I used to be a multi-tasker extraordinaire. I remember once when my kids were in elementary school, I baked a blackberry pie while talking on the phone. Those were the days when you had a wall phone with a receiver you could jam into the crook of your neck. (That’s what we called hands-free back then.) I remember my kids kept coming into the kitchen so I could help then with various things. Meanwhile I was washing the berries I had just picked, sifting flour, and rolling out pie crust. All of it seemed effortless. Even the pie turned out to be delicious. I was proud I could handle everything with ease.
I look back and realize that I wasn’t totally present for anything that day—the phone conversation, the kids, the pie. I was getting a lot done, but I wasn’t really experiencing any of it. Now, I want to be more present—to enjoy each moment more fully.
These days I try not to multi-task. I have to do this consciously as I am a Random-Abstract thinker and doer. This term comes from a teaching theory that says people have different brain styles. Some people are very concrete in their analysis, and specific in creating solutions. Some people are more random, pulling from different parts of their brain. Their solutions appear more abstract.
Sometimes Random-Abstract works, especially for creative ventures. It’s a boon to my writing self. Sometimes Random-Abstract is not so good. I can’t tell you how many times I have left eggs boiling on the stove and forgotten them. I’ll think of the perfect phrase for a short story or poem, and head to the computer. I have good intentions of returning to the kitchen, but once sidetracked, I am basically a goner.
One time we were seeing Robert Morse in “Tru” at the McCallum when I suddenly remembered I had been going to make egg salad for lunch. I’d become distracted, leaving the eggs simmering. Two hours later, I looked at my watch: 3:16.
Oh, my god, I thought, the eggs! The water has completely boiled out of the pan! The eggs have exploded! I could visualize the house filled with smoke, the fireman, his ax poised, ready to knock down our front door.
“We have to go home right now,” I told my husband.
“It’s only the beginning of the second act,” he said.
“But, I left eggs on the stove!”
He patted my hand. “No sweat. It’ll be fine.”
That’s the last time he ever said that. We got home and found the house filled with smoke and black soot everywhere. Fortunately our smoke alarm had alerted the fire department. It was all just as I’d imagined, except the front door was intact. That was because our neighbor had stopped the fireman with the ax. “I told him I had the key,” Alex said.
The really eerie thing about that experience was that the Fire Department’s report showed they had arrived exactly at 3:16—just when I remembered the eggs. My brain certainly functions in abstract ways. I am most likely ADD, but perhaps, I’m ESP wired, as well.
I’d like to report to you that I’m better about leaving things cooking on the stove or water running in a sink or turning off appliances, but why add lying to my sins. A side effect of the problem is that I’ve developed a morbid fear of burning down my house.
I told that to a therapist once. “Sometimes when I’m already in my car I have to go back into the house and check. Do you think that’s OCD?” I asked.
She did and wanted to put me on medication for it. Then I explained my history with the fire department.
Instead of meds, I’ve worked on developing strategies to prevent disaster. I now have a hard and fast rule that I cannot leave the kitchen if I am hard boiling eggs. If I am soaking stuff in the sink, I can’t leave until I have turned off the water. And I buy appliances, which turn themselves off.
So far, so good.