Last year, as the days on my iPhone calendar wound down to close out 2018, I sensed a looming existential crisis. It’s a familiar crisis, one I’ve experienced ever since I gave in to automated calendars. Because before I owned a machine that determined my schedule, the days leading up to December 31 always had a purpose.
That purpose was January 1.
January 1 exists for only one reason. It is a reminder that the champagne quaffed the night before is now a thing of the past, leaving a bleary remnant of recollections to file away into the bank of memories. January 1 offers a clean slate and a blank calendar.
At least, that’s what January 1 used to offer, before life got so automated.
It all started back in the spring of 2001. A company called Handspring had released its Palm Pilot Visor Edge in brushed metallic blue. I desperately wanted that sexy piece of handheld equipment.
I wasn’t a complete stranger to computers, but their worth had been slow to develop. In 1987, Dr. K purchased our first Apple computer, a 128K Mini-Me that put a stop to me asking my Mother to type my term papers. I wasn’t a spoiled brat. She offered. She liked doing things like that — or at least she enjoyed typing the long research papers cobbled together for my undergraduate history classes.
After entering law school, with all of its specialized notations, annotations, citations, and irritations, we decided it was time for me to put my high school typing classes into gear.
But word-processing was all I did with that 128K box. For real life, like a social life and dental appointments, that was what a paper calendar was for. Much more than simply blank boxes to be scribbled upon, each page contained an inspirational message and a photo. Paper calendars were idyllic visions of life captured, helping define who you were and what your purpose was in the Universe for that one year. Paper calendars were tactile visions of hope, a schematic idealization of what the next year might look like.
As such, paper calendars were a vehicle helping to avoid the certain existential crisis waiting as December days drew to a close.
For the rest of 2001, every so often I’d pick up Dr. K’s Palm Pilot (it was boring and black), holding it gingerly in the palm of my hand. Occasionally, I flipped open the metal screen cover, amused as it sprung to attention, prodding its silver buttons, staring at the filmy reflection of myself in its dull gray screen.
In early December I took the plunge and bought the metallic blue Palm Pilot.
January 1, 2002 was a bleak day. There was no bright paper calendar with engaging photos of wildlife, travel hotspots, or masterpiece paintings to marvel at while I filled in the squares of my life for the year going forward. Instead, there was a blank gray screen with a silver stylus with which I was supposed to magically create my new, paper-free life. I labored with it for much of the day on January 1, 2002, stylus-ing my life.
But from the beginning of my venture into the world of automated calendars, I began to miss appointments. I had a gnawing fear that the blue metallic box would somehow make my appointments evaporate once I closed the lid. But in the bright light of morning, I forgot to flip it open and review my day. It wasn’t part of my established routine.
At least I acknowledged I had a problem. The Palm Pilot was stuffed into a desk drawer. I drove to my trusted office supply store and bought a three-ring Day Planner.
Even if I couldn’t handle automation, I had put calendars with photos of cute wildlife behind me.
Fast-forward to 2008 when an Apple iPhone entered my life. Dr. K convinced me the process was simpler. The phone “talked″ to my computer. They all three agreed I needed their help.
And still, automation continued to outthink me. Last year my iPhone began accepting appointments. I entered a tennis date, and the phone remembered the time and place from last year, courteously asking whether to repeat the event weekly. It read my mind, planned my schedule, and invited me to meetings I hadn’t known existed. They magically appeared on my phone and I clicked “accept.”
From there, life got out of control. No longer able to schedule or manage my own time, I became adrift, lacking purpose, consumed by anxiety. To find something to do, I surfed the Internet, frantically hopping tabs, hoping to grasp the meaning of existence.
Late in the day on December 31, 2018, before the champagne, before the end-of-year hoopla commenced, I hopped onto a website called The Ultimate List of National Days. I downloaded it to my iPhone and succumbed to complete and total immersion. It is the most amazing thing. On January 1, I entered nothing else into my calendar.
Instead, I relied completely on my National Calendar Days to direct my life.
The very next day, January 2, was #NationalPersonalTrainerDay, the day the whole world makes a resolution to get into shape. January 3 was blank, so we moved on to January 4, #NationalSpaghettiDay. This made sense. The Ultimate List of National Days had given me two days to get into shape and it was time to carb-load. Obediently, I followed instructions, eating spaghetti daily because there were no other directions of what to eat.
I slurped spaghetti through January 5 (#NationalBirdDay — a rarity because most birds have flown south this time of year), January 6 (#NationalTechnologyDay — which I celebrated with my iPhone while eating spaghetti), finally arriving at January 8 (#NationalBubbleBathDay — which I needed, having decided to soak away the weight I just gained eating spaghetti for four days straight).
Hoping to resurface trim and slim, I stayed in the bathtub through January 13 (#NationalRubberDuckyDay was extraordinarily on point) but when I emerged I realized I hadn’t lost an ounce. Fortunately, January 16 was just around the corner, #NationalWithoutAScalpelDay. If I had had a scalpel, I might have been compelled to scalp my absolutely worthless personal trainer. As it was, we hadn’t spoken since the morning of January 3.
I slogged through January (#NationalPopcornDay and #NationalChocolateCakeDay), arrived in February somewhat energized by the thought of #NationalPizzaDay on the 9th, but perplexed by #NationalClamChowderDay on February 25 because it didn’t specify whether it was New England or Manhattan.
Was I supposed to eat both styles? By now, my abilities to choose were becoming rusty.
But it was on February 27 that a glimmer of individuality pierced my brain. The Ultimate List of National Days had proclaimed it #NationalStrawberryDay.
I have never seen a ripe strawberry in Colorado on February 27. Imported strawberries, sure. But no strawberry-eating person worth their considerable weight in pasta would purchase and eat a strawberry before early May in Colorado.
I began to consider the calendar my enemy, yet soldiered on. In March, I skeptically ate my way through pancakes, cereal, potato chips, and spinach. April heaped on a plateful of peanut butter and jelly, carrots, pretzels, and raisins. May included orange juice, apple pie, croutons (but no salad to sprinkle them over), chocolate chips, walnuts, wine, brisket, and hamburgers.
I have arrived in June, stuffed to the gills, halfway through the year, and yet, not satiated. I’d hoped that by paying attention to the food holidays, I might eat my existential crisis away.
Oh wait. I took a peek ahead and there might be some hope. June 19 is just around the corner. Thankfully, it’s #NationalMartiniDay.