I’m a spinner, a speeder, a thought racer. (Yes, I know it doesn’t help. I know rocking chairs and hamster wheels go nowhere. I know worrying is pointless.) Under the right conditions, the inside of my brain is like a dusty attic filled with hysterical cats zooming in all directions, climbing the walls, knocking over piles of junk, filling the air with dust and yowls. Chaos. Destruction. I call it speeding. I call it anxiety. The world calls it racing thoughts.
Whatever we call it, it’s a miserable state of mind, and a common one.
Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash
Herding cats, as any cat lover will tell you, never works. Sheep, maybe. Cows. But not cats.
However, at times familiar life goes off the rails in such varied, complex, and unforeseen ways I find myself once again herding cats, usually during the hours I need to be sleeping, though sometimes those hours bleed over into days when I’m supposed to be focusing. On something productive or something relaxing or something. But all I’ve got are catapulting (pun intended) thoughts and emotions racing around in my brain.
Not long ago, before the start of my current cat rodeo, I read somewhere (probably Substack) about The Rule of 9s. I’ve since gone back to look for it, but I can’t find the original source. Anyway, I didn’t come up with it myself. I wish I had.
The Rule of 9s is a tool used to identify what really matters. Or, if you like to look at things bass-ackwards, like me, what really doesn’t matter.
This morning, for example. I could garden, work on business at my desk, write, or make a Spotify playlist. I have just under two hours at my disposal before I head off to work.
I have a lot of desk business just now as my brother and I (mostly my brother) wind up my recently deceased mother’s estate and deal with our inheritance. By inheritance, I mean not just assets, but the inevitable emotional inheritance we all receive from our families of origin. What I’ve heard is true. When a parent dies, we cannot be prepared for the ways it changes us and how uncomfortable some of that change is.
My metaphorical cats – these mixed up thoughts and feelings — pull me in different directions at the same time. Everything feels overwhelming right now. It’s irritating. Two items on my grocery list and I’m overwhelmed. Now and then I have a few minutes free from the inundation, but I get a call, a text, another document to sign, and I’m overwhelmed again.
Fortunately, I just learned The Rule of 9s.
So, the option of gardening. It’s hot outside. Really, really hot and humid. Just when the weather should be getting crisper and cooler, a heat wave has arrived. It will ease in the next couple of days, but it’s brought a resurgence of mosquitoes and it’s not fun to be outside. So, no garden this morning. I’ll wait for cooler weather. Is that a crisis?
Photo by Morgan Sessions on Unsplash
Will gardening or not gardening matter in 9 seconds? In 9 minutes? In 9 hours? In 9 days? In 9 months? It might start to matter then, because I’ll be making spring plans and whatever progress I make this fall will affect those plans. But it’s clearly not urgent. I won’t remember choosing or not choosing gardening today.
Business at my desk. I’ve already done some of that this morning. Balanced the checkbook. Looked for a document I’m waiting on from my bank (not there yet). Made some notes. Did some planning. Considered options. I have money in my account. All the bills are paid. I don’t need to spend anything today. Will taking care of more business or not taking care of more business matter in 9 seconds? Nine minutes? Nine hours? Nine days? It might start to matter at that point, as one thing leads to another as we wade through this process. If I stay on top of tasks, step by step, I know I’ll eventually come out of the tunnel with effective systems in place that work for me and respect my goals and values. Tempting to start herding the cats quivering on my desk, but I only have two hours and nothing is urgent.
Make a Spotify playlist. I may shortly have an opportunity to bring a dance program to the community. I’ve tried several times in years past without success, but I haven’t given up hope. Now that I’m on Spotify (though I have misgivings about how platforms like this fail to support artists), I wanted to get a few of my dance playlists put together. I have them burned onto CDs and in iTunes, but not on Spotify. However, I don’t have any solid dates for dance now. It’s all in the planning stages. At some point it will matter, but not right now.
Writing. It’s my weekend to publish on Harvesting Stones. I don’t have to. It’s not required. But I’d like to, if for no other reason than it’s my usual routine, a stepping stone in the current chaos, and it comforts me to be doing something normal. Not to mention how much I enjoy it. Hard to think about focusing on it, though. All those cats whizzing around …
Will writing or not writing matter in 9 seconds? Nine minutes? Nine hours? Nine days? It won’t matter to the world, but it matters to me. It will matter to me in two days, when Saturday morning comes and I either do or do not have a rough draft I’m happy with.
So I’m writing. And while I’m doing that, miraculously, the other cats settle down. Tired, I guess. Maybe they’ll curl up in the chaos they’ve wrought and sleep a while. Sleep is good.
