I recall a recurring dream from my childhood. I am locked in a room, sometimes it is a jail cell, with a monster. I will be fine as long as I can count everything the monster eats from the pile set before him. One, two, five, ten, twenty-five, sixty. The horror descends when he eats at an exponential rate, I can no longer keep up the count. I wake with my heart lurching across the floor.
It’s been decades since those visitations, and yet the monster is closer than ever. This fur-kid sits in its corner and everyday I attempt to audit its intake.
Some days are better than others. Most days, I am teetering on the brink. Just one more thing, and my breath shorts, a current drills through to my bowels.
I used to be a regular girl-wonder, able to keep any number of trilbies spinning concurrently in mid-air. Now I am simply overwhelmed. To regress to juvenalia; I do not have my shit together.
Have you ever watched episodes of My 600-lb Life or Hoarders and wondered, “How could they let it get so bad?”
Let me walk you through it. There are things that need to get done and so you do them. Then there are other things, maybe not as exciting or gratifying as your other tasks, but they do need to be attended to, and so they end up on a list of Things-To-Do. Everyday, there are new Things To Do. The list gets longer and even the really amazing things you’ve been dreaming about being asked to do all your life, find their place next to a check box. And then it’s the next day, and there are more Things To Do. You work through the list as best you can, sometimes feeling like you’re petting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. You’ve bought into the lie that is Multi-Tasking. And then it’s the next day, and there are more Things To Do. Time becomes something you never have enough of. And still, more Things To Do. It gets to the point where just looking at the To-Do list becomes a Thing-To-Do. Some things don’t ever get done. Gym is where you go for twenty minutes of treadmill four times a month to retain a Vitality discount. There are paper cuttings and a laminator on the dining room table from a craft project you began five weeks ago. Imagine if there were children to feed. Making children. Another Thing To Do.
At any given time, I am a browser window with 21 tabs open.
I know it’s a blessing to be busy. Purpose is a holy, wonderful, thing. And I am being ungrateful.
But I do not like this sensation of skidding through weeks, just a handful of ticked boxes on a list to show for all my piecemeal attention. I want presence, I want time to think about my words. I want to do so much more.

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I am a writer and photographer (look up my work on based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have an MA in Creative Writing from the university currently known as Rhodes. My writing accolades include winning the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize and the 2020 Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize for my debut collection, Zikr.

6 thoughts on “Done”

  1. Saaleha knowing your creativity, you are multitasking in whatever you are doing – finally when you sit in the silence, your blank pages will explode with words running to and fro into creative stories, poetry, and literature i can’t wait to read!

    now where did you put your fourth grade photo… so inspiring!

  2. You’ll never be done. There’s a chapter in “Don’t sweat the small stuff” about that. Examine how much pressure is real and how much is self-imposed, and whether you want to live a life always chasing an impossible goal of getting everything done. Easier said than done, but if you don’t have the financial pressure of providing for yourself or family, choose happiness at a pace comfortable for you.

  3. I try now to find balance and will no longer insult my to do list by calling it adulting. I am an adult. I don’t need to keep all my shit together. I prefer to get that shit done and take that load off my arms. but more than anything. Im getting better at getting 2 hours a day of doing something wonderful, fulfilling, sometimes that lying on the floor and doing slow yoga of me lying upside down. sometimes that taking a drive or cavorting in my flat (great word cavorting) or staring into my phone and endlessly scrolling through instagram. I am an adult who doesn’t have her shit together, I just let me shit go.

  4. Welcome Back, this post totally resonated within me! I have the kiddies to see to so that mean everything stays on the back burner until oblivion 🙁

  5. Welcome back.
    I have a system that works. I don’t keep a list of Things to Do in a future that I may never have. I do what wants doing daily.
    I.e. I wake up with a list in my head and I just do the stuff as effectively as I can. At least when I sleep at night, I go to bed feeling like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do For The Day. And really, a day at a time is all we’ll ever get 🙂

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