Devil's Head Diary

Combatting Pandemic Boredom


Social distancing opened up blocks of unscheduled time and put the lie to my standard excuse: “I don’t have time to ____.” In the initial phase of isolation, I felt the need to establish goals so the newfound time would not be wasted. I took inventory of my surroundings and started a to-do list that turned into a cumbersome tome.

Annoying “oughtas” cried out for attention but I could rationalize putting off most of them. For instance, if I actually removed the even coating of dust on horizontal surfaces, David would waste time hunting for pen and paper each time he was stricken with the urge to write I LUV U!

Faced with a ballooning to-do list, I resorted to the Procrastinator’s Planning Guide. First, I categorized the tasks into three sections: Things I Will Do Later, Things I Can Get David to Do, and Things I Have No Intention of Ever Doing. This exercise eliminated many items, improved my outlook, and a starting point was identified. However, before getting to work there was an obligation to fulfill. I had to meet my friend and tai chi partner, Judy. Since the shut-down, Judy has been my only FNFH (Frequent-Non-Family-Human) contact.

Before the YMCA closed, I was teaching a tai chi sword form class there and I didn’t want those skills to atrophy, so I offered to continue instruction in the great distancing outdoors. During the first few months several people were along for the ride, but Judy is the only one who stayed the course in spite of soggy days, bone chilling cold and gale force winds. We meet two to three times a week; when the sun is out we are in the parking lot, when it isn’t we meet at a local dock. Each place offers a perfect setting to focus on what is important — relaxation and stress elimination.

In standing meditation, we draw energy from the Earth or the tides — depending upon our location — inhale energy from the air, engage our senses to feel the heat of sun, chill of breeze, drink in the sights and sounds and focus on being present in the moment. Settled and centered, we move on to the onerous task of eliminating the enemies of serenity.

Tai chi poses have charming names: Waiting in the Attitude of the Fish, Parting the Grass, Catch Falling Blossoms, Birds Return to the Forest, Scooping the Moon from the Bottom of the Sea. But these names do not necessarily convey a description of the action. To assure that students understand the defensive or aggressive goals of all 37 poses requires translation.

Since mortal combat is to ensue, one needs a foe. The preparation phase requires focused calmness, and once you have quieted the myriad of distractions, it is easy to single out a worthy opponent.

Suppose the opponent of choice involves a blackberry bush army that is intent on invading the homestead. One must be ready to take on the grabbing, stabbing brambles; therefore, a targeted and vicious response is required.

Three Rings Around the Moon — my very favorite sequence — is better understood once the Immoral Points the Way and the threat is identified. The first pose of the series is Major Literary Star — a nice touch for this wannabe-writer. It is a targeting move which signals intent, as in “I am coming for you!” and “Here’s a knee to the groin.” Then, advance: Slash from hip to shoulder. Advance. Backhand slash from hip to shoulder. Advance. Slash up the middle. Flip the sword. Wipe off the gore and run ’em through. The blackberry attacker has been dispatched.

Look out! Watch your flank! Spin to catch the next thief of time intent on grabbing an ankle. Stab him in the foot, raise the sword and deliver a meaningful downward whack. Follow up with a long sweeping stroke traditionally known as Phoenix Spreads Its Wings, which is designed to unseat an enemy on horseback or decapitate a giant.

This is just a small sampling of the graceful flowing tai chi moves that produce an aura of calm.

Having entered a phase of chilled sogginess after the immediate threat of boredom and the blackberry invaders have been banished, Judy and I say farewell and head home. But as I snuggle down in a blanket with a hot cup of coffee, I know that the sneaky blackberry army will resume its rightful place at the top of my Procrastinator list.

To quote Scarlet O’Hara: “I will think about that tomorrow.”

Because when it comes to “-crastination,” I am definitely “pro.”

Award-winning columnist Carolyn Wiley lives in Longbranch, where she defends the serenity of existence.