As I live my life and listen to the inside of my head, especially the anxiety, the fear, the resistance, the catastrophizing, I pull out The Rule of 9s and apply it. Will this matter in 9 seconds? In other words, will I die in 9 seconds if I don’t do whatever-it-is or figure it out, completely and perfectly? How about in 9 hours? (Have you ever noticed how crazy your nighttime I-can’t-sleep thoughts are in the light of day?) In 9 days will I even remember whatever feels stressful this minute? Will the fearful thing I can imagine happening be important in 9 weeks? In 9 months? In 9 years?
The Rule of 9s requires I slow down and think. The questions give me perspective, help me with a reality check. I stop reacting and remember my power to choose. I decide what’s more important than my peace of mind (not much). Hysteria is contagious; so is calm.
Photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash
Applying The Rule of 9s settles the cats right down. One or two may still zoom, because cats are contrary like that, but the chaos diminishes as I become intentional and mindful. I can find some focus, at least for a few minutes. I know what to do next, in the next 9 seconds, anyway. The next 9 years can take care of themselves.
- What are your strategies for pulling yourself out of racing thoughts and anxiety loops?
- How do you choose priorities?
- Is your experience one of choice in life, or one of reaction and compulsion?
- Share something ridiculous that’s kept you up at night.
Leave a comment below!
To read my fiction, serially published free every week, go here:
When I am struggling, I frequently find myself gifted with exactly the idea I need to help me step back, take a breath, and reframe. It always feels like a miraculous bit of synchronicity. When it happens I remember to have faith in myself, faith in the vagaries of life. I remember I can make choices, whatever the situation.
Photo by NASA on Unsplash
It happened this morning, unexpectedly, in a post I read by an astrologist I follow. This astrologist is unlike any I’ve ever read before. To begin with he’s intelligent, but not in a grifter, let-me-manipulate-you sort of way. His interpretation of astrology is interesting and provocative. I don’t read him to find out what color to wear today, but because his lens is so fascinating.
This morning began at 4:00 a.m. Which is better than yesterday morning, which began at 3:00 a.m. with me hunched over in bed scribbling yet another list. Really important stuff that had to be recorded at three in the morning. For example:
- E birthday card for friend (We share the same birthday this week; clearly this was an urgent reminder.)
- request time off (formally, I mean. My absence is already covered by a teammate. But I might forget I have to travel to Colorado to put my mom in a memory care unit next week, and if I don’t properly request time off in our software system the sky will fall, I’ll be fired, I’ll give my director and friend (see above) extra work and she’ll hate me, I won’t get paid …)
- tape measure (We are visiting the facility we hope to check Mom into before going to her house. How will we know what furnishings to bring for her? How will we know how much wall space there is? Clearly, I need to pack a tape measure, carry it on the bus, on the hotel shuttle, on the plane, in the rental car. There are no tape measures in Colorado.)
- soap dish (We have an informal lost and found at the rehab pool facility where I work. Mostly what gets found are toiletries in the locker room and showers; these are rarely claimed. I need a soap dish, and one is sitting in our lost and found waiting to be retrieved. If no one comes to get it, I want that soap dish. A very important detail that must not be forgotten, as plastic soap dishes are rare and valuable. Soap dish or sleep? … obviously, soap dish is more important.)
- waterproof mattress cover (Mom’s new room will not accommodate a queen bed, which is the only size she has. We have a twin bed for her, but she’ll need new sheets and bedding. I mustn’t forget to get a couple of waterproof mattress covers …)
But where was I?
Oh, right, the astrologer’s post about Mars and planets and friction.
Friction. Pressure. Oh, boy.
I confess I didn’t read the whole article with much attention, mostly because I don’t have much focused attention right now for anything, but this caught my eye:
Mars Positive: Courage and willpower applied consciously towards a specific goal.
Mars Negative: Impatience and misapplied force.
Misapplied force, anyone? I had to laugh.
At that point it was time to get up and make breakfast, so I put the laptop aside. While I cooked, washed my face, cleaned out the cat boxes, and watched the cold dawn light I thought about friction. Pressure. Birth. Transformation. I thought about polished rocks and pearls. I thought about diamonds and fossils and geologic forces and time. I thought about youth and plasticity and vitality, followed by old age, desiccation, brittle bones, weariness, atrophy.
Photo by Josh Howard on Unsplash
Friction can produce fire — cleansing, regenerative, alchemical fire.
I remembered life is full of friction and grit. Experience can smooth our edges, soften our rigidities and certainties, blur our idealism and mellow our arrogance.
I remembered, in short, I can choose to avoid and resist friction (and mostly I do), but sometimes the only way out is through.
