Are you a piddler? I never have been, but I’m trying to learn. All my life, I’ve lived at top speed, doing what had to be done from changing diapers to clearing used coffee cups throughout the house (the warning used to be, “Hold on to your coffee cup or she’ll take it!”) to managing a small press while writing my own books. I am used to being busy, with a goal in mind for everything I do.
Once I said to a colleague, “I feel like my motor is running too fast,” and she said, “Your motor is always running too fast.” I have a friend who can happily, as she says, watch paint dry. Not me. I can’t sit and watch TV unless I’m doing something else; don’t like to go to the movies or the theater for that reason…I just don’t sit there and take it all in. The closest I come to being inactive is losing myself in a good book.
I know I’m missing a lot, but I’ve been working on it, trying to learn to live in the moment and absorb it. Retirement from my job has made a huge difference. Sometimes now I take a glass of wine and the dog and sit on the deck, doing nothing, no book, just listening to the evening. I am fortunate to be surrounded by trees (well, fortunate until I discovered rats live in my backyard trees in the summer). But I watch the trees and remember my summers as a child in the Indiana Dunes. I listen this time of year to the cicada, and I think about various things—but usually not the plot of the novel I’m working on.
It’s been really hard to teach myself to live at a slower pace, but some mornings I wake up and think, “There’s not a thing in the world I have to do today. The world won’t fall apart if I don’t read e-mail or Facebook, don’t go to the grocery, don’t write one word.” Of course, those mornings are still few and far between. Some mornings I wake up with a burden of things on my mind. The other day I woke up knowing I had to go to the doctor’s office to get my blood pressure checked, go to the grocery, and be home for an 11:30 lunch date. The result was that I was out the door by 8:15, back home by 9:30. Time to piddle.
These days I do piddle many mornings, but it’s my own kind of piddling. I read email first, then Facebook—both of those frequently require answers—and then I read the newspaper, all the time with the TODAY show on, so I sometimes stop to see what’s new in the world. Then I shuffle through the papers on my desk, pay bills, tend to whatever needs tending to, and suddenly it’s lunch time and I haven’t written a word on my current work-in-progress. But I’m learning to tell myself, there’s always tomorrow.
I’m sure it’s good for my chronic anxiety to slow down, and I really do work on it. Yoga helps a lot, except for those morning when I think I’m too busy for yoga! But I’m learning to meditate, which is a huge change for me. When I first took yoga lessons, five or six years ago, a friend taught me in my own home. At the end of any workout comes that meditative period of relaxation. At my third or fourth lesson, she said accusingly, “You’re reading the titles on the bookshelf, aren’t you?” She caught me—I was. These days I close my eyes, truly relax, and meditation turns to prayer, my own conversation with God. I find it refreshing, which shows how far I’ve come, not just in piddling but in relaxing (I don’t mean to imply prayer is piddling!).
I publish two novels a year, a monthly neighborhood newsletter, monitor one day a week for Sisters in Crime, and am membership chair of the Sister sub-group Guppies, plus I handle all affairs for a disabled cousin in Canada. And I do have a pretty important family—four children and their spouses and seven grandchildren. Maybe raising four children as a single parent is when I became so obsessive.
I don’t know that I ever want to learn to watch paint dry, but I do want to live at a slower pace. And I’m getting there.
In Judy Alter’s latest book, Danger Comes Home, dogs, drugs and death take Kelly O’Connell on a wild ride with a runaway girl and her abused mother, a relapsed former gangsta, and a drug-dealing gang in her own neighborhood. Add in an imperious recluse for variety, and as usual Kelly’s life is anything but calm. Husband Mike Shandy is right: she has a talent for trouble. Three other titles in the series are Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women,and Trouble in a Big Box. Judy is also the author of Murder at the Blue Plate Café, first in the Blue Plate Café Mysteries. Visit website