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Out & About: Keeping productivity worries in check

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/4/2020 9:09:27 PM
Modified: 5/4/2020 9:09:23 PM

The best representation of my inability to be productive during the COVID-19 pandemic is best illustrated by the stack of large picture frames leaning against my bureau.

They began accumulating there a couple weeks after my boyfriend and I received our instructions to begin working from home. With all our evenings and weekends suddenly free, we thought it would be a great time to finish decorating our apartment. We made a plan on what would go where: His (what I believe to be quite scary) framed Goosebumps puzzles would hang in the hallways while the blank wall in our bedroom would be reserved for nature-themed illustrations and prints.

It was successful at first. We navigated the mild frustrations of measuring walls and making sure frames were evenly spaced. It wasn’t perfect, but it was work we could be proud of. It was a physical accomplishment we could point to and say, “look what we did this weekend.”

Then the weeks went on and the malaise of staying at home began to set in. The remaining pictures were moved against the bureau instead of hung on the wall, and every time I needed to open a lower drawer in my bureau, I’d move them. “Tomorrow, after we’re done working from home for the day” became “this weekend, when our minds aren’t on work.” And then we stopped commenting on the frames altogether and moving them just became another part of a new stay-at-home routine.

During New Hampshire’s stay-at-home order, I have not had any desire to bake sourdough bread or try my hand at my family’s Italian red sauce recipe. I do not feel compelled to take this time to learn a new language or to tackle my ever-growing mending pile. The thought of starting a running habit or workout routine makes my stomach turn.

Traditionally, I have been a moderately productive person, with one day of each weekend devoted to an adventure or a household task that needs doing. Spending more time at home, I perhaps foolishly thought my productivity would double. Now will be the time to finally learn to cook better, to brush up my crocheting skills, to read the largest book on my bookshelf!

But the thought of doing any of those tasks created a brain block I have been unable to get through. Working my way through the sitcom The Office has become more pressing than trying to find something creative to do with a can of black beans.

I take virtual dance classes and attend virtual craft groups so that I remain part of those support circles that mean so much to me. The “self-starter” part of my personality, however, seems to be socially distancing somewhere faraway from me.

I’ve found some success in tackling smaller projects such as pulling out neglected knitting projects I knew I would not finish and scrubbing the kitchen countertops, but it feels like the minimum when my friends are color-coding their wardrobes and planting gardens. (Though, admittedly, pre-pandemic, I would likely never color-code anything.) Instead of volumes of history, I read novels with a guaranteed happily-ever-after.

A blank wall and a stack of picture frames, the folders full of photographs I planned to collage our closet doors with requires an amount of creativity I have trouble accessing right now. It’s hard walking by those piles and not feeling guilty. There is also the ever-present worries over the way this pandemic continues to affect the friends, family members, towns and community institutions that I love beyond measure.

But those same piles are also teaching me to be kinder to myself. No one in my household (human or cat) is hurt by pictures that have yet to be hung up. Self-care for me means binge-watching a sitcom, while for my younger brother it takes the form of trying a new recipe. The more I spend time worrying about what I am not doing, the less brain power I will have to devote to the things that I am actually accomplishing each day.

And those pictures will make it onto our wall. Eventually.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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