Clarifying the Mind


I think I have post-viral syndrome. Apparently this is a thing. A very annoying thing. As in, I become tired very easily, and when I push it, I become ill once more.

This morning — after cleaning the house, but really, given asthma I CAN’t go more than two weeks. Also bathroom and kitchen start smelling and I can’t take that — I woke up slightly feverish, and it was hard to get up.  Which must be my excuse for this post being horribly late.

There is an advantage to being of a sickly disposition and having come near death several times by forty — no, bear with me — in that it clarifies the mind wonderfully as to what’s important and what isn’t.

You see, I’m of a dutiful disposition, or I try to be. I have this long list of duties — of things I must fulfill because they’re a contract with others — so for instance last night when I started feeling ill the only reason I told Dan was because dinner was going to be late. I cook, because I’m quicker and more adroit at it — which means I do it with cheaper materials — so my cooking dinner is part of our contract, just like part of his contract with me is to do accounting and taxes (infernally complex because of the writing) because I am digit dyslexic, which means even entering data results in snarls that are almost impossible to figure out.

When the children were little I had this long list of things I must do. Every morning, I’d lie in bed, making a list of everything I’d failed to do the day before, and what I must do that day, and every night I went to bed with half of them undone.

The problem was this: my list of things I absolutely needed to do was set to an insane standard. For instance while the kids were crawling, I not only cleaned the hard floors EVERY day, I also ran the carpet cleaner everyday. And wiped down every surface. And cooked on expert mode, and refinished all the furniture that came into the house. And made curtains and household soft-furnishings. Etc. Etc. etc, in addition to trying to look after the boys and write.

Then I got pneumonia 24 years and one month ago. And almost day. And eleven days in ICU clarified the mind immensely.

Do you know the things that bothered me?  I was upset I’d leave my sons motherless. I was guilty upset and ashamed that the worlds in my head would die with me. And I missed days of just going nowhere in particular with Dan and the kids.

Because the kids were small and we didn’t often have babysitting, we tended to bundle the kids and take them along while doing errands. I missed those Saturdays of going to the grocery store, or the thrift store, or just running errands, with Dan and the boys.

And I realized I didn’t need to provide the kids extraordinary experiences. Oh, we’d still take them to zoos and museums. But we never felt a need for European vacations, or ladidah vacation camps or any of that.

That time, though I survived (and I want to point out I’m not nearly that ill. In fact, I think the virus is past, I’m just tired and a little frail) clarified what life was about for me (and since Dan agreed for our family.)

Most important of all was being there for my family.  Just being there. Nothing special.
Secondarily, it was getting those worlds out of my head. Even if no one ever bought them, maybe some day the boys would find those manuscripts and fix them, and they’d be read. But at least they’d be out of my head, and have a chance.

I changed my life that way, and you know, the career could be better, but I really have no complaints.  Oh, and there’s a ton more worlds to get out of my head, so we’re not done yet.

I realized this year, through my craptastic health the last two months, that what I really want to do is write, and spend time with Dan.  Which means as soon as we can, the cleaning will be shrugged off. No, no one cleans to MY standards, but you know what? As long as it’s enough that the asthma is quiet, I’m fine.

Heck, some of my happiest times right now are when Dan and I are driving somewhere and have time to talk. Quiet walks through museums and the botanic gardens are also great.

Anyway. Illness sucks. but it clarifies your priorities wonderfully.

If you were very ill, if you knew your time was limited (it is of course, but for most of us not that limited) what would you keep of your busy schedule? What would you eliminate?

Proceed accordingly.

60 thoughts on “Clarifying the Mind

  1. Sigh. That sounds like the same virus from which I’ve been recovering. Extraordinarily tedious. Never getting a good night’s sleep and needing serious naps at unexpected intervals.

    And yes, as Dr. Johnson observed, “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

    Get well soon.

  2. I’d already cleared everything out of my schedule that I can dump. I’m trying, at this point, to teach my kids to adult: how to cook, how and when to clean, how to take care of their laundry, how to do their homework and/or study without Mom driving them…how to live. Because they need to know this stuff, and even though it’s more energy-taxing to teach than to do it for them, they need to know it and do it for themselves. Once they’ve got the stuff I’m working on teaching them right now down, we’ll see.

