On To-Do Lists and Family Dynamics…Because Shut Up

The year I turned 40, I decided to stop doing things I don’t want to do. I decided I wasn’t particularly interested in anyone’s opinion of me or my life choices. Since it no longer mattered how I was perceived, I stopped cooking. Other than occasionally boiling water or putting a frozen pizza in the oven, I would microwave whatever or have a sandwich.

When the lockdowns began in March, everyone started baking bread. I went through that phase in the 1990s so it definitely wasn’t for me. We were still trying to figure out how to sell a TV show when no one was pitching or shooting so I kept my focus where it belonged. Changing viewing habits throughout this bizarro year have caused us to reshuffle our projects so that I have a bit of downtime. While I wait for the baton pass, I’m revisiting all of those things that have been “on the list.”

My grandmother died in 2012 and I was the executrix of her estate. There was a small piece of property which had been bouncing around in my grandfather’s family since 1930 and was finally sold around 1995. This particular quarter-section of dry farmland was in a corner of Kansas few have reason to visit. Most of us in the family had a vague idea of its existence but had never seen it and there was a general air of annoyance whenever it was discussed. When my grandmother died, it never occurred to me that I would need to think of that property again.

As an only child, I am mystified by sibling relationships. I never learned the fine arts of manipulation and emotional blackmail. This has probably held me back in my career. Regardless, I never understood the weirdness in my grandfather’s family. He and his two siblings were adopted from different families so I just chalked it up to different backgrounds and really only paid attention at Thanksgiving and Christmas. When I got tired of being around the whole fam-damily, I would go outside and hang with the animals. There was a fucking LION for Christ’s sake…but that’s another story for another day.

So I’m sitting here in Mexico thinking about my storage unit in Arizona. I need to deal with the contents and stop paying for what feels like unnecessary baggage. There are family heirlooms which need to be given to cousins with children. There are documents I need to retrieve and keep with me. There is furniture to be sold or donated. There is book research I can pick up and actually finish. And there are a few outstanding questions which need to be answered. This is how I landed on 160 acres in Morton County, Kansas.

We never straightened out the mineral rights. Just thinking about this gives me a headache. There are multiple deeds back and forth between my great-grandmother and her children with weird percentages for the surface land and other splits for the mineral rights. All of these people are gone so multiple estates were involved. There was a fair share of acrimony involved. People felt entitled. Agitation from outside the family exacerbated the issues. It became one of those things that ends up being dropped because the inevitable fight isn’t worth a small monetary gain.

When I was a child, I could never understand when an adult would answer a question with, “Leave it alone; The past is in the past.” I’ve reached a point where I not only understand that answer but I FEEL that answer deep in my bones. I still don’t understand what was so special about this piece of land that was tiny compared to the rest of the acreage the family owned. If it was so important, I don’t understand why the issue wasn’t resolved while everyone was still alive. I certainly don’t understand why people have to make things so goddamned complicated.

I still struggle with choosing what deserves my mental energy. I still have a million questions and a million things I want to do. There are a lot of loose ends. It seems the ongoing exercise is accepting that some things can and probably should be left undone.

An Altogether Different Sensory Experience

I was sitting on our patio overlooking the ocean catching up on the news with a cup of coffee this morning and noticed a seagull tooling around overhead. This is part of my daily routine. The owls are just ending their shifts. All of the neighborhood dogs are barking at people walking to work. Roosters have been doing their thing since about 3:00 and will be at it most of the day. My neighbor’s singing is regularly drowned out by squeaky suspensions due to the Baja dust and washed-out roads. Hearing the difference between a two-stroke and four-stroke dirt bike on the main road followed by what was obviously a four-wheeler. Because Baja. All of this suddenly made me wonder when I last heard the sound of an airplane or helicopter. It must have been the last time we were in Cabo.

When I lived in Wichita in the mid-1990s, telephone conversations were constantly interrupted by jets taking off at McConnell AFB. My ex-husband had to live within so many minutes of the flight line so there was no escaping it. I remember walking through the parking lot at the Towne East mall and it felt like an earthquake when a B-1B was using burners to get off the ground. It seemed to set off every car alarm within a five-mile radius.

