sour meatballs. You don’t even need a real wok!

Bok choy & sweet and sour meatballs (ground pork and zucchini). If you want the recipe, ping me in the comments. Note the puzzle underneath the placemat… Photo by kajmeister.

I saved the best for last, of course. More family interaction has been welcome. I’ve spent more time Zooming with my brother in Sammamish, my daughter in Stockton, and my son in San Diego than I had in years. I don’t know why we didn’t do it before, just took everyone for granted, I guess. We aren’t really phone people, but I dig using the camera. I know, where’ve I been? Skype was too choppy is my answer. I hope we keep the Zooming up even After.

Now it’s your turn to get out of the Doldrums and make some lists. What do you Miss? Writing it down could be a purge. What are you Grateful to have found?

List-making as inspired me. I need to get back to my Spanish lessons. I got a bit discouraged in the unpleasant verb permutations…preterit, imperfect, conditional, command… I stopped last week, or at least some time ago, or at least I would have stopped in the past, if I had not had to continue… but Stop! isn’t in my vocabulary. Now, how to say that in Spanish will probably take me the rest of the summer. However, I appear to have the time.

And, at least I have this to look forward to…

Photo by kajmeister of The Phantom Tollbooth. At least, I hope that’s what it says.

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