    1. That is where I am at with my oldest son. In fairness, he does a pretty good job of helping me with his baby siblings.The trying to get the homework done and REALLY get into studying… that’s the hardest part. Because he is at the stage where he’d rather read nothing but fiction, and I kind of was the kid who also read whatever interested me at the time, but my interests included nonfiction, and I would love it if he also devoured nonfiction. Then I remind myself “he wasn’t keen on reading anything that didn’t have pictures in it only a few years ago”…

      Then there’s the household ‘must do’ list. It’s an uphill sort of battle to make it habit-forming (because once it’s habitualized, it’s easier, at least for me it was.) There’s a thousand and one little things I do now that I realize only when I’m trying to impart them that I learned while helping my own parents out, as the eldest. Especially the taste-testing and cooking stuff. What I’m doing now is basically giving the boyo the instructions and he serves as my hands and feet while cooking (for the most part) because the youngest doesn’t want to be put down and nurses a lot.

      It’s hard to quiet this weird sense of ‘time running out’ that seems to happen in my brain. I don’t know why it’s there, since there’s literally nothing going on that’s bringing that about, but there it is.

  3. This sounds a bit like me. I’m close enough to retirement to start thinking about what to do, but young enough to make plans that don’t involve simply rolling into a grave. Probably step up the shooting practice schedule, but that doesn’t take up ALL my time.

    Maybe write a book or two. Or three. Or go into politics.

    1. …go into polyticks.

      I can’t get away long enough to do something like the state legislature (something about livestock and what are days off??) But the local school board? Yeah, that might be doable. And I remember how education used to be, and how much better kids came out of it. Maybe it’s time to stick my wrench into the gears and slow the engine of ‘progress’.

    2. Writing a book is hard.
      The trick in going into politics is getting everyone else to do the fetching and carrying while you just sit wisely in the corner making helpful suggestions.

      1. Sounds rather useless. Were I ever dumb enough to run, my main goal would be to work myself out of a job. Folks don’t need to be told what to do so much as they need the tellers to get out of the way.

      2. Writing a book is easy. Writing one that sells is the hard part. And in my case, writing one that gets past the security check…especially since that can be abused to suppress the embarrassing, as well as the secret.

        I’m in a position to write a serious history of one of the major UAV programs of the last couple of decades – from first-hand experience. But that would include some significant miscues in program management. People who gripe about poorly run programs often don’t realize that the current managers are trying to work around mistakes made a decade earlier.

        And it’s a story about one of the few things known that can counter the Iron Law of Bureaucracy…the Band of Brothers. A small team, well led, well trained, and with the authority to ACT, can work miracles. I’ve helped to do them. And what man can do, men may aspire to do again.

      1. No. Merely enough to win more World Championship medals. Maybe even add matchlock pistol. But if I were shooting 40-50 rounds/day, I would be content.

    3. Same here. Just old enough to draw social security, without any notable health problems, but still fit enough to do most jobs that don’t involve brute physical labor. Just don’t have the patience to put up any more with a 9-to-5.
      I worry about my daughter, though. She launched, and then landed… still living with me. Post-service PTSD, lack of energy and focus, whatever. I simply have to live long enough to pay off the house in another 5 years. Otherwise, she is SO screwed. I did a consult with my insurance guy this year, and signed on to a life insurance plan which would cover the mortgage. OK for now. (Note to self – include daughter as a co-writer on any subsequent books…}

  4. I too have struggled with the tendency to overload my to-do list, and then beat myself up for not getting it all done. It’s so hard to figure out what are reasonable expectations for what one should be able to accomplish in a day, a week, a month, a year.

    I’ve been thinking that one of the things I really need to do once the worst of the home repair is done is to go through all my files and make an inventory of my writing. Published stories that can be put up immediately (with at most a little tweaking to get rid of infelicitous turns of phrase, etc), stories that are finished but need beta reads and polishing, stories and novels that are at least mostly written, but need to be finished and given an initial rewrite before they go to beta readers, stories and novels that are just begun, stuff that’s just notes. Get everything sorted so all the materials for a given ‘verse are together, and I don’t open a portfolio folder to find stories from three different ‘verses and two or three stand-alones jumbled together. Then I can start really prioritizing my efforts and focusing on getting finished product out there. (Even when I was at my sickest, this time last year, my creative mind never abandoned me altogether. I could come up with all kinds of ideas, and scribbled page after page of reasonably coherent notes — but they were all over the place, so I’ve got notes from different stories and ‘verses all together in some folders).

