There are business leaders out there with books and mentoring classes that say that busyness is a lack of focus, and that it robs us of being attentive to what really matters.
Obviously they’ve never been a mother with children. Or a school teacher. Or an ER doctor. Or ants. Have you ever seen an ant soaking up the sun by itself on the sidewalk?
How about bees? We have a hive in the backyard and a day doesn’t go by that they’re not buzzing around flying in and out of the hive, making sure the queen is happy. That’s full-time work, with no vacation.
These gurus are probably in their 30’s, never been married, and order out every day of the week.
Their philosophy sounds so good, but it’s so wrong. Busyness is the nature of life, especially if you’re holding down a job, raising a family, and being a conscientious citizen.
And if you add in walking the dog at least twice a day, busyness doesn’t even come close. I’d love to stop all that, kick back on my couch with a good book or an addictive television series and ignore the needs around me. But then that would put me in a whole new category – that of being a narcissist.
Calvin says, “Two walks a day? Ha! I’m lucky you let me out in the backyard to chase squirrels for exercise.”
Yesterday was a first for me. I was on the subway and nearing my stop. I got up from my seat a minute ahead, something I do all the time, walked to the door, and landed flat on my back. The ground gave way under me. More correctly, I gave way. My knees buckled and I went down. It happened so fast it took a few seconds to realize I was staring up at the ceiling. I must say I collapsed gracefully, as if I had practiced this maneuver all my life, like a ballerina on point. In actuality I came down like a ton of bricks.
Fortunately there weren’t many people on board so I had the floor to myself. And it was reasonably clean. The few passengers that saw me go down didn’t move, they just watched me collapse.
One man, who sat near the door, helped me get up, sort of. He helped me sit up and then I got to my feet on my own. I didn’t have any broken bones, head concussions or scrapes. I didn’t look wounded. I did not want to be one of those riders who got sick on the train and the whole subway system jams up while the paramedics and the police with their German Shepherds show up. I just got off at my stop and kept walking.
I made it to the office and gulped down my first cup of coffee.
A few hours later my lower back began complaining. That’s all, just a whine of self-pity in a minor key. I could live with that.
Calvin says, “You know, taking me for walks has limbered you up, otherwise you would have folded like a deck chair and stayed there.”
It’s been pouring for days. It’s my kind of weather except when it impacts the toilets in my house. That’s where I draw the line. The toilets, the shower, the bathtub and the garage sink went on strike all at once and filled up with water. Grey, dirty water.
That required immediate emergency measures. I called two plumbers who were asleep and couldn’t be bothered with my plight. It was Sunday after all, the day of rest, and crises would have to wait. The third plumber responded and came over in 45 minutes. Meanwhile Alf was filling buckets of water from the shower and dumping them in the backyard. I was pacing the kitchen trying to stay calm. The rain continued. Calvin was on guard with nose quivering.
Finally Juan showed up in an unmarked truck. That sent alarm bells off in my head. Calvin began howling. He introduced himself and smiled with a mouthful of braces and spoke in faltering English. The alarm bells were getting louder. Calvin was grunting. Juan unscrewed the cap to the main pipe to the house and a volcano of water erupted flooding the front lawn. I was convinced we had called a hack and I was ready to phone another plumber, and then the police, if I could find either who wasn’t taking a nap. Calvin was hissing and booing at Juan.
Alf decided to go with it. Juan pulled out a snake and a camera from his truck and did a diagnostic. Sure enough the roots of our bushes were strangling the outflow from the pipe and would need to be replaced. Juan called two buddies who appeared too quickly – were they waiting around the corner? – which confirmed we had hired a gang of thugs to fix our plumbing. This was not looking good. Calvin agreed. He was showing his pearly whites and howling.
The gang worked all day digging and snaking and digging some more. Calvin snarled along with them from the kitchen. The guys took a break to get tacos. We asked where they went and now we have a recommendation for a neighborhood taqueria. Calvin got a gleam in his eye.
The gang continued with the dig. It felt like an archaeological excavation in my front lawn. The chewed up pipe was finally unearthed, and I began to calm down. Maybe these guys knew their job after all. Calvin, exhausted from his protective detail, had curled up in his bed and gone to sleep.
By the end of the day the plumbers had unplugged the back-up, got the water flowing again, and I had my toilets back. They said they’d come back the next day to install the new pipe and eat more tacos.
Calvin says, “I’ve earned at least a dozen tacos. Let’s go!”
