One Thing at a Time

Its somewhat annoying to me when people say they can multi-task, that is do more than 1 thing at a time, sometimes 2 or 3. They really arent. They are actually switching their attention rapidly from 1 task to another, so rapidly, that they think they are doing 2 or 3 things at once. What winds up happening is that their attention is never fully on any of those tasks. This post is not meant to be about texting and driving, as you might have thought, but about how our culture has demanded that we constantly multi-task.

Lets start with our phones. Not only do our telephones do so much more than make phone calls, so much more that people hardly ever use their phones for actually speaking to someone, but they allow us to communicate, albeit ineffectively, with more than 1 person at a time. First, there was call waiting and then conference calling, but now, you can be speaking with someone and have another person barge right in with a text message. Can you read your text message and still hold up your end of a conversation. You might think so, but I would disagree. Back in the dark ages when I was growing up, if you got a busy signal, (Yes children, it was a sound you heard when the person you were calling was already on the phone.) you had to call back later. Answering machines werent even invented yet.

When we watched television, back in the day before it was called TV, we all watched the same show, at the same time, in the same room. Imagine that. Not only that, but we also had to watch it at the time it was broadcast, complete with commercials. Commercials were invented, so you had time to go to the bathroom or get a dish of ice cream. You didnt wear the TV show as you went about the house, including the bathroom. And dont even get me started about taking the phone into the bathroom with you.

I can remember a time when you sat at the table to eat your food. Popcorn could be eaten in the back seat of the car on long trips, but meals were not gobbled with one hand while the other hand juggled a cell phone and a cup of coffee. Maybe this post is about texting and driving after all. I know someone who actually used to read books while she drove home from work every night, and Im not talking about audio books.

Are we so pressed for time that were afraid we wont get everything done that we think we have to do each minute of the day? I believe in making the most out of each day, but I also believe in giving each task the attention it deserves. Whether its eating a meal, talking to a friend, or yes, driving a car, lets just do one thing at a time, so each thing gets done, completely, in time.

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Little Girl Dentist

Some people have a fear of flying. Some people would rather die than give a speech. What I dread is sitting in a dentists chair. Its an unreasonable fear, because, for the past 40 years or so, my dentist has never hurt me.

Dr. Anderson is a very kind and quiet man with a soft voice and gentle hands. He was always careful to make sure I had plenty of numbing and nitrous oxide before he began his work, and he never seemed to be in a hurry. Yet, because my experiences were not so pleasant as a child, I always wondered if there could be a first time when the nova cane wouldnt work, or Dr. Anderson might have a bad day and let his drill slip. But it never happened. My hands would get clammy as I lay there with a paper bib on, in that big dentists chair, waiting for him to come in. Id listen to the whine of the drill in the next room and cringe. But there was never a need for all that. Id always feel a little silly as Id climb out of that chair, feeling like I had a fat lip, but never in pain.

He is about my age, and his children are my childrens ages. His sons played Little League ball with Steve, and his daughter and Kara were good friends in high school. When I retired, it occurred to me that he would be retiring someday too, and then what would I do?

Meanwhile, his daughter Joy became a dentist. She joined her fathers practice, and now that he has indeed retired, Joy is my dentist. Only I dont call her Joy. I call her Dr. Todd. She used to call me Mrs. Hiland, but now she calls me Mary. Were both very comfortable with our role reversals. Joys personality is much more outgoing than her dads, but shes just as skilled and confident in her abilities. There are some subtle changes in the practice. The music that is piped into the examining rooms is more contemporary, sort of soft rock. If your lips are dry, you get a quick coat of chap stick before the work is started, and you get to pick the flavor of the numbing stuff she puts on your gums before a cleaning. When I commented on the chap stick, Dr. Todd said, Its a girl thing. She was once a girl. Now shes a doctor, and Im almost as proud of her as I am my own daughter.

Thanks to Toastmasters

As my Toastmaster friend Anna and I drove home last night from the monthly meeting of the transitions Network, TTN, we basked in the knowledge that we had given an outstanding presentation. Outstanding might be a slight exaggeration, but it was pretty darned impressive. Why? Because we had planned, organized, timed, practiced, and prepared. As we figuratively patted each other on the back, Anna pointed out that we should thank toastmasters for our success. These are the very practices that toastmasters teaches.