  5. > And I realized I didn’t need to provide the kids extraordinary experiences.

    Kids don’t have any baseline for “extraordinary experiences.” There’s the same old stuff and occasional new stuff, but that’s life in general for kids.

    1. I dunno. Getting caught in a thundersnow two hours from home and having to make it back was pretty extraordinary, I thought at the time. Learned a thing or two. Like, “don’t ever worry Ma that bad ever again,” things, as well as a few others I did in scouts a time or two but hadn’t had much opportunity to try for real.

    2. It’s interesting that my daughter considers “trip to the the zoo” and “trip to Petco to look at the fish, lizards, and gerbils they have for sale” as pretty much the same thing. All animals are exotic as far as she’s concerned.

      1. As I recall, the Daughtorial Unit considered Time Spent With Parent Doing Interesting Things — whether that was zoos, museums or just trips to parks — as pretty special … at least up until puberty or thereabout.

        Of course, the D.U. was as odd as her parents if not odder.

      2. This is something my wife noted long ago. Our local Dairy/Ice cream stand Richardson’s has juvenile (not yet producing) cows and calves out where you can see them. Neither of my daughters really enjoyed ice cream until they were 4-5 years old. The younger one would still probably enjoy nice chips or popcorn more. So the trip to Richardson’s was all about visiting the animals. Similarly the Local Petco/Petsmart had fresh and salt water fish, assorted small mammals, birds and reptiles. It was as enjoyable as a trip to the Boston Aquarium or local Zoo (Stone, Roger Williams) without the long car ride and interminable whining, and considerably cheaper.

      3. Maybe it is just my inner child, but I too think going to Petco to see the fish and lizards and other wildlife is delightfully different. Plus, Petco is 4 miles away and free. The zoo is 20 miles away and decidedly NOT free.

          1. As I am referring to the Phoenix Zoo, I heartily agree with your preference for *air conditioned* animal appreciation!

    3. Used to take infant/toddler son to Home Depot/Lowes on Saturday mornings so my lovely bride could sleep in. That was fun… and I miss it. (He’s 21 now, he’d think it odd if I just took him to Home Depot…)

      So once a year we go down to Key West for a Guy’s Trip. THAT is a lot of fun… and an entirely different way to spend time with him.

        1. Likely when most parents were teaching their children how to tie their shoes, you were teaching them how to replace a water heater…

          1. actually I don’t do water. That’s Dan. Which is why while replacing a faucet in the downstairs bathroom they PINNED me with a water jet across the kitchen. (Victorians. the shut off valve is not always the one you think it is. :D)
            But I was teaching them to build balconies, paint walls, fix window trim, etc.

      1. I’ll do practically anything to stay OUT of Home Despot. All Big Box stores have dreadful acoustics, but HD seems to hide White Noise generators around the sales floor. My brain turns off, and I emerge feeling like I’m a week short on sleep, without actually being sleepy.


        Also, while I’ve struck one or two where the sales force was smart and helpful, none are anywhere near me. The ones where I’ve lived for any length of time seemed to have a policy of hiring the bewildered.

        1. Home Desperate set up a store just before we moved to Oregon. Some *major* teething problems (manager for one department couldn’t be bothered to call for assistance in another–electrical, I recall, something that needed somebody to get stock or cut wire or some such). They got a scathing review from $SPOUSE, as well as a reminder that they had local competition (small chain duplicated their selection, and the ranch store next door had some relevant pieces).

          After TPTB had a walkabout and (I presume) some Come to Jesus meetings, it turned around. The good workers were kept on, and the drones left one way or another. It’s occasionally hard to find staff in some departments, but the worker bees can get answers when such is needed…

          OTOH, when I need a shed’s worth of lumber and sheet stock, I’ll go to the competition; they deliver for a fair (only mildly painful for the 40 mile one-way trip) price and have really good staff.

          Depot is easier to get to, and buying HD gift cards from the Kroger affiliate gets some decent gasoline discounts, so for basic stuff, Depot is the first place I’ll look. I know when to ignore them and go straight to the competition; stuff like wall heaters and really involved electrical/plumbing stuff need the other guys.

