Time to Focus

COVID-19 is getting old. And experts agree that bringing it under control may take until the end of next year. In the meantime, I’m trying to find the good in it while being mindful of those who are sick or have lost a loved one or their job.

Most of the good from COVID-19 is a result of having more time to focus, to pay attention, to listen, to do one thing at a time.

I’m finishing books. I have a habit of starting books, geting two or three going at once, and then, because other activities come along, not finishing them. But I get interrupted less often lately, and the stack is going down. I’m reading more and for longer periods before I need to give my attention to another task.

I realized some time ago that the ability to focus is one of the advantages men have over the rest of us. It’s in their DNA. Since man walked the earth, he was a provider, a hunter, a protector, and those things require focus.

Women, on the other hand, bear the progeny, and kids make things messy and disorganized. So, it’s in our DNA to multi-task. We can nurse a baby while cooking, watching two other children, and talking on the phone.

But jobs get done better when there’s focus. So, the trick is to focus on those things worth doing. COVID-19 has kept my life simpler and with the added time, given me the clarity to do the things worth doing and let the others go.

Gene is reading for fun! He has never been that kind of a reader. Reading, for him, has always been something you needed to do – for school, for work, for getting something done. Reading was practical. Because we’re stuck at home, he has begun to read for the pure pleasure of it. And in true masculine style, he sticks with one book for several days until it’s finished. Reading books gives us something to talk about besides cars, trailers, air conditioners, and fishing. And it’s fun to hear him laughing at a passage or to listen to him read me something.

I’m writing with a sense of purpose. Facebook has been an outlet for my writing, but you can’t develop good stories or interesting ideas in just one or two paragraphs. Hence, my blog, which, at my daughter’s suggestion, I started on April 3rd. This is Blog Number 22!

There’s a lot involved. Selecting the topic is the toughest part of the process. Then there’s the writing and research, the organizing, the rewrites, the editing, and the adding of media. And I can’t omit the platform, which is like learning a new language, a clunky one, at best. All this is good brain exercise and keeps me from flitting from one activity to the next.

Gene and I are walking again. I can’t attend my exercise programs, so walking has been a lifesaver — if we get up early enough to beat the heat. We talk when we walk, and it’s a helpful way to touch base on our projects or just run things by each other.

I have a friend who says that men will do anything if it’s outside. I think that theory has some merit. Think about it: he doesn’t want to cook, ask him to grill; he doesn’t offer to help with the cleaning, ask him to blow off the patio and hose it down; he doesn’t communicate, go for a walk and try to get a word in.

Good friends are calling, and I’m calling them. We can give each other our full attention. We can share funny stories and make each other laugh. We can take our time and give each other the space to say it all; that’s hard to do in a text or email. I come away from these chats rejuvenated and comforted. And I think they do, too.  

I’m putting my son’s mementos from preschool through 4th grade into a scrapbook. He’s 40 years old! I did this for his older sisters years ago, and I’ve started this project several times, only to have to clear off the dining room table and put everything away. Not this time. We never have company!

Gene and I do more together. This is a man who doesn’t want to be “mothered,” married to a nurturer. But because of COVID-19, he has let me learn to cut his hair. He seems to like the result and the money it saves. And I love doing it!Gene's 2nd haircut2 5-16-20

We fix lunch together, even if we go our separate ways to eat it.  We team up on chores, e.g., he vacuums, I mop. We run expenditures by each other before we go out and buy something, rather than just ordering it because we suddenly have time. (Okay, this one’s entirely mine.)

He has felt from the beginning that I have “too many constituents.” Now I’m home most of the time, not running in so many directions. I can give him my full attention when he needs to tell me something. And all this leads to a better sex life, which seals the deal.

So, that’s my list. Taken individually, the items may sound mundane. But together, they contribute to health, intellectual stimulation, and richer relationships, and that means a happier life. At the root of it is the time to focus. And COVID-19 has given me this gift.

Ironic, isn’t it?

P.S. Please sign up for my blog. I’m curious to know who reads it. And if you would add comments about how COVID-19 has improved your life, I’d love to read them. Stay well.

Time for a Break?

CHANGES OF SCENE ARE A GOOD THING, and SO ARE FRIENDS

Gene and I just celebrated our 19th anniversary. Ironically, after 19 weeks of social distancing, I think we’re ready to socially distance from each other. (Don’t worry; that’s a joke.)

