Last night, Daylight Saving Time came to an end for 2021, and we turned back the clocks. Many people lament the end of DST, but I love this change. Not because I’m fond of earlier darkness, but because the gift of an extra hour is so delicious.
On the whiteboard calendar over my desk, I mark different obligations in different colors. Appellate deadlines are in red, trial court deadlines are green, research deadlines are blue, and appointments are purple. This week is a sea of purple already: a doctor appointment, a presentation known as the Connecticut Forum, two dress rehearsals for the chorale concert, and the concert itself. Still to be scheduled is the repair of my boiler; the appointment for my vaccine booster needs to be rescheduled to ensure that recovering from it won’t bump up against the dress rehearsals. Three deadlines are in green, plus one in red.
And then there are the non-scheduled obligations. The most pressing one is the regular emptying of the bucket the boiler is leaking into (hence the need to schedule the repair). I also need to practice my music for the concert, do laundry, clean the house, and send out bills so my clients will send money for the work I’ve done. I don’t yet know how many adoptable shelter cats will need bios this week, but unless something changes, it’s likely I won’t have be able to write any until next week.
Another important non-scheduled obligation is finishing the final edit of My Brother, Romeo so that I can send it to the formatter so that as soon as I have the final cover, I can publish the book. Last week’s crazy busyness included a search for proper fonts for the cover; my cover designer had ideas, but apparently I hadn’t articulated the mood of the book well enough, and so his suggestion involved dramatic sweeping letters. As it turns out, the title will be in a font called Beatnik Barbie (don’t you just love that name?), which has a retro 1960s sitcom feel that is perfect for the setting and mood of the story. Naturally, this font isn’t in the designer’s library, and so I’ll need to pay extra to purchase a license to use it. Still, it’s worth doing, because Beatnik Barbie is the right font for this book. You’ll see.
Still other obligations include researching what types of ads or events I can find or create to get State v. Claus into a few more hands. I’m running my free giftwrapping offer through the end of 2021 for anyone who buys a paperback copy of State v. Claus directly from Tuxedo Cat Press. At the end of November, I’ll be appearing on John Valeri’s YouTube show, Central Booking. On December 11, 2021, I’ll be joining other local authors for book signings at River Bend Bookshop’s holiday event. Still, I feel as if I should be doing much more, particularly because this is the prime time of the year to sell a book about Santa Claus.
So yes, I’ve been crazy busy over the past few weeks, and I will be again this week.
The irony is that I’ve been so good about not taking on new obligations. I chose not to audition for the choir at my new church because they sing literally every week from September to June. I also elected not to sing at a different church service commemorating All Saints’ Day, and I’ve already decided not to sing next month in their Christmas lessons and carols program. I did the latter two years ago, and the rehearsals (held at the church, forty-five minutes away) wore me out. The day of the program was the kind of gray dampness that chills you to the bone; I’d have given anything to be at home in front of the fire with a book and a cat. So this year—especially with everything else going on—I’m sitting out all these opportunities.
During periods like these, when the days are packed and there’s almost no time to breathe—much less think and create—that make me long for the slower periods of days gone by. At least, I remember them as being slower. I’m probably looking into my rose-colored rearview mirror. In all likelihood, the pace was just as hectic even if some of the obligations were different. The reality is that I always think things were easier in the past, or they’ll be easier when X or Y has been completed.
It’s never really true, though. When I was in college, I couldn’t wait to graduate because once I had a regular job, I wouldn’t have to study at night and on weekends, so I’d have plenty of time for leisure reading and going out and enjoying life. As it turned out, I got a job as an English teacher and a drama club leader, which meant I didn’t have time for much of anything. In addition to teaching five classes a day, I had to plan lessons, grade papers, attend faculty meetings, run rehearsals, learn how to built sets and do all the other technical things a play requires, and commute forty minutes each way to do it. Before I stopped teaching, I’d begun working on my master’s (which, in those days, was required for permanent certification); after I left teaching and worked as an office temp, I continued my graduate work while looking for a permanent office job (a daunting task in the pre-internet era). When I finally found an office job, it didn’t pay very well, and so I had to take a second job at a Hallmark store to pay the rent. And so on, and so on, and so on.
I imagine we’ve all heard the expression, “Don’t wish your life away.” In other words, don’t focus so much on how things will be at some future time that you miss what’s in front of you right now.
It’s enormously tempting right now to imagine that some time in the future, my life will settle down to an even, manageable pace. Me being me, however, this seems unlikely.
So the trick is harnessing my mind to focus on the here and now. I Googled “how to focus on now,” and I found literally dozens of articles and listicles on the subject. Rather than start down the rabbit hole and lose what’s left of this evening, I’ll tell you a few things that work for me:
- Allow a cat to hold me hostage. After spending this afternoon on yard work and housework, I plunked down in my recliner for just a moment’s rest before I got on to the next task. Before I could get back up, though, my cuddliest cat, Ned, hopped up into my lap and settled down. As any cat lover knows, you cannot disturb a resting cat. With nothing to read, no television, no music—no human communication of any kind—I could do nothing except be in the moment with my sweet boy. The room was silent except for Ned’s purring. I stroked his soft fur. He pushed his head into my hand. (He probably would have stayed longer except that I had the bright idea to take his photo for use in this post, and he has a low tolerance for such foolishness.) It might only have been five or ten minutes, but the quiet room and Ned’s loving presence provided a much-needed respite.
- Notice present details. My tea mug is cool on the outside; the tea itself is barely room temperature. I can hear the kitchen clock ticking. My hands are rough from the afternoon’s work despite my having worn work gloves. (I need to get a new pair, because the middle finger on the left hand has a hole, and my finger kept poking out.) The baseboard is ticking as the boiler begins the work of heating the house. Music from the coming weekend’s concert runs through my head. Ned came back into the room, chirping as he often does to announce his presence. The headache I had this morning has returned, albeit not as strong, but with the same sense of someone driving a cleaver through my skull, in line with my right eye, down to my ear. Details all, and paying attention to them keeps me in this moment.
- Make lists. Granted, making a to-do list is about the future, not the present, but it has present benefits. One of the best things about putting something on a list is that I no longer have to remember it. It’s written down. The portion of my brain and my energy devoted to remembering it is now free. (If I need an extra reminder, a post-it note on the bathroom mirror serves admirably.)
- Call an end to the work day. Depending on your life, this may be easier said than done, but it’s important to set that boundary as much as possible. I still need to clean up the dinner dishes and empty the boiler bucket, but apart from that, my housework for the day is done—and believe me, if I were willing, I could find plenty to do. My clients might be happier if I were to spend a couple hours on their projects. But it’s 10:30 on a Sunday night, and writing this post is my last act of the day. Tomorrow, I’ll do laundry in between billable projects; I may even vacuum the rugs. But not tonight. For me, being willing to stop is part of claiming now. Whether I read a book, watch a movie, play with the cats, listen to music, soak in the tub—whatever—I can sink into it and rest.
Tomorrow will be crazy busy. I already know that. But tonight, I’m taking a break.
The company of Ned and a few minutes of meditative mindfulness. Sounds perfect.
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Indeed it was!
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