For your next challenging task, make a realistic timeline.
I have always liked Lego, but I have never had one creative drop of blood in me. I built a few Lego space ships when I was a kid, but once they were built, they just stood there, ornamenting the book shelf. The only Lego inventions I can brag about having created, were a box of all the regular pieces and with all the other pieces inside, and a colour competition.
Yes, a colour competition. It was red against white against blue, one tower for each colour, to see which tower would be the tallest. For some reason, white won every single time.
Mostly, though, I just sorted my Lego into different boxes.
My oldest son likes Lego, just like I did. The only exception is that he is creative. He can sit for hours alone in his room, listen to Harry Potter and build Lego space ships, cars, boats, planes, motorbikes and weapons. And he is no fan of sorting — whenever he builds something, he will just pour thousands of Lego pieces onto the floor to make a heap so big that he has to wade through it to get out of his room.
Sometimes he asks me to join him. I want to play with you, he says, I want to have a Lego fight with you: you build your space ships, I have mine, and then we zoom about and collide while we make strange sounds symbolising warring space ships colliding in outer space.
And then we have a Lego war, are his exact words.
After ten minutes, I realize I have no chance of making something even remotely similar to the fantastic space-ships he makes. His space-ships look like they have been designed by an adult; mine like they have been designed by a six-year old. And that’s when I start to sort.
I take an empty box and put all the regular Lego pieces into it. Then I take another box and put all the wheels there; one box is for windows and walls, another for Hero Factory. I pretend I am looking for a rare and special piece, one which will make my space-ship complete, but what I am really doing, is going though the heap of Lego to find pieces I can put where they belong.
My son listens to Harry Potter and builds even more advanced creations. I take another empty box for the flat pieces.
After another twenty minutes, we fight, despite my best efforts to keep on sorting. We take one space ship each, we zoom about in the air, we shoot with lasers and cannons and guns, we collide, pieces fall off, my space ship disintegrates while his is unaffected. After a couple of fights like this, it’s time for supper.
At least that’s the normal routine. But yesterday something else happened.
Yesterday, I had enough of the floor being covered in Lego. Yesterday, I told my son that I had to vacuum the floor soon: those pieces must be somewhere else than on the floor, or else…! But I can help you.
Yesterday, I started a Sisyphus-project: to sort all the thousands of Lego pieces into their right place.
My son was with me for a few minutes. Then he started building another space ship. I put pieces into boxes; he took them out. I asked him to wait untill I had sorted everything. It would probably take only a few days. He started complaining, he could find his pieces, he didn’t need them to be sorted. It’s important, I told him, to have some kind of structure and order. He sighed and listened to Harry Potter on his head phones.
After many hours, yesterday and today, I am perhaps halfway. Most of the regular pieces are in one box. Of course, the hardest part remains: what to do with all the pieces which don’t fit into one of the boxes I have made? They must have their place, too: I cannot just lump them all together, willy-nilly, simply because I can’t be bothered to make an effort. No, if I sort the pieces, I must sort them all, no exceptions.
Even though I know that once I am done, my son will pour them all onto the floor again.
The time is 22:22. The baby will wake up twice tonight, and I will spend half an hour each time to make him fall asleep again. Tomorrow I’ll have to get the older kids to school, and after that, I must write a piece about Telemann and read for my sailing exam and prepare my lectures about swearing and continue working on my other (top secret) book projects.
In all likelihood, though, I’ll spend more time sorting Lego. If I don’t take advantage of the kids being at school, the realistic timeline of me finishing this Lego sorting project is measured in years.
I’ll bet you anything Sisyphus’ problem was that his children were standing on the top of the hill.