This is one of those times. A camel-through-the-eye-of-the-needle time. A time when the right thing to do is the thing I most want to avoid doing. A time when I want to argue with reality. A time when I have chosen and am now resigned to everything that choice entails.
In exactly a week from the minutes I sit writing this draft I’ll be on a plane heading to Colorado to do an unthinkable thing: meet my brother and one of my sons and transition my mother to a locked memory care unit in a place she’s never been before with people she doesn’t know (not that it matters, as she no longer remembers the places or the people she has known) before getting on another plane to come back to my life in Maine.
Even as I write it, it doesn’t seem real.
I wish it wasn’t real.
For the first time this morning, though, while the new day dawned and the cats and I ate our respective breakfasts, I thought about the other side of this narrow tunnel, this birth canal. There will be another side. There always is. What is happening to me, and to the rest of my family? What is happening, locked away, invisible, irretrievable, in Mom’s experience? I’ve done hospice work, and I’ve witnessed how mysterious and beautiful the end of life can be. This event ripples out into the rest of my family system, sanding, smoothing, transforming. Friction is change. Pressure reshapes us. Can I relax, just a little? Can I let it happen the way it needs to? Can I be satisfied I’ve made the choices and decisions I’ve needed to and let my feelings wash me where they will? Can I surrender to the cars, the buses, the hotel shuttles, the planes, the journey, in fact?
Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash
Could I set aside soap dishes and birthday cards, payroll issues, tape measures, waterproof mattress covers; the potential for delays, bad weather, mechanical breakdowns, crowds, jammed traffic, overstimulation, viruses, and the general unpredictability of life and people and trust there will be sleep, there will be food, there will be a bathroom, there will be a minute to sit down, there will be help, there will be tears, and I will figure out how to print my boarding pass at a kiosk in the airport?
Well, I could try, at least. I’m willing to try.
There is friction, and friction is magical.
I’m publishing two weekends in a row right after I said I was moving to biweekly posting. But then the trip to Colorado was upon me, which is the weekend I’m scheduled to publish. So I’ll write again on the other side of all this friction. Maybe by then I’ll be a pearl. Or write pearls of wisdom?
- What’s the biggest source of friction in your life? What is it shaping you into?
- What wakes you up at 3:00 in the morning?
- Do you avoid friction or welcome it?
- What helps you lubricate life’s friction?
Leave a comment below!
To read my fiction, serially published free every week, go here:
Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash
Do you ever wonder what you’re doing wrong? I do. I’ve been up since 4:30 this morning telling myself I will NOT be stressed and overwhelmed. It’s not working
So I’m going to go with it. I’m going to allow myself to be stressed and overwhelmed. I’m going to stop running away from the feeling and embrace it, drooling, like a spider with a plump licorice fly, one of those big slow sticky ones you can’t bring yourself to swat because — you know, guts!
The thing I most hate about days like this is that nothing is really wrong. There’s not a crisis. It’s just life. Everyone deals with life. My life is far, far easier than the lives of many others. Why am I such a jerk that I can’t deal effectively with a perfectly normal day? Why do I have to make such a big deal over everything? Why can’t I suck it up, stop whining, pull up my panties and put big girl socks on?
I own a little black Elantra. I bought it used, paid it off, rarely drove it in my old life because I was in a small town and walked everywhere. I kept it clean, kept it serviced and loved it.
Then I came to Maine and it became the only household car. That’s okay. My partner is a great driver and he’s reasonably neat and tidy. It’s not like having complete control of the fan, the AC and heat, the radio and the windows, but I can live my life without complete control of the car. I’m an adult. I can share.
Then my two adult sons came to Maine. They came in a U-Haul. Without a car.
Just to be clear, they’re both well over six feet tall. I’m talking about a Hyundai Elantra.
They also work at a local organic farm that raises vegetables, pork and dairy.
Now the four of us share a car.
I love my sons. I really, really do. I keep telling myself that.
The car Kleenex disappeared because one of them caught a cold. The lid to the wet wipes came off and when I unearthed them from under the seat they were all dried out. I pulled down the mirror on the passenger side to put lip balm on and the mirror was splashed with dried blood. (“I was playing with my girlfriend’s puppy, and his tooth caught my nose and ripped it, and there was blood all over and it was the only mirror I could find — sorry, Mom.”) The cloth grocery bags wound up on the floor under work boots caked with…uh…farm stuff. The back seat is covered with dirt because they had to haul potatoes from a far field back to the house. There are assorted Gatorade and plastic water bottles rolling around in every stage between full and empty. The seat and mirrors are never in the right place for me, but as I rarely get to drive anymore, I suppose it doesn’t matter.