        2. > acoustics

          Happens to me too. It was a problem back a few decades ago when the “warehouse look” was popular for stores, and they’d rip out all the acoustical tile and there was just steel roofing up there. Might’ve been a local thing, but it sure was popular for a while.

          Mostly I can deal with places like that by putting in my earbuds – I use the “ear plug” kind that damp external noise a bit – and cueing up the latest audiobook.

          On the other hand, many local restaurants have turned the knob to “11” and I’ve stepped in, been slammed by the wall of noise, and turned and walked right back out.

          “Congratulations! You just lost a sale…”

  6. I had a cleaning service for a few years. It was wonderful. I’ll do that again when possible.

    As for what i would ditch? Right now, this job. That would eliminate a lot of my busy-ness. Being faculty means *always* taking your work home. I’m really tired of it. We’re already living on one salary and banking mine. It’s a path and a system to get to where I can write full time. Yes, it’s something I’ve only discovered in the last couple of years, but it just feels right. So, no net, but I’m jumping.

    1. One of the best things we ever did was get cleaning service, but its pricey. We’ve had times when I’ve been in between jobs.So we’d take Saturday AM and have all hands on deck cleaning. My wife, myself and 2 daughters would clean (we made a list and divided it up) and could match the cleaning service with about 2-3 hours of effort (i.e 8-12 person hours). Then we’d take ourselves out for a cheap lunch (pizza burger joint etc) so the house got clean for $30-40 instead of the $100 plus the service charged. Of course comparing ourselves to the cleaning ladies 2 of them could do the joint in 1.5 hours so 3 person hours against our 8-12. After we restatrted the service we tipped them for XMAS much better as we knew how much work it was :-).

  7. My lovely bride and I do not like to clean. Oh, we CAN – but between our schedules we’d much rather do other things.

    So – we do laundry. We outsource the cleaning. (Local woman who comes in and will vacuum, clean bathrooms and change sheets.) Doesn’t cost much at all.

    We DO keep the kitchen reasonably clean. Train Dan to load the dishwasher, lol, rinse the sink and wipe down the counters before he goes to bed. (My wife trained me, lol… we men CAN be trained if the incentives are proper…)

    I know it goes against the grain, and there’ll probably be an adjustment period. (“She’s not doing it the way I would do it!” “Well, leave her a note and tell her!” “I don’t want to offend her!” “It’s still clean – can you put up with it?” “Oh, I guess!” (Flounces off angrily))

    You’ve got one life. Want to spend it with a toilet brush and a mop in your hand?

    1. “My lovely bride and I do not like to clean.”

      Ditto. Or at least not to mom’s standards. But higher than others standards. Even with animals. My issue is hubby won’t agree to have anyone in to do what we can (still) do. He keeps saying “this is my last project”. Yea, I’ll believe that, the next time we need something done & he actually agrees to hire someone. … (Patio cover.) Day to day stuff … Well supposedly we all vacuum, dust, & do dishes. We each do our own laundry. Towels as needed. Etc. That is what retirement is for, share the duties.

      We too felt it was all about speeding time with our kid, VS the parental fancy vacation. But didn’t stop us from going where we wanted to go. Some would consider Yellowstone, Yosemite, Olympics, Rainer, St Helen, Dinosaur, Rocky Mountain, Arches, etc., National Parks, as “fancy” vacations, even camping. Not if it is what you do anyway … YMMV. OTOH we are only a day *ish* drive away from any of these.

      Our attitude was family first, which was the three of us. We could start to carve out more “our” & individual “me” time, when the kid went off to college, plus those retirement years. Maybe it was because we had a good 10 years of “our” time before the kid joined us. Looking back, we each got individual kid time when one of us was not working. Not long. But some.

      1. $SPOUSE says she’s willing to stay in this place 4 more years, then we’ll get want a considerably smaller piece of property and likely a bigger house. 13 acres is 10-11 more than we want, and it would be nice if a) stuff like sewing could be done in the house without an outbuilding and b) the shop wasn’t quite so far–I’m reluctant to go in the evenings, since we have a boatload of wild critters around (both 4 and 2 legged, though the 4s are the bigger danger right now).

        The goal is to do the rest of the house setup; a couple of new doors to replace the botched job the house manufacturer did, new carpet and paint in the master. Then, if an attractive property comes on the market (he dreams–too many Californians are clogging the market right now), we can consider making an offer and putting our place on the market. We’re pretty sure it will sell fast.