Like most of us, in all these months, we’ve seen very few of our friends “live and in person.” And we miss them! The last time we entertained was on May 6th. Our neighbors Lynne and Bob came over at 7:30 a.m. for coffee and Bloody Marys on the patio. (We needed to be outside to socially-distance, and since we live in Phoenix, early morning seemed like the best time.)

In fact, since the disappearance of life as we know it, our social life has been almost non-existent. We’ve been to our friend Gail’s house for the best take-out dinner ever, seated at opposite ends of her dining table, and we joined Tempe friends Pat and Steve here in San Diego for seafood and a long walk on the beach. That’s it.

We’ve been able to rendezvous with family in various parts of northern Arizona, and in their yards and ours. Those visits have been our saving grace. But still, we miss our friends.

Since March, we’ve camped in Page Springs, Cottonwood, Camp Verde, Payson, Show Low, and Greer.

Added to the social isolation has been the pressure of being in our trailer for weeks at a time. We feel lucky to have our little house on wheels because it has allowed us a change of scene. But we’re talking 120 square feet! Have you ever tried to remove roasted vegetables from an oven in a space about three feet wide? Or taken a shower in a bathroom where getting undressed requires the dexterity of a contortionist?

This month, thank God, we’ve been in a little bungalow in San Diego with our kitties. It feels spacious, compared to the trailer. But being in another town for a month, even one with the most heavenly weather possible, poses problems, too.

I have plenty to do: reading, writing, talking on the phone with my kids and sisters, emailing and texting friends, cleaning, laundry, Facebook, Words with Friends. We cook, go for walks, fish, picnic at the beach, talk, and talk some more. Gene reads, goes to the driving range and fishes alone occasionally. But there are no projects here, no “Honey Do’s.” And this is “Mr. Fix-it.” The poor guy is bored.

So, we’re starting to drive each other nuts. He’s noticing every annoying habit I have, and I’m noticing that he has a few himself. The differences between us are more obvious because we’re together so much.

It turns out I have gotten particular. About a lot of things.  I used to think when Gene asked me to go with him to the store, he just wanted help. It turns out he wants me there to be sure he doesn’t bring home the wrong items, e.g., salted butter instead of unsalted, plain olive oil instead of Extra Virgin First Cold Pressed, thin pork chops instead of thick ones, red delicious apples instead of honey crisp. Not only are my grocery lists missing detail; they’re impossible to read! So now I know.

I can fix the grocery list. But a tougher challenge is the way we make decisions. Have you ever taken the color test for personality traits? Well, I’m a blue; Gene’s a green. I’m quick and spontaneous, the “let’s get it done” type. Gene is slow and deliberate, the “let’s get it done right” type, He wants to gather every bit of information he can find before making a decision, and I’m talking small (to me) decisions like which beach today or which wine with dinner. I welcome his style if, to me, it’s a decision worthy of his level of scrutiny.  But sometimes, I just need to move in a direction, any direction, even the wrong direction. In my head I’m shouting, PLEASE, LET’S JUST MOVE!

So, we’re trying to find things to do alone, like more reading and fishing. And it’s no wonder he wants to go fishing at Blacks Beach, where clothing is optional. He can fish and watch pretty girls go by “optionally” clothed. Time is not of the essence. (The stickler is that it’s 1,000 steps from the top of the trail down to the beach, a truly death-defying walk for a guy in his 70s, even one in good shape. And he’s got to carry a rod, a tackle box, towel, phone, snacks, water, a colander to catch sand crabs, and an empty water bottle to keep them in. I’m not concerned that this will become a habit.)

And while he’s fishing, I’ll think about all the reasons I’m glad we’re married, and welcome him home with a big kiss.

Becoming the One

WE’RE IN OUR 24TH DAY

We’re in our 24th day of Arizona’s “Stay at Home” order, and I’m surprisingly busy and content. Why is that?

I have a considerate, understanding husband who is thoughtful enough to leave me alone in my office for hours at a time. We go for long walks. We take turns cooking and watch a lot of good stuff on TV. We have sex. We go camping and fishing to break up the monotony of being at home day after day. I bake. I work in the garden. I organize my shoes.

But honestly, if I didn’t have my women friends, I think I would be in a terrible funk. Men may feel the same way about their male friends; I’m not sure. You see, we women reach out to each other. We send each other texts, emails, and notes. We call and check on each other. We ask each other for advice. We FaceTime and meet in the park for lunch. We share our recipes, books, TV shows, feelings. We organize happy hours on Zoom. We do these things because we are women, and women prioritize connection. They initiate.