Don’t even get me started on the issue of gas! (“There’s enough to get to town Mom. I swear to God!”)
Then, two days ago, we got a call from them at a time when they should have been safely and gainfully occupied weeding and harvesting in one of the farm’s massive gardens. You know, earning money to buy themselves a car? The front passenger wheel on the Elantra started making a terrible noise and they pulled over.
So, everyone knows the drill, right? You arrange for a tow, pick a garage or mechanic for a destination, adjust your schedule, find a ride. We did all that. Then you wait, if you’re me, with dread for the diagnosis, obsessively moving money from here to there in your head, wishing you hadn’t bought that expensive thing last week, calculating your next paycheck, figuring out where the money is going to come from and what bills can be late.
In the meantime, we all complained about all the things we were going to do in the next couple of days. What about work? What about the laundromat? What about cashing checks? What about groceries? What about my swimming day? All of a sudden, sharing a car seemed like a piece of cake when compared to having no car at all.
Then came the list of diagnoses, the bottom line dollar figure, the realization that we were half way there and might as well take care of everything that needed taken care of. It’s not as though there’s ever a good time to fix a car. Nobody sits on the side of the road and says, “Oh, good! This is the perfect time to have the car break down! I just happen to have a spare few hundred dollars right now!” At least no one does at my income level.
Then we waited a little while and the phone rang and it was fixed. But we couldn’t go get it because it was in the shop and we were at home.
We’re in rural Maine, so we called a local cab. (Item: On the dashboard a sign with the fare price, including “Puke charge $100. You clean it up.”) Fortunately, no one puked. We got to the shop. We wrote a check. We got the car.
All that was yesterday. So why, I ask you, was I lying in bed awake at 4:30 in the morning agonizing about it all? The car was right outside the window, parked in its spot, fixed and paid for. True, I paid for it out of my mortgage money and now I’ve no idea where the mortgage is coming from. On the other hand, the mortgage isn’t due until September 1, so there’s time, right? I’ll figure something out, or my partner will get a client, or something. Also true that the upcoming day (today) was complicated. I wanted to take my weekly swim. We all had things we needed to do, most of them involving using the car. I had this post to write, in addition to working on my book. My brother is coming to visit Friday, so I wanted to clean a little, change the sheets (hence the laundromat), etc. We all work on Friday, so today was the day to GET ORGANIZED.
Stop it, I told myself. Sleep. It’s not even light yet. We’ll figure out what everybody needs and
Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash
make a plan. It will be fine. Don’t think about the mortgage now. Stay in the moment. Breathe, dammit! RELAX. Whatever happens, you’ll get to swim. Think about that. The car is fixed. Your brother doesn’t care what the house looks like. Just think about the pool, cool, quiet, the rhythm of stroke and breathing. A locker room filled with women! Not a guy in sight. You’ll figure out what to blog about.
But what WILL I blog about? What can I write that’s intelligent, sympathetic, well thought out and interesting? I know, I’ll write about…no. No, that’s no good. My mother will read that and be hurt. Well, then, I’ll write about…no. If I write about that the kids will take it the wrong way. Oh, I’ve been wanting to talk about…mmm uh-uh. My friend will read that and she’ll feel bad.
Oh, good. Back to people pleasing, are we? You know you can’t write around that. Might as well give it up now. Hardly anybody reads the damn thing, anyway. It’s a waste of time and it’s not income producing and the car just cost $300…!!! WHAT ABOUT THE MORTGAGE? What am I going to do?
So I got up. At 7:00. And I hated myself because I wasted three hours tossing and turning when I could have gotten up and WRITTEN THIS POST.
“Honey,” said my partner, “if you feel overwhelmed, write about that. Write where you are. It’ll be brilliant.”
So we had breakfast, organized the troops, gathered up the laundry, synchronized our watches. I had a narrow window to swim in, but we reached the laundromat, got the laundry going, and my partner settled down with a book, I jumped in the car, raced joyfully to the pool, free at last, and found a sign. “Pool closed until Monday, August 22 due to construction.”
There was no Kleenex in the car, and I needed some.
It’s a beautiful afternoon. The laundry is strung on the line, waving in the breeze. My sons,
Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash
shirtless, are going lovingly over a used red (some of the red is paint instead of rust) truck they just bought, trying to figure out what it needs to pass inspection. A mechanic in town is going to look at it at 4:30. I haven’t vacuumed, cleaned the bathroom, written a word of my book or made my brother’s bed yet. I still don’t know what I’m going to do about the mortgage.
But I’ve written this post.
All content on this site ©2016
except where otherwise noted