Wednesday, 13 August 2014

30. Cats don't multitask (and neither do I)

I have become the Queen of Monotasking.

This is quite a spectacular transformation for someone who perfected her multitasking skills in the days of stirring stews on the stove with a toddler on one hip whilst supervising another child's homework, making mental notes of school friends in need of birthday presents and composing arguments for the PhD paper I would write later that evening, oh, and answering the phone (because in the days before mobile technology, you'd never know who was calling and you couldn't text them back later). I'd even remember to feed the cat.

It was always a culture shock when my mother came to stay. She would expect everything to stop at coffee time, because it was coffee time, not having-a-coffee-whilst-reading-the-newspaper-time. Coffee whilst stirring stews? Sacrilege.

I do know about monotasking. I have lived in shared households with people with intellectual disabilities, and many excelled at it. I have spent much time in buddhist temples, where every task is seen as equally important and in need of equal focus, whether it is chopping carrots or building peace pagodas or praying.

These days, everyone is at it. They call it mindfulness.

Now, though, I have taken monotasking to an entirely new level. I can't even call it mindfulness, because my mind cannot find its focus.

My monotasking is mindless.

Now, I can't even drink coffee whilst talking, let alone whilst reading the newspaper. (Well, I can't drink coffee full stop. Or do much talking. But you get the idea.) It feels as if my brain fractures as soon as I try to do two things at once.

I need to focus on squeezing out a lemon. Then I need to focus on pouring the juice into a glass and adding water. Then I need to focus on sitting down to drink it. And only then can I focus on having half a conversation, or reading the bits of the newspaper that are not about Gaza or Iraq (I simply cannot cope with the scale of such suffering), or looking at the birds.

That's right: I cannot even drink lemon  juice whilst looking at the birds. Who needs retreats in buddhist temples? Just have a couple of vials of Red Poison.

[Excuse me a moment. I am going to have a glass of water. Back later.]


I look at the cat and I notice that he has never needed buddhist teachings or Red Poison in order to excel at monotasking. When he sits in a shopping bag, he sits in a shopping bag. When he licks himself, he licks himself and when someone then talks to him, he has to stop licking. He doesn't look at the birds whilst eating either (unless he is eating the bird).

Out single-minded cat

I am also thinking of my mother, who, despite her dementia, never lost the knowledge of family or friends. What she did lose early on was the ability of her brain to cope with two things at once. She couldn't process the phone ringing during coffee time. Oh, how I sympathise with her now.

All this monotasking makes for very gentle days.

With the children gone (my son took himself off yesterday), there are no demands. My husband and I are staying at the East Sussex coast and it is beautiful.

Now that the worst of the side effects have worn off, I am not unhappy. And I am not bored. My head feels too woolly and fragmented to be bored.

Perhaps I could pretend that I am on a retreat? But then one of the good things about a retreat is that it prepares you for life again, refreshing you and renewing you. I'll certainly be renewed when all this is over (in what way, I will have to wait and see), but I'm not sure about refreshed, and I worry about prepared.

How on earth will I cope when people start talking to me, when the girls are back from Lithuania, when they all go back to school, when thoughts of returning to work will have to be addressed, when I start to feel guilty about not stirring stews on the stove?

Thank goodness for the quiet way in which my husband seems to have expanded his own considerable multitasking skills. The house is tidy, clothes are clean, kitchen cupboards are full, phone calls are made, the car has had its MOT. Now that there are no children and I am out of action, I have even seen him do something he'd vowed he would never accept onto his list of chores. He has fed the cat.

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