        I’d rather not do more house remodeling; the stack of projects in the barn is getting high, and a couple want to be done fairly soon. [cue cosmic hollow laughter]

        1. We’re not rural for all that the house sits on county, within the city urban growth boundary. City lot. Bigger lot than most anything being developed now. House is only 1300 sq ft, original footprint, single story. Total 2250, if you count the added on “sun room” (on the north side of the house … really?) and room over the garage; thus stairs.

          We’ve got a house plan we love. It needs some tweaks to meet what is expected today. Ranch single story. “Downsizing” to about 1800 sq ft. Would turn our current home over to our son with a loan transfer. But it is way bigger than he needs. He could get roommates, but suspect he wouldn’t want to bother. Another piece, we don’t know where to find property; well we do, but nothing fits. You think K-Falls is liberal enclave, try Eugene. At least we don’t pay city taxes (yet … although they’ve been trying since ’63 that I know of). At this point, I’d rather update our current home. But that means moving twice, out, then back in … maybe not. No, would hire it done. Probably would get stuck painting, some.

  8. I sometimes overdo it on NOT doing the task list. But then, I have kids. If I’m away for half a day, they destroy any semblance of cleanliness. So—I do clean, but not as much as someone should, and that someone should not be me.

    1. Was lucky to avoid it when I was over there previous winters, but I am hoping it stays across town. The plant on the river has some large numbers ill, and one guy, who, while being a lazy s.o.b. does come in early and often, has been out since Thursday before last, He’s obese so this years flus might be giving him some other nasty issues. Normally he uses his personal days for hunting. Two years ago one even bigger guy almost died from pneumonia and trying to walk the near half mile from parking to the building he worked in, in -22 degree weather. Deep lungfuls that cold is not good for you. It did get him to lose some weight.

  9. It took me two months to shake the little bronchitis that I got back in late December. Two frustrating months.

    I’ve been off this weekend (Fri-Mon), so I did Day Job stuff in chunks, writer stuff in chunks (and blogging), hanging out with friends, and today I dusted and de-cluttered [Dear Lord, why was I saving two portable CD players? Yes, I really do want to know.] and did more Day Job stuff so I won’t have to do it later this week. My mood is much, much better than it was on Thursday.

    1. Accomplishing goals that matter (no matter how little) has always been the best antidote to the crud and the dips of life I’ve found. Good on ya. And all y’all stay healthy! Too much creeping crud going around these days.

  10. I was in so much pain and sick yesterday that I slept in four hour periods with a couple hours awake. I’m hoping that I’m not going into that schedule because it sucks. I feel better today (half as much pain). The pain is in my tolerable range. So yea, I understand. I was going to clean (problems with dust too)… but I needed to rest. To clarify what I want to do… I want to read. I want to walk the dog. And I would love to be able to power through… At the very least my world has shrunk considerably.

  11. I had reason and occasion to be stuck on the thought of death for nearly a month last fall, and toward the end of that funk I had a dream in which I had at most three years left to live. I was super upset about it in the dream, which kind of surprised me, since I have a very mopey personality and am usually barely balancing on a tightrope over despair anyway. But the reason I was upset was that I didn’t think three years was enough to write down the stories I have planned. I’ve been trying (mostly poorly) to get back into writing since then.

  12. ,,,being single and retired, my to do list frequently gives way to starting to read a book, then progressing to sharing a quality nap with my cat…

  13. It is a painful thing to say to oneself: by choosing one road I am turning my back on a thousand others. Everything is interesting; everything might be useful; everything attracts and charms a noble mind; but death is before us; mind and matter make their demands; willy-nilly we must submit and rest content as to things that time and wisdom deny us, with a glance of sympathy which is another act of our homage to the truth.

    ― Antonin Sertillanges

    1. I have contemplated that– I wonder sometimes if I had stayed with music instead of this road (20s) Then I think of all the things I’ve done that would be lost now. I can’t regret my life’s past.

  14. Mulholland (whose first name escapes me) said that learning the reality of death was an important milestone in one’s spiritual development.

  15. You all are learning early the lessons that real aging will teach you darn it. Very hard to accept that you simply cannot do what you have always done physically. Enjoy your partners and kids because one day you will have only memories if you are the one left behind. And get those stories written down so they will still be here when you are not!

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