People who live near Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson have the nerve to complain about the relatively mild sounds of A-10 traffic while living in pre and post-war housing built for service members. Wait until the F-35s come to town. Have a defibrillator handy because they will stop your heart. My house in the suburbs was adjacent to the drug and people smuggling superhighway so it was all Blackhawks all the time. Those neighbors were largely military and law enforcement, young enough to be oblivious to how obnoxious a loud engine is in the middle of the night. I often contemplated the various uses for piano wire. I also considered leaving notes on teenagers’ cars letting them know YouTube has videos to solve the trunk rattle caused by their substandard subwoofer configurations. I feel like we had higher bass standards back when N2deep released Back to the Hotel in 1992. I’m more of a Too Short fan but now I’m really showing my age.

Rural Kansas has the sounds (and smells) of farming and ranching. Grain elevators unloading trucks during harvest. Crop dusters spraying fields. Trains blocking the highway next to Cargill for half an hour attaching cars with wheels screeching unmercifully. Dogs howling along with tornado sirens being tested every Wednesday at noon. The Boise foothills vibrate with rattlesnakes in the spring. I can still hear the way my heels clicked on the lobby floor of the Boise Cascade headquarters building. And the owl trapped in my barn frantically trying to escape through an open stall door.

I’ve always been intensely sensitive to sounds and my general environment, to the consternation of everyone around me. People generally think I’m making it up but hyperacusis is an actual thing. Mindful meditation is easy for me because I naturally notice individual sounds and textures wherever I happen to be. Sensory overload is a serious and recurring problem which often results in panic attacks. Crowded cities prevent me from separating and categorizing everything I’m experiencing. It happens too quickly and too constantly for my brain to process it all. Every day is like trying to have a conversation in a crowded bar with a live band. I wish I could be less observant. I apparently missed my calling as a first-rate sonar operator.

The porch is my favorite spot at our house. A nearly constant ocean breeze flows through the arches to create a perfect palm frond sound barrier between my ears and the outside world. The neighbor’s music also helps. But then the psychotic hound rakes her bear claws across the screen door demanding to be let inside. Meditation time is over.

Passive-aggressively Doing Laundry

This is the funniest thing I’ve ever been accused of in my nearly 45 years on this planet and I received permission to write about it. Living and working from home with your significant other can create unique challenges.

So I was working on the new website and I was waiting for content. I’ve written a ton about my anxiety and for funzies I also have a touch of OCD. These two conditions create an interesting work dynamic and I’ve been told on a few occasions that I’m essentially vibrating with anxiety. Like it’s literally rolling right off me and can be felt by innocent bystanders.

Basically what happens is when I’m ready to work, I mean I’m ready to get it done right fucking now. I’ve had too many experiences with fleeting motivation. I’ve learned the hard way when I feel motivated, I have to take full advantage before the feeling passes. Once it’s gone, good fucking luck getting it back.

But that anxiety over failing to do my best work is largely what makes me good at my job. Unfortunately, that anxiety also prevents me from being a good girlfriend. So when I’m about to lose my shit over being stuck in neutral, I have to get up and do something else for a minute. I’ll be right back and ready to continue.

You say passive-aggressive; I say efficient. At least your laundry is done. Now how about passive-aggressively cooking me some dinner?

A Quarantined State of Mind

I guess it must be different for people who like people. Frankly, I worry about them. We’ve all seen the memes about introverts needing to check on the extroverts in our lives because they’re not okay. I’m an only child so isolation is just kind of normal for me.

My neighbors still aren’t taking the pandemic seriously. They’re acting like it’s Sunday after church every day. On Tuesday, there was a party a couple houses down that went on for more than 12 hours with people up on the roof deck drinking and listening to the Dangerous Minds soundtrack. The music was a welcome trip back to 1995 but the Airbnbs in town are supposed to be closed, people (extremely John Candy voice). Apparently, all levels of law enforcement went around town yesterday and closed businesses that hadn’t complied with the governor’s order. But then there was a group of random people wanting to meet in the town square to discuss setting up roadblocks to keep the virus out. You just can’t make this shit up.

There are still people in the local Facebook group blaming Americans for bringing the virus to Baja. It’s interesting to experience a group of locals wanting to deport gringos who have overstayed their visas. I find it amusing when I read my American friends’ posts about deporting immigrants. I guess it really is the same all over. Like, I wonder if they realize Mexicans want the Americans out. It’s extremely funny to me for some reason. Textbook definition of irony or the Alanis Morissette bastardization? It doesn’t matter.

I left the house one day last week to take my dog to the vet; I think it was Friday. That was plenty. There’s a lot going on at home: Trees to trim, dogs to bathe, coffee to grind, flowers to water, geckos to rescue, laundry, dishes, a sock drawer to organize….