Alf and I got tired of the lunar look of our backyard, with its deep ruts and crevices and dead everything. We used to have steady visitors of cats and squirrels and noisy ravens, but lately even the butterflies do fly-overs instead of landing. So with the help of a longtime neighbor, who builds commercial nurseries for plants, we are working on a new garden together.
I quickly sketched my idea of an English garden with pathways and gravel and flowering plants. Something that Alice in Wonderland would choose as she read and conversed with the Cheshire Cat.
I didn’t want a lawn. I was convinced of the versatility and beauty of drought-tolerant plants. I’m a survivor of too many droughts and didn’t want the demands of water guzzling green things anymore. They remind me of crying infants when they’re hungry. I don’t have time to invest in pruning, trimming and talking to them either. I hardly have time to do this with Alf.
I’ve been learning a few things about myself through this. I’m impatient. I thought the re-design would take a month. In my mind it was a simple idea without a lot of fuss. Dig up the dead lawn, and then stick some Woolly Bluecurls, Tree Anemones, and Sticky Monkey-flowers in there, and let them duke it out. I was wrong. I have no understanding of soil, bricks and greenery and what it takes to put all three together in an artful way. It’s taken all summer.
Another problem arose. My neighbor’s taste and mine are not in sync. It’s an act of high level diplomacy every time we disagree. We compromise. We change things. We discard stuff. Always smiling. It’s like a marriage. I’m sure he goes home muttering under his breath. But through it all, a glorious garden is coming into view, and the best part is we haven’t filed divorce papers. That’s the important thing. It may not be ready for the fall, and by winter it will be too cold for tea parties, but then there’s next year. The plants will be settled and feeling good about their new home. And maybe the squirrels and ravens will return chattering and cawing their approval.
When the project is complete, I expect my neighbor to be over many times, showcasing me as his still-friend and my garden to future drought-tolerant fans.
Calvin says, “I’m not so stinking happy. You took away my favorite pee spots.”
This is what I saw on my way to the office this morning. A beautifully decorated tree on the street, curbside. No lights. Was it waiting for a taxi, I mean Uber? Maybe since it was standing there in front of the building where Uber has its offices. If it was a gimmick, it worked on me. I asked a security guard and he said, “It was leaking so they brought it out.” Wait till the dog walkers and their pups notice this. A Christmas tree just for them!
The things one sees during the holidays.
I had coffee last weekend with a friend. I ran into a woman and her beagle at the entrance of the shop and bolted inside before she captured me. She will talk to anyone for ages about her dog and how much it’s costing her to keep him alive. Something in the vicinity of $20,000. He pooch has two bionic knees otherwise he wouldn’t have made it. He’s now on expensive drugs for skin allergies. And the list goes on. Every time I’m at the coffee shop she’s there, so I suspect she goes every weekend in search of an audience. The man in the picture? That’s her husband. Notice the delighted expression on his face.
I thought this planter decoration was great. Different. Colorful. Something to use all winter long. It was lobby decor in a building that used to be home to the local post office. Now we have to hunt for where it moved to. No forwarding address.
Calvin says, “I’m signing a DNR. Do not reconstruct. Me.”
Time and time again Alf and I marvel at people who are immensely talented and yet shy away from their gifts. We know of several with writing gifts who never put pen to paper. Others who have a terrific fashion sense and keep it all to themselves. And there are those who do pursue their artistic callings with courage and conviction, but with little support from friends and loved ones. In fact, they’re often told to get a real job. What is it about art that garners less respect than other professions like business or engineering? Heck, there’s more respect for the G-Man (garbage collector) than a painter.
We live in a day of practicality. Does the job make money? Will it sustain you and a spouse and children? Will it give you a house, a car and a yearly vacation? Or will you have to eat out of a paper bag full of moldy veggies?
Being an artist is not for the fainthearted. It wasn’t easy living for Van Gogh and his generation nor is it any easier for people today. But one thing is different. Anybody with an ounce of skill is posting like mad on social media in the hope of getting noticed. Consequently there’s a lot of bad art out there. There’s also some good stuff. The serious artist, however avoids it all in favor of a website with class.
It’s like commercial fiction. The serious literary types look down their erudite noses at the fabulously successful writers who make millions with their popular, badly written novels. Secretly they probably wish they could make that kind of money, but they wouldn’t dare try. It would be beneath them.
So what’s an artist to do? I say keep at it, no matter how difficult the task. Post away. Talk it up. Send it out. You never know what door will open.
Calvin says, “I’m so glad I’m only talented in one thing – food. What’s for dinner?”