Anna and I are members of the writers group, which is one of 7 small groups within TTN. Each small group is responsible for making a presentation at 1 meeting a year. It was our turn last night. Since Anna is the lead of the writers group, it was her task to come up with a program. A few months ago, I had offhandedly offered to do an entertaining speech for TTN sometime, so Anna called me on that offer. She knew that I had been published in Red Book Magazine and Chicken Soup for the Parents Soul, and shes been following this blog from the beginning, so she asked me to talk about my writing experiences. Although I didnt feel qualified to speak as a writer, I wanted to do my part, and Besides, I never turn down the opportunity to speak. Once she had her speaker secured, Anna set to work organizing her thoughts on how the evening should go.

One of the exercises we do at the writers group meetings is to write from a prompt, a word, a phrase, or a question. We take 10 minutes and write furiously, then put down our pens, and we read our masterpieces in turn. Were always surprised at how differently we each treat the same subject. At our last meeting of the writers group, we agreed that it would be interesting to make reading our little essays as a demonstration, before we asked the larger group to try their hands at writing from a prompt. We also had entered a writing contest, in which we had to submit a 91-word memoir. We would each read our contest entries. As part of my speech, I would be calling on some of the women to read aloud my story from the Chicken Soup book and 3 of my blog entries. So there were 6of us participating in the presentation. This was going to take coordination. There were also considerations like making sure we had a working microphone and a lectern. Anna put her toastmasters skills to work and came up with an agenda that would keep the attention of the audience and make the program flow smoothly. In addition, in keeping with Toastmasters practices, she timed the whole presentation by reading aloud each of my articles herself in advance and estimated how much time I should plan to fill with my speech. Meanwhile, I practiced my speech, timed it, and wrote cues for each woman who was going to help me by reading aloud. By the time we gathered before the meeting last night, we all knew our roles and the order we were to perform them. We were ready, but we were relaxed and looking forward to showing the rest of the group what fun we have as writers.

As a result of all our preparation, we were showered with compliments afterward. Your speech gave me goose bumps. I can’t recall a meeting that was as engaging and moving. It is as if you are speaking to someone and we are listening in on a friend to friend conversation.

One of the goals I had set for myself in this speech was to inspire my audience to not be afraid to write. As women who are all over 50, we have many life experiences that deserve to be written about. I am grateful to this group for giving me the courage to call myself a writer. And I am grateful for the discipline of toastmasters. It does make a difference.

Costume Changes

My day can be defined by what Im wearing.

At 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning, I roll out of bed and pull on baggy fleece pajamas over my nightgown, I throw on the coat Ive laid out the night before, according to the weather forecast, slip on my old shoes, and take Dora out to empty. Back in the house, I remove the pajamas and put on a fleece robe and slippers, and settle down to read the paper, drink my tea, and have my breakfast. The third costume is for taking Dora for a walk around the neighborhood, jeans, warm shirt, tennis shoes, jacket, gloves, scarf, and hat. There are actually 8 items on my check list before I go out the door. Besides the winter apparel for me, I need to remember the Trekker, (GPS for pedestrians) phone, key, and until recently, the gentle leader. At first, I had to make Dora wear this little strap that goes around her face, called a gentle leader, which is not a muzzle, but is a reminder to her that she needs to try to behave herself. It is often used for working through restaurants and for grocery shopping, but I was advised to use it to control her pace, which was way too fast at first. But Dora has settled down her pace now, so she no longer has to wear it. So that makes only 7 things on my check list.

After the walk, I shower and dress for the next event in the day. It might be a visit to my mother in assisted living. This means a casual, but not sloppy, outfit, not too warm, because its always too hot in those places. No need for a coat. If I have time after that, I might take Dora for a short walk in the afternoon, which means changing into sneakers and possibly a warmer jacket. On some nights, Im off to toastmasters, which is held in my church, where it is always cold, except in the summer, when its always hot. So for right now, I change into a nice sweater and slacks, put make-up on, and either boots or some sort of warm shoes that arent sneakers.

Finally, after the last event of the day, and after the last trip to the back yard, its time to get back into my robe and slippers and settle down to write or read or watch TV.

Meanwhile, Dora waits and watches and probably wonders why I keep changing in and out of this ensemble or that. With all the time I spend changing outfits, I could be doing something more useful, like tossing her toy.