Back to the psychology of isolation, though. I hadn’t been to the beach in a few weeks but admit feeling a sudden urge to go as soon as I heard they were closing. The feeling passed but I wonder if that’s only because I can still see the ocean every time I look outside. I can only imagine how it must feel to be stuck inside a studio apartment. Our house is on a fully fenced and gated half-acre so the dogs can run around like maniacs all day if they choose. I don’t have to worry about how to make sure their needs are met without getting arrested. I can also climb the stairs to the roof deck for cardio. You may think I’m crazy for living on a washed-out dirt road in Mexico but it’s an A+ location in a pandemic.

None of us will get out of this unscathed, though. What’s happening in New York right now will happen elsewhere soon…possibly where I am. If we survive it, we will all know someone who didn’t. We thought 9/11 was the defining moment of our lives but we were wrong. This is it and there is more to come.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

I’m not even going to joke about COVID-19. Everyone knows someone whose immune system is compromised for whatever reason and any virus can be lethal to them.

So far, Baja California Sur hasn’t really seen much activity. There was at least one cruise ship with infected passengers that stopped in Cabo but the last time I checked, there haven’t been any confirmed cases. I’ve seen some rumors online about a positive test in La Paz but nothing confirmed.

My immune system is ridiculously strong so I don’t worry about how sick I will become if I am exposed. However, I am incredibly sensitive to those who aren’t so fortunate. Staying home is my standard operating mode so the concept of social isolation doesn’t phase me. I worry about those who actually enjoy the company of other people. Two weeks in isolation is enough to drive a normal person mad.

I guess if you’re one of those people and have never worked from home, here are a few things that may help:

Stick to a routine. Unless you’re too ill, maintain your normal sleep schedule. Plan your days the same as you would at work. You still need to do laundry and dishes. Pets still need to be fed. Even completing tiny tasks like painting your toenails will make you feel like you accomplished something. Try not to binge watch television all day. Get some exercise…and it doesn’t have to be anything major. Even if you’re stuck in an apartment and can’t go outside, you can do a couple easy yoga poses or light stretching. If watching or reading the news is making you anxious, leave it alone for a few hours. If the sun is shining, open the damned curtains already.

Tomorrow I’ll be cleaning floors, changing bedding, and bathing dogs. That’s enough to occupy my time on a dirt road in Mexico. I’ll worry about the global economy shit show another day.

When Anxiety is Chasing You

Anxiety can be triggered by something or it can be triggered by nothing. What was fine five minutes ago is now one hundred percent not fine. I can go from zero to eleven in two seconds but getting from eleven back to zero can easily take two days…or longer.

I underestimated the amount of stress and anxiety I would feel in the process of simplifying my life but Mexico is growing on me. It seems like I solve a new mystery every week and I mostly don’t get lost when wandering around the neighborhood. I’ve developed systems for dealing with household issues and have learned how to pay Mexican utilities online. It’s been like going through childhood all over again but adulting in Mexico is possible.

It is imperative that this experience be a positive one. Dwelling on every bump in the road is simply not an option so I found myself squashing it all. Back in the box. Ignore. Deny. Pretend. That it caught up to me should be a surprise to exactly no one. I wasn’t getting enough exercise. I wasn’t writing enough. I wasn’t countering the stress. I had a couple rough nights as a result. All of the nerves in my back felt like they were on fire. Every single sound grated on every exposed nerve. I only slept for a couple hours and that certainly didn’t help my outlook.

The anxiety medication I take is old school and the dosage can be modified to counter mood fluctuations without severe side effects. After the dogs insisted upon eating breakfast this morning, I allowed myself an extra half of a pill. It made me dizzy for a while but it also stopped the buzzing. After lunch, I was able to take a stroll around the very hilly neighborhood. I’m writing this next to a pool with a beautiful view of the ocean.

If you’re daydreaming about attacking a heavy bag at the gym and you aren’t sure where the rage is coming from, say so. Stop trying to hide it. People around you can tell something is wrong and they will naturally think it’s about them. It’s okay to say you don’t know why you need to be scraped off the ceiling. Take some time to regroup. If you know what you need, tell someone. Don’t let the pressure build.

People always say we have to take care of ourselves but sometimes it’s hard to know what that even means. For me, it means not procrastinating until I find myself at eleven. Organizing your mind and emotions is just like de-cluttering your home. If you do a little work every day, it won’t seem like an overwhelming obstacle. Don’t let dirty dishes pile up in your head space.

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