Carl started to set his mug of tea down on the desk, but first had to uncover the spare mousepad he used as a coaster. The desk was cluttered with scraps of paper containing half-completed shopping lists and old appointment reminders, scribbled phone numbers and notes to himself from various research projects. There was no system to this mess, other than remembering how old — and thus how deep — any tidbit of information might be. He nudged a pile of DVDs with the back of his hand just far enough to create a hole in the chaos large enough for his beverage to rest in front of the computer monitor.
He sat down in his sagging office chair, slid the keyboard tray towards his belly, and grabbed the mouse that barely had room to roll on the small ledge. His computer screen awakened from its power-saver swirl of colors to display the half-written document he had left open to go make a pot of tea. He had started this project two days ago, but had made little progress beyond a bullet list of points he wanted to include in the final masterpiece.
Carl took a sip of his tea. He needed cookies. He got up and went back into the kitchen. The cupboard was stocked with a variety of snacks he thought of as his “tea biscuits” but were hardly suited to an authentic British tea. What he really wanted right now was an oatmeal raisin cookie, but he had finished off that bag yesterday. This lack reminded him to add it to the shopping list, which was somewhere on his desk.
With a fistful of vanilla wafers, he returned to his chair and started to look for a pen. The eraser end of a pencil was sticking out of a crossword puzzle book on the top of a stack of newspapers on the floor. He set his cookies down on the edge of the keyboard tray and picked up the book, just to see where he had left off with the last puzzle. He found he could fill in a few more squares.
[These four paragraphs took me two days to get written. It’s what a friend of mine called “hesitation marks”, the kind of stall tactic that looks like writing but is actually a way to avoid really writing anything. I had a kernel of an idea — in which Carl discovers a microscopic lifeform living on the crumbs inside his keyboard, literally eating away moments of time and altering his world — but I found excuses for not working on it. Instead, I skipped ahead to a stinger ending, just to be done with it.]
Carl finished his tea, finished his cookies, finished the crossword puzzle, but never finished the document he was working on.
[I considered adding something ironic about the subject of his document being about time-management or a list of resolutions. I decided it wasn’t necessary.]
Meanwhile, in a laboratory on a world across the universe from Carl’s house, a technician turned out the lights and locked the console where he worked. He had accomplished a lot in one day, and was going home early for tea.