personal project

All the Ways I Failed at Self-Improvement

Animation: Stevie Remsberg; Source Video Getty

Personal Project is a week about hobbies and digging into our hidden talents.

First there were memes about ways to stay productive during a quarantine (do YouTube yoga, bake, organize your closet). Then came a wave of memes defiantly rejecting the idea of productivity; memes that said it was okay not to do YouTube yoga or bake. But where in this nuanced dialectic are the memes for people who try their best to be productive and are remarkably unsuccessful?

When I’m feeling lucid, I understand that the idea of “self-improvement” is ludicrous at a time like this. How could anyone possibly get through weeks of terrorized confinement without coming out the other side an appreciably worse version of their former self? Even if the regression is only a temporary one? But, of course, I am not often feeling lucid these days, and so I continue to enter search queries like “homemade yogurt easy” and “bird identification app free.”

Here, the start of what I assume will be an infinite scroll of stuff I’ve botched:

Make homemade yeast

My local grocery store, like seemingly every other grocery store in America, is out of yeast. Since many people on the internet are baking bread, I thought, Why not me too? Following instructions from a prepper website called Survival Mom, I put raisins and sugar in a sterile jar, then filled it three-fourths full with filtered water and covered it loosely. The recipe promised to produce a yeasty liquid with “a winelike fermentation” smell. After four days, there was no wine smell, and a portion of the raisins were moldy. I threw them out.

Keep in regular touch with family and friends

Along with many others, my mood has been rapidly cycling between “terror/despair” and “optimism/determination.” The problem is that nobody’s mood cycles are synced. So, not only are we all isolated, but when I actually make contact with friends or family, the result is often a jarring clash of outlooks. If I’m riding an optimistic streak and they aren’t, I feel stupid and delusional. If I’m wretched and they’re not, I feel guilty for bringing them down, or upset that they aren’t taking things seriously. As a result, it’s easier not to talk to anyone.

Not do drugs

After five days of anxiety insomnia, I was starting to lose weight (due to permanent nausea from sleeplessness) and bump into walls when walking. It was targeted anxiety: A sibling who had been sick with COVID-19 for ten days suddenly developed pneumonia, and I was worried. I tried the usual palliatives: sniffing lavender oil, taking a hot shower before bed, chamomile tea, booze. On day six, I broke an emergency Klonopin tablet in half and swallowed it, believing that I was taking a reasonable .25 milligrams’ worth of benzodiazepine. A moment later, I realized my mistake. I’d mistaken one pill for another (YOU try sifting through indistinguishable tiny tablets on two hours of sleep!) and swallowed four times as much Klonopin as I’d intended. I slept 12 hours and spent the next day feeling as though my body had been dunked in syrup and my mind replaced with cotton wool. Not bad, actually.

My sibling has recovered from the pneumonia and appears to be doing okay, but since then, I’ve been dipping into the stash regularly. I do not type this with pride. Many of my acquaintances have allowed their self-imposed drug and alcohol restrictions to lapse as well. Any port in a storm!

Related goal: vape less.


Learn to knit

The sibling mentioned above has a pregnant wife! Thankfully, she has not displayed any COVID-19 symptoms. With the future infant in mind, I splurged on a baby bootie kit from Wool and the Gang.

Cards on the table: I am a beginning knitter. I can cast on using several methods and have mastered the basic stitches. I have made presentable scarves and blankets. This kit was labeled as “Easy,” which subsequently made me pretty upset because it was not. I had to look up multiple supplemental YouTube tutorials along the way before ultimately ruining the booties beyond repair during the assembly stage, which was — in my opinion — insufficiently diagrammed in the included booklet.

Maintain the social fabric

I am isolating in a small town, and once or twice a day I go for a walk. Anyone who grew up in a small town knows that the social rules of small towns largely revolve around waving: If you pass someone while driving, you wave; if you pass someone while walking on the opposite side of the street, you wave. It’s a bare-bones acknowledgment — the “wave” is one palm lifted, not a frantically oscillating hand. Doesn’t matter if you know the person or not. You just lift your goddamned hand.

Lately on my walks, I’ve encountered two types of people: The first type of person waves (or returns mine) while keeping a respectable distance. The second type of person avoids eye contact and frowns while keeping a respectable distance. I find the second group enraging. “There are exactly two social options here,” I want to scream. “One represents the path to heaven, and one the path to hell. You are choosing the path to hell.”

Then I mentally convict these people with the crime of contaminating me with their antisocial behavior, and my anger redoubles.

Every member of the second group is under the age of 35.

Finally stop eating sugar

Molly Young.
Molly Young.
Molly Young.
Molly Young.
All the Ways I Failed at Self-Improvement