It’s About Time

I feel like, as it started, the pandemic gave us all a reason and the time to hole up with ourselves for a while, to question our characters and re-evaluate our priorities. I didn’t talk with anyone but my wife and now-remote coworkers for months.

In January of that year, my wife’s father died. The hospital limited the number of people allowed in his room, so I spent many hours in the lobby with my laptop.

Somehow I had become aware of the old Unix calendar program, which seemed like such a simple and useful tool. I like to know when my friends' birthdays are, but how to remember them? Facebook? Google Calendar? I had put them in my phone’s calendar. But I might only remember to check that, at max, a couple times a month, so some would invariably slip by, forgotten. A happy birthday text two weeks late doesn’t quite have the same effect.

But something my father-in-law’s death and the pandemic-induced isolation made me freshly aware of is the importance of people in my life and the value of our time. It became more important for me to value our time together and, in part, that meant never forgetting someone’s birthday. What I needed was a way to keep apprised of these events, but passively.

And why entrust this information to Facebook or Google or Apple or anyone? Why give it to them? If it’s so important to me, I feel like I should own it, and I should be responsible for keeping myself conscious of it.

So I copied all the birthdays and anniversaries in my phone’s calendar to a calendar file and wrote a little script to run every morning that gets the events for the next 10 days and emails them to me. And it was good.

calendar includes system-level files for holidays, so I also added those too. Because it’s important to commemorate Presidents' Day and Easter and The Passing Of Gandalf. And it was good.

And calendar’s file format supports wildcards—say you want to be reminded to pay your mortgage on the first of every month—so I added some monthly todos to my calendar file. And it was good. My phone’s calendar was almost obsolete.

But calendar is really meant for recurring events—its file format doesn’t support years or times. But by then the lockdown had been in place for months, and now it’s summer, and if you don’t meet your friends for cocktails in the park this weekend you’re going to lose what little grip you still have on your sanity. So how to add that to your daily reminder email?

The answer, of course, is a little program to support that kind of event, and I added a file for events of that kind next to my files for birthdays and anniversaries and todos, and modified my script to collate all these things and include them in the morning email.

And it’s great. My phone’s calendar has been completely replaced by a couple command line programs and a cron job.