And when I don’t initiate, one of my friends does. I have several who are especially good about that. I get busy and weeks may go by. They don’t give up on me or assume I don’t love them. They reach out. And I’m grateful. Because women can talk to each other about things the men in our lives just wouldn’t know or care about. Let’s face it: while I’m talking about my sick friend, Gene is thinking about the exhaust manifold in his truck… or the weeds that need spraying… or his testosterone level.

There are some big differences between the sexes. And I gave up long ago expecting to get everything I need from my man. I need to be loved by others, too, and I need to express my love for them by giving them my attention.

So I’m trying to become “the one” in Hafez’s beautiful 14th Century poem, “With that Moon Language.” Because I love my girlfriends. And they love me.

With that Moon Language

Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them,

     “Love me.”

Of course you do not do this out loud;

     Otherwise,

Someone would call the cops.

Still though, think about this,

This great pull in us to connect.

Why not become the one

Who lives with a full moon in each eye

That is always saying

With that sweet moon

     Language

What every other eye in this world

     Is dying to

     Hear.

Home Sweet Home on the Road

LET ME SET THE STAGE

Let me set the stage: I am married to a frustrated forest ranger.  My man is an introvert, a very focused guy, a guy who knows a lot about a lot of things, a guy who was happily living like a monk when I met him. And I’m a people person.

It all started with an ad I ran in the “Meet Your Match” section of The Arizona Republic.  My friend Len Young decided I was bored. So she helped me write the ad, and I sent it in and recorded a three-minute phone message about myself.    

You see, back in 1997, internet dating wasn’t de rigueur. (That’s an homage to my French teacher, Madame Pallissard.)  People ran ads, and those who were intrigued paid the paper by calling a 900 number to listen to the advertiser. I received about 10 messages, and returned all but one, which belonged to a man whose accent was so thick I couldn’t understand him.

After talking to my potential dates, I decided I wanted to meet Gene. He has a wonderful voice, for one thing, had left a very articulate response to my message, and was self-deprecating, unlike the rest, who sounded more like job interviewees than potential friends. So I checked him out by calling his workplace and asking for his title and address. He appeared to be legit.

We met for breakfast, played golf a couple of times, went fishing, and started dating. Three years later, after two broken engagements and while I was mid-way through chemotherapy for breast cancer, we got back together. I found that I couldn’t live without him. Literally. On June 22, 2001, we were married.     

Jump to today. We are camping in Payson, Arizona, in our travel trailer. Now doesn’t that sound romantic? Well, guess again. And picture a guy who just 10 days ago was diagnosed with Bells Palsy, while we were camping in Cottonwood, Arizona. He was determined to get out of the house after being home for a week because of the coronavirus.

I love to go camping; I really do. But the getting there and the coming home are a lot of work. There’s hiring the kitty-sitter, planning the food, grocery shopping, gathering the fishing stuff, packing clothes and toiletries, bringing things to do if it rains, and leaving the house clean, in case we’re killed on the road.

Once there, I make the bed (like wrestling a bear), put the food away (picture squeezing into Spankx), and organize our things (imagine limited space and, even more important, limited sockets).

And then there’s Gene’s part: packing the car, hooking up the trailer, driving to our campground, parking the trailer (the true test of love and commitment), removing the stabilizing bars (I always imagine him losing one of his arms to this part), unhooking the car, connecting the water hose, installing the sewer hose, and plugging into the electricity. You can see why I’m concerned about all this work in his present condition.

So here we are, having driven each other nuts trying to get the trailer properly positioned and level. It takes a few tries.

Me: “Can you pull up and I’ll try one of those boards under the tires?” He pulls up. I lay down the board, and he backs up over it until I shout, “Stop!” Me again: “How about if you pull up and I’ll try the thinner board?” Same thing. Me again: “I think we need one thick board and two thin ones on top of it. Can you pull up again?”) Finally, the trailer is fairly level, and I am completely insulted, as he has talked to me as if I’m an idiot, just because he couldn’t hear or see me while I was directing him. And then he tops it off with this: “I’m not sure you’re in tune with my needs.”

So I get organized inside, and he enjoys the great outdoors and has a glass of wine. And slowly, as we eat dinner (reheated pork loin with peaches, mashed cauliflower, tabbouleh, and chocolate chip cookies, with more White Burgundy), we relax and begin to talk again.

I’m reminded of telling both my girls, once they were old enough to think about marriage. “Chemistry is important; it gets you through the tough times.” A glass of wine, a nice dinner, and the cuteness factor. Thank God for